Let The Canary Sing : An Awe-Inspiring Rockumentary About Cyndi Lauper

Let The Canary Sing : An Awe-Inspiring Rockumentary About Cyndi Lauper

I come home, in the mornin’ light

My mother says, ‘When you gonna live your life right?’

Oh momma dear, we’re not the fortunate ones

And girls, they wanna have fun

Oh girls just wanna have fun…

This is the first verse of the song that was made legendary by a one-of-a-kind artist, iconic performer, and trailblazing activist. Cyndi Lauper did not just infuse her scathing voice in Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, she changed the perspective of the song written by Robert Hazard. By doing so she transformed it into a feminist anthem, as attested by the women’s march movements where viewers could read on signs an addition to the lyrics, that would spell out ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-damental Rights.’

Let The Canary Sing is a comprehensive retrospective of Cyndi Lauper’s career, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the artist’s first album, She’s So Unusual. Director Alison Ellwood takes us on a cinematic journey through the personal and professional life of Lauper. The singer-songwriter truly worked her way up, starting in some cover bands during the Eighties, joining Blue Angel, where she was able to show the uncommon power of her voice, through the successful single, I’m Going to Be Strong, written by the famous songwriting duo formed by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. She then embarked on a solo career, but not without difficulty. Lauper had to go to trial to gain the freedom to perform on her own, that is when the judge famously pronounced the words: ‘Let The Canary Sing.’

The phoenix-like artist has a personal background that has been challenging. Her father was a shipping clerk and as soon as he moved out, the family moved from Brooklyn to Queens. Her mother was not left alone for long to raise Cyndi, her sister Ellen and her brother Fred. She married for a second time, with a man who was abusive towards the children. Nevertheless, Cyndi managed to transform her gruelling youth into a weapon of resilience, as she liked to underline “If you don’t know where you come from, you can’t know where you’re going.

This explains why her mantra became “pick yourself up, dust yourself off. And start all over again” — which coincidentally is inspired by music. These are that lyrics to a song that was performed by Nat King Cole and even Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire in the 1936 film Swing Time. Music became Cyndi’s refuge. Whether it was listening on the radio to opera, Mario Lanza and Enrico Caruso, or impersonating with her siblings The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. From an early stage she got acquainted with various music genres which would eventually characterise her versatile career. In fact, she never allowed anyone to pigeon-hole her music, as she experimented with various genres.

In the rockumentary — available on Paramount + — many interviewees retrace her glorious path, from the vocal coach who helped her gain her voice back, to her stylist, from her publicist to her partner-manager. We observe the singer’s precocious survival skills and the intense production work behind those global successes that include Time After Time. It is this very song that marks one of the documentary’s most enchanting sequences, with a duet between Lauper and Patti Labelle.

Let The Canary Sing takes us inside the creative process and we see how Cyndi, collaborating with the famous photographer Annie Liebovitz, transformed the shot for the cover of the album She’s so Unusual into an imaginative ode to Latin America. Visual rendering fascinated her not only for her musical videos, but in all her being, as shown by her flamboyant hairstyles, make-up and outfits that radiate her positive vibes and polychrome artistry. She also liked to make artistic homages, an example is when she recreated, on the sole of her shoes, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. The creative flair  that sparked her music made her win prestigious accolades, such as the Emmy and Tony Awards.

What emerges in Alison Ellwood’s film is also Lauper’s fervent LGBTQIA+ activism, which began in 1986 with her presentation of True Colors a hymn for the gay community as it was ravaged by AIDS. Lauper did not shy away from vivisecting the controversial issues of her time, from abortion to incest, from racism to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Furthermore, she broke all taboos on the female gender, as she demonstrated with the song She Bop, addressing masturbation.

Cyndi Lauper managed to infiltrate culture, composing the soundtrack of The Goonies, writing the music and lyrics for Broadway musical Kinky Boots, and speaking in front of Congress to help change the laws.

The film blends interviews with archival material and even animated sequences, to channel the way Cyndi Lauper had a unique connection with the audience. There’s a magic intimacy between her and every single listener, which is so gracefully captured in Let The Canary Sing.

Final Grade: A

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.

Photos Courtesy of Paramount+

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