The Zen of Bennett

"The Zen of Bennett" captures octogenarian crooner Tony in the studio recording last year's "Duets II" with a lineup of (mostly) much younger music stars.

With: Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble, Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse.

The Zen of Bennett” captures octogenarian crooner Tony in the studio recording last year’s “Duets II” with a lineup of (mostly) much younger music stars. While the result is sure to appeal to the star’s fans, they may find this less-than-definitive portrait distractingly arty at times, while viewers attracted by such up-to-the-moment talents as Lady Gaga will wonder why the pic doesn’t bother providing a little more explanatory background about that old guy she’s singing with. Limited theatrical playdates starting Oct. 24 (with Netflix streaming available Nov. 12) should presage decent niche broadcast and disc sales.

Now 86, Bennett needs no introduction to the docu’s likely target audience, though perhaps he deserved more of one for the benefit of others. (Archival materials are sparingly deployed here, though it’s a treat to hear his first recording, a just-post-WWII “St. James Infirmary.”) Pic shows Bennett greeting many of his chosen partners on this all-standards disc in his studio of choice, while for others he travels (as far as Andrea Bocelli’s home in Italy).

Billed as “conceived, created and produced” by Bennett’s son Danny, “Zen” has a somewhat insular feel that both intrigues and frustrates. There are glimpses of temperament just frequent enough to seem pointed in their inclusion, yet too poorly contextualized to provide any actual insight. Helmer Unjoo Moon and d.p. Dion Beebe go for an odd, almost furtive visual presentation that constantly plays with image focus, likewise suggesting an extra dimension that fails to fully materialize, and that may strike some as simply mannered. These elements leave the documentary hanging somewhere between a glorified making-of album promo and a more in-depth portrait of the artist.

Those who have signed on to see the other names on display will be variably rewarded; while all guests show Bennett due respect, some swing-impaired talents seem to be here only because they’re current chart toppers. Others are seen but not heard (Willie Nelson), and still more on the album don’t appear here at all (Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah, k.d. lang, etc.).

Chemistry is an unpredictable thing, and there are surprises here both good and ill; one might not expect Lady Gaga, for instance, to be more at home trading vocal lines than Aretha Franklin. Most dramatic and poignant, perhaps, is Bennett’s gentlemanly patience with the since-deceased Amy Winehouse, who seems addled in the footage here as she contributes an eccentrically Billie Holliday-influenced take on “Body and Soul.”

Popular on Variety

The Zen of Bennett


Production: An Abramorama release of a Benedetto Films production. Produced by Danny Bennett, Jennifer Lebeau. Executive producers, Bennett, Ted Sarandos. Directed by Unjoo Moon.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Dion Beebe; editors, Wyatt Smith, Katherine McQuerry; sound, Fredrick Helm; sound designer, Evan Benjamin; re-recording mixer, Tony Volante. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 14, 2012. (Also in Hamptons, Tribeca film festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.

Cast: With: Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble, Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse.

More Scene

  • 71st Emmys Governors Ball

    Why the Television Academy Plans to Donate Furnishings From the 71st Emmys Governors Ball

    The Emmys’ official after party is set to impress — and to leave a permanent impression. At the annual press preview of the 71st Emmys Governors Ball, the Television Academy announced a partnership with Living Spaces, Habitat for Humanity and the Hollywood Community Housing Project that will provide more than 80 custom sofas, chairs and [...]

  • Gaby Hoffmann, Albert Cheng, Alexandra Billings,

    'Transparent' Team Reflects on Series Finale Without Jeffrey Tambor

    Friday night’s premiere of the series finale of “Transparent” at L.A. Live’s Regal theater felt like a family reunion for the Pfefferman clan. Matriarch Judith Light embraced each one of her TV children (Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass) and guest stars from previous seasons (Cherry Jones, Melora Hardin, Bradley Whitford) who also turned [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Pom Klementieff poses at the launch

    Marvel Cinematic Universe Star Pom Klementieff Talks Disney-Fox Merger, X-Men Dreams

    Pom Klementieff may have entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing Mantis in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” followed by appearances in the last two “Avengers” movies, but that wasn’t her original superhero plan. “My dream was to be in X-Men,” she told Variety on Thursday at the Chanel dinner for its new fragrance Gabrielle [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow

    Gwyneth Paltrow to Be Honored at amfAR Gala Los Angeles

    Gwyneth Paltrow and art dealer Larry Gagosian are set to be honored at the 2019 amfAR Gala Los Angeles. The American Foundation for AIDS Research announced that the two honorees will receive the Award of Courage for their commitment in the fight against HIV and AIDS as well as for their other humanitarian efforts. Christina [...]

  • David Mandel Sam Richardson

    'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Veep,' 'When They See Us' Writers Honored at Emmy Nominees Reception

    Ava DuVernay (“When They See Us”), David Mandel (“Veep”) and Bruce Miller and Kira Snyder (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) were among those honored at the Television Academy’s Emmy nominees writers reception on Tuesday night in North Hollywood. There, ceremony hosts, “Escape at Dannemora” star Eric Lange and “Veep’s” Sam Richardson, kept the show moving by tossing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content