Joan Baez I am a Noise (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Maeve O’Boyle, Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor
Run Time
1 hour and 53 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

At that time Deborah, a prophet, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came up to her for judgment… Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day,
 “When locks are long in Israel,
    when the people offer themselves willingly[a]—
    bless the Lord!
 Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
    to the Lord I will sing;
    I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.
Judges 4:4-5 & 5:1-3
Joan, near the end of her concertizing, still able to move a crowd. (c) Magnolia Films

Like most of my generation, I loved Joan Baez, her clear soprano voice uniting us as we listened to her at civil rights events or played her records alone in our rooms at night sometimes so drawn in that we sang along. She seemed so sure and certain on a stage before thousands of fans, and yet in this documentary, largely though her own voice, we discover there was much anxiety, depression, and loneliness and, as she nears the end of her concerting, troubling memories of a father’s sexual abuse. Little wonder that she confesses, “I am not very good on one-on-one relationships but great on 2000.” The title reflects the singer’s darker moments, being lifted from a youthful entry in her journal.

The three directors– Maeve O’Boyle, Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor—set out to make a film centered on her 2018 “Fare Thee Well” tour, but, fortunately for us, decided to expand it to cover her incredible 60-year career.  We see her going through the huge trove her mother saved, stored in a cargo container—photos, Joan’s journals and notebook, home movies of Joan as a girl, even VHS tapes of Joan’s session with her therapist. All this, she turned over to the filmmakers, and the result is a memorable, disturbing at times, and more often, inspiring film of a woman who through her activism and songs impacted America—and the world—for the good.

What an impact!

    • Influenced by such activist/singer greats as Pete Seeger and Odetta, she seemed to be everywhere at civil rights marches and rallies. A friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she sang “We Shall Overcome” at the March on Washington and joined him at Selma.
    • She greatly contributed to the rise of Bob Dylan by covering his songs and introducing him at her concerts. They became romantically involved, but their relationship crashed during a U.K. tour—“Bob broke my heart,” she admits.
    • She also advocated for peace during the anti-Vietnam War era, even traveling to Hanoi where she survived the infamous Christmas Bombing.
    • Sang at Woodstock and Live-Aid, and numerous other benefit concerts and tours.

While doing all the above, and more, she was contending with her own demons, seeking psychiatric counseling, spending a long period depending on Quaaludes. We see pages from her journal which she illustrated with drawings. How cleverly they are brought to life several times by animators!

She fell under the spell of fellow activist David Harris. They married, but the marriage fell apart. However, we see that their son Gabriel grew up to become a musician, playing drums in his mother’s band on the farewell tour.

By the end of the enjoyable film Joan is in her eighties, gray-haired but still physically beautiful, to match that incredible voice, a bit lower maybe, but still clear and memorable.

In a way Joan Baez is like the Biblical judge Deborah, one to whom a nation looked for guidance and inspiration. Deborah sang of victory, as did Joan Baez, but it is a gentler victory, won by nonviolence rather than the sword—“We Shall Overcome.”

This film will bring back many inspiring moments in a life that was (is) troubled yet so fruitful, a boon to all who heard and saw her. This is a film that can introduce her to a younger generation, as well as reassure the older one that a woman with great talent and a generous, caring heart can impact the world.

This review will be in the December issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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