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When It Comes to Possibilities, Truth and Fiction Overlap
by Marinell Haegelin

Of twenty basic plots, nine are particularly germane in juxtapositing a narrative drama film, with a documentary. Like life, good stories incorporate numerous complexities, and challenges to reach significant goals.

ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS (Leslie Woodhead, Great Britain 2019) spans the life and career of black songstress Ella Fitzgerald, “First Lady of Song,” whose decades-long impact on American music, and mind-sets, was huge. Whereas, the fictional WILD ROSE (Tom Harper, Great Britain 2019), set in Glasgow, Scotland, focus is young, single mum Rose-Lynn’s (Jessie Buckley) ongoing quest is to reach the top in Nashville, a metonym for American country music.

Rescue, Rivalry, Underdog:

As a youngster Ella loved to dance, experienced music at church, and jazz listening to mom’s records. After “Tempie” died, Ella’s life spiraled—Colored orphanage and state reformatory, then homelessness, albeit “she kept on keeping” to survive. At Apollo Theater’s first Amateur Nights in Harlem, the unkempt 17-year-old was determined, so sang instead of dancing. For Rose-Lynn, it’s equally complicated. Only 23-years old with two children and a prison record, she’s selfishly scornful when Mom stresses accountability vs. pipe dreams, disregarding that Marion fostered Wynonna, 8- and Lyle, 5-years old during imprisonment. Ejected from Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry—ex-felons aren’t welcome, Rose-Lynn lies to get a housecleaning job.

Metamorphosis and Transformation:

Ella’s metamorphosing began when, in 1935 Chuck Webb asked “ugly ol’ thing” to sing with his orchestra; their performances at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, plus several hits, particularly “(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini) in 1936 brought acclaim. The 1938 “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” skyrocketed to a #1 hit, transforming the group’s fortunes and admirers. Ella skyrocketed to national fame in Abbott & Costello’s 1942 comedy, “Ride ‘Em Cowboy.” Also, “Mr. Paganini” became one of Ella’s signature songs, and was a springboard to scat singing; Ella’s acknowledged as one of the best. Rose-Lynn’s arch is tighter, and rockier considering her deviousness. Cleaning the mansion, she gets a glimpse of how the “other half” lives; Suzanne’s (Sophie Okonedo) two children overhear Rose-Lynn singing, and tell mom who encourages Rose-Lynn. Suzanne pulls strings and Rose-Lynn meets her idol, Bob Harris. Ever mindful of what she discloses, as hope grows, Rose-Lynn’s kids and shabby apartment get more attention.

Love, Sacrifice, and Discovery:

Following Chuck Webb’s untimely death in 1939, the now-named Ella’s Famous Band continued, then disbanded during World War II to reunite in time for bebop music. In 1947, Ella and bass player Ray Brown married, performed lots, adopted a little boy, and then divorced in 1953. Ella’s new manager N. Ganz promoted the group on tours nationally, and then internationally. They made Americans proud during the 1960 Berlin tour, although, contradictorily the group’s U.S. tour through southern states was harsh reality (see Green Book, 2019, for reference). Always gaining fans and awards, never much time for home life, Ella and Ray Jr. became estranged. The “road addict” only stopped touring because of failing health; paradoxically, serious illness reunited mother and son. When forced to “take it easy,” Ella established a foundation for kids in need, and supported several nonprofit organizations including the American Heart Association. Equally, Rose-Lynn’s culpability reaches a zenith as doors open; she eagerly agrees to Suzanne’s singing gig offer. Albeit, the magnitude of Suzanne’s plans and extent of Rose-Lynn’s expected participation unleash unfamiliar feelings. Lyle and Wynonna are shuttled among sitters throughout rehearsals; alongside gnawing guilt, Rose-Lynn’s innermost anxieties mount. But what Rose-Lynn succumbs to, and sacrifices for, is love. In doing that, she discovers her goal is closer than she thinks. 

Truth vs. fiction:

To quote Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.” Seventy years after that gutsy homeless kid’s first stage appearance, having met American presidents and world leaders, been the focus of documentaries and admired by peers, Ella Fitzgerald received the NAACP President’s Award, plus countless others. Ella Fitzgerald’s passion for singing immortalized her. Fictionally, the protagonist’s passion for singing equals Ella’s and, Rose-Lynn’s just as gutsy, and stubborn. Along both life paths, role models are a lifeline and help define the person. Notwithstanding, it’s determination to test the adage “anything’s possible” that is individual, and likewise, responsibility doesn’t dispel dreams.