I told you that Céline Dion is amazing, and I was not kidding. Her new documentary film, Céline: Through the Eyes of the World is two more hours in support of my thesis (it will also make great, great material for another video like Céline Dion Is Amazing whenever it hits DVD - believe me, I'm already putting it together in my head). This film finds her trotting the globe on her Taking Chances World Tour, stopping at key destinations to perform, but also to visit Nelson Mandela's former prison cell (where she winces), a concentration camp (where she weeps), a white-lion pride (whose one cub smells her son's stringy, Rob Zombie-movie hair), Sumo champs and Muhammad Ali (whom she gently but grandly kisses as though he's a statue made of ash). She feeds black South Africans couscous. She meets with a paraplegic on a respirator and tells her, "You look great!" There is enough big hair and bigger, flowing apparel to make this thing a camp classic on sight. If you think Céline: Through the Eyes of the World might be something you'll enjoy, I've got news for you: it is.
The eyes of the world are apparently covered by rose-tinted glasses, because Céline is portrayed as nothing less than a saint: she's a powerhouse performer who frets when her voice is pushed beyond delivering its melismatic grandiosity, and who still finds time to tend to her fans. Her driver talks about how he’s never met an international superstar who’ll stick around to sign 300 autographs after a show/long day – and he'll have you know, he’s met a lot of international superstars! We're bombarded with testimonials from fans around the globe ("It might sound weird to hear an Arab woman say this, but Céline Dion is amazing!" "It was one of the greatest nights in whole my life!"). My favorite of which finds a grown woman openly weeping on Australian TV after Céline had to cancel a Brisbane show: "It was actually a present for my auntie! [voice breaks] We’ve been planning it for three months!”
Any normal person would be hard-pressed to live up to such reverence, but if there's anything World has to teach us, it's that Céline is not normal. The film is spiced with her hamminess - from a weird, improv version of "Blue Suede Shoes" complete with a penguin walk to a manic scat-singing all the way through her show as she goes over its blocking step-by-step, moving platform-by-moving platform with her choreographer. She puts crudité under her lip on a boat and claims "I'm having an allergic reaction!" She leads her "team" in a uniform table pound-along to provide musical accompaniment to her son's rendition of "We Will Rock You."
When she is earnest, she is just as silly. (During a press conference in Shanghai someone asks her to give a statement on "future China power," causing her to pull out of her ass: "You follow your dreams, you follow your heart. If you follow your heart, I don’t think you can go wrong.") A discussion on her security team's positioning as she leaves the stage and quickly greets her fans is so halting, it seems to require every neuron she can muster: "I don’t want to walk and he decides to speed." In one of several scenes showing just how nice this woman is (or at least, how nice she can make you believe she is), she gets misty after meeting with a Make a Wish Foundation kid and his mother, who gave him a life-saving kidney. "He just gave this to me," she tells her husband moments after, holding a teddy bear. "I’m keeping it for sure!" I get the feeling that quite a few teddy bears have passed through her life with much grimmer fates.
The grim fates of teddy bears: that's about as subtextually dark as World gets. This film is the perfect cinematic translation of Céline's musical schmaltz (although, in a multi-sensory medium, said schmaltz feels a lot more absurd, thus compelling). It is fraught and highly emotional, yet you get the feeling that nothing much is at stake. Céline's music swells and pulls the heartstrings; Céline the person tours the globe and touches hearts. Incidentally, being part documentary and part concert film, World is full of Céline's music. At this point, I tolerate it well since it allows her to display her more entertaining calling as an entertainer: the role of batty old lady. To me, her "art" is like the drugs my boyfriend sells to keep me in Adrienne Vittadini and Chanel Nine boots. I understand the game, sometimes.
Along with the effusive joy, the histrionic gasps at life experiences and the gushing, overstated appreciation of just about everything ("Thank you for giving your soul!” she tells her team on the last night of the tour), the potential peril here is similarly insignificant. Céline frets over how to address the Czech people, she cries actual tears over her son's lost stuffed lamb (don't worry: they find it) and she sulks when her voice gives out from overuse. That's right, the film's main source of drama regards her main source of drama. Don't worry, though: she has the finest doctors to help her sort everything out. They keep her fantasy planet of endless positivity spinning. Céline's world may be impossible and silly, but believe me: it's a hell of a place to visit.