Tony Bennett in a scene from the documentary "The Zen of Bennett." (Josh Cheuse/Abramorama )
It's highly probable that any living music legend you could eavesdrop on during the recording of an album would unearth anecdotes and life lessons.
Celebrated American-standards crooner Tony Bennett is that guy in "The Zen of Bennett," filmed by his producer son Danny and director Unjoo Moon as he recorded last year's Grammy-winning "Duets II" on the cusp of turning 85.
Given an artfully lighted, lounge-club atmosphere (sometimes facile-ly so) by cinematographer Dion Beebe, the movie allows Bennett — mostly through overheard chats — to wax coolly on dressing well, how fame goes but quality stays, and the greats he's known: Basie, Ira Gershwin, Bill Evans. Of the youngsters he performs with, John Mayer makes him feel old, a flirty Lady Gaga makes him feel young and Michael Bublé speaks his language.
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But it's his "Body and Soul" session with the late Amy Winehouse — the troubled singer's last recording, and a Grammy-winner for pop duo/group performance — that gets you: her jumpy, respectful nervousness, the way he calmly soothes and inspires her by invoking Dinah Washington, and the roiling soul of the takes that follow.
This is when the movie earns its hushed exclusivity and kitschy title, when we see an art form bridge generations with a strange mixture of grace, joy and melancholy.
'The Zen of Bennett'
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles
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