Dance aficionados will want to run not walk to see the extraordinary flamenco artist Carmen Amaya (1913-1963) in action. Pedestrian bio docu is cogent enough and well stocked with talking heads. But Amaya’s life was not particularly dramatic — it’s the archival treasure trove of home movies, shorts and feature film clips, much of it unseen for 50 years, that effortlessly steals the show. “Amaya” seems a natural for public TV or indie cable, with Hispanic appeal an added plus.
Ajami, whose previous film profiled Flamenco dancer Omayra Amaya (Carmen’s grand-niece), freely credits Carmen for having revolutionized the art: She introduced dazzling trouser-clad percussive footwork (hitherto the exclusive province of men), and reclaimed the signature dance-form for gypsies with her fiery leaps and impassioned whirls. Having lived and performed in the States and then Europe after leaving Spain during its Civil War, she ranked as an international superstar. Amaya’s electrifying performances are captured in excerpts from starring roles in Spanish-language films, specialty-turns in otherwise forgettable Hollywood outings like “See My Lawyer,” and a rare Sol Hurok-produced showcase short.