Film Review: ELIS & TOM – IT JUST HAD TO BE YOU (directed by Roberto de Oliveira and Jom Tob Azulay)

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by Scott Yanow on December 4, 2023

in Film

It was a musical match made in heaven even if it was not entirely smooth sailing. In 1974 the innovative Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-94) who was also a guitarist, pianist, and vocalist, teamed up with Elis Regina (1945-82) who was considered the top Brazilian singer, to record the classic album Elis & Tom. Remarkably, there was a lot of film taken of the two both before and after the sessions, and it is now being released for the first time in this 100-minute documentary put together by Roberto de Oliveira and Jom Tob Azulay.

The continually intriguing film, which is mostly in Portuguese with English subtitles, includes plenty of brief clips of Jobim and Regina from other performances (including excerpts of Jobim performing with Frank Sinatra and jamming with baritonist Gerry Mulligan who is seen on clarinet) and includes insightful storytelling from the surviving musicians (most notably pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano) and Jobim’s daughter Beth. One also learns about an album that Regina was supposed to record with Wayne Shorter (who remembers it) in 1981 but never quite happened. But most memorable is the fully restored 16mm film footage from the 1974 sessions themselves, particularly seeing the performers informally rehearsing material with Regina joined by Jobim on guitar and pianist Mariano.

One learns a bit about their careers and where they were at the time of the recording. Jobim was unhappy about the decline in interest in his songs since the 1960s while Regina’s career had become a bit directionless. Arrangements were made to record their joint album in Los Angeles where Jobim lived at the time but it almost stopped before it started. Before they met, Jobim was not sold on Regina’s singing and at first their different styles and plans for the album clashed. Elis Regina was a much more extroverted and exuberant performer than the laidback Jobim, She thought that it was going to be her album with Jobim as a guest on a few songs and she had already hired the band and the arranger. Jobim on the other hand wanted to be the co-leader, play piano instead of Cesar Camargo Mariano, was not happy about using electric guitar and electric piano, and he wanted to write the arrangements himself or utilize Claus Ogerman. On film one sees Regina in a party atmosphere complaining to friends about the situation. At one point she almost decided to leave the project altogether and fly back to Brazil.

Fortunately that did not happen and they were able to compromise. Jobim was able to accept the other instrumentalists and grew to like what he heard, and Regina calmed down her style, shared the album, and matured musically. They won each other over through their musical talents and actually became close.

This is a heartwarming, very well-edited, and quite fascinating documentary with plenty of priceless performance footage from the sessions including versions of “The Waters of March” and “Double Rainbow.” Elis & Tom serves as a memorial not only of the influential album but of the two masterful performers.

Scott Yanow is a jazz journalist and historian.

photos courtesy of Outsider Pictures

ELIS & TOM – It just had to be you
Rinoceronte Entetenimento and Outsider Pictures
produced by Diogo Pires Goncalves
DP (1974): Fernando Duarte; DP (2022): Joao Wainer
Brazil | 100m | in Portuguese and English | unrated
opens exclusively at the Cinema Village in New York on December 8th, 2023

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