A major Brazilian music figure for the last four decades gets verite portraiture in “Fabricating Tom Ze.” While there’s room for another film to more methodically track Ze’s career, emphasis on his present-day doings benefits from fact that the artist is as eccentric and unpredictable as his adventuresome music. World beat fans will seek out Decio Matos Jr.’s docu in formats to be determined by his popularity in various territories, from DVD and broadcast to potential limited theatrical exposure.
At present 71-year-old, Ze belies his age with an often manic energy and somewhat (as he admits) childlike personality.
Conservatory-trained, attracted to the musical avant-garde as much as bossa nova and rock, he first emerged in the late 1960s, getting lumped in with the era’s Tropicalismo movement. But while other key figures like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso (both interviewed) held on to their popularity, Ze’s penchant for experimentation soon alienated home audiences, leading to a long period of obscurity and depression.
It was the patronage of ex-Talking Head David Byrne — who began releasing selections from Ze’s back catalog on his own Stateside label in 1990 — who revived the artiste’s fortunes not just in Brazil but worldwide.
Called “a machine of new ideas” by one observer here, Ze is shown performing in Europe as an adored icon of improvisation, melody, dance grooves, and sheer oddity. (We see his band deploy newspapers, electrical saws, and hammers on hardhats as instruments.)
Longtime wife/manager Neusa Martins is the stabilizing influence his mercurial nature has relied upon for 35 years.
On one hand, he repeatedly insists his relentless innovation was developed merely to compensate for the “handicap” of being a “terrible” musician, singer and songwriter. On the other, he can pull an alarming diva tantrum/meltdown like that glimpsed during a soundcheck for the prestigious Swiss Montreux Jazz Festival — irrationally accusing “rich, pretty people” of seeking to humiliate “poor, ugly” folk like him. The not-uncommon relationship between genius and mental instability is on vivid display.
More archival footage would have been welcome (and the sound on recent concert scenes sometimes seem out of synch), but as portrait of a complex, bizarro creative individual, the docu engrosses.
Tech aspects are generally good. Title is a bit of a mystery: Ze might be excessive, possibly even delusional, but he seems incapable of consciously “fabricating” anything about himself or his art.