Pre­sent­ing Princess Shaw

PRE­SENT­ING PRINCESS SHAW, char­ac­ter-cen­tered doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3.5 chiles

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The in­ter­net loves a Cin­derella story — and what else could you call what hap­pened to Sa­man­tha Mont­gomery, also known by her stage name, Princess Shaw? A New Or­leans el­der-care nurse by day, she is by night the sing­ing sen­sa­tion of her own bed­room when she’s not out per­form­ing at lo­cal open-mic nights, which she’ll do even if most of the seats are empty. Like thou­sands of other peo­ple flirt­ing with po­ten­tial in­ter­net fame, Princess Shaw has a YouTube chan­nel. She posts videos of her sing­ing, a cap­pella, as well as some in which she talks about her life or reads from her writ­ing. She’s been through some dark times. She’s a tal­ented lyri­cist with a voice that de­serves a back­ing band, and she has per­son­al­ity to spare, even though she seems per­pet­u­ally ex­hausted. Is­raeli documentarian Ido Haar is film­ing her for what she be­lieves is a movie about peo­ple with YouTube chan­nels. She has no idea that Haar found her through a mu­si­cian named Ku­ti­man who lives on a kib­butz in the Negev desert, or that Ku­ti­man is, for lack of a bet­ter term, her fairy god­fa­ther.

Ku­ti­man — cred­ited in the film by his given name, Ophir Ku­tiel — com­poses mu­sic by sam­pling from pre-ex­ist­ing videos on YouTube. He ed­its down to in­di­vid­ual notes, or uses longer por­tions in a loop, to cre­ate fully ren­dered, mul­ti­lay­ered pieces of mu­sic. He has fallen for Princess Shaw’s soul­ful striker, “Give It Up.” His or­ches­tra­tion puts meat on its bones. The main mu­si­cal hook is a clas­si­cal pi­ano im­pro­vi­sa­tion played by a lit­tle girl in a fancy dress. The blues and Mo­town in­spi­ra­tions come through, as does a mourn­ful edge of klezmer, re­sult­ing in a haunt­ing tune that it would be easy to as­sume is al­ready a well-known hit.

Be­cause Mont­gomery doesn’t know what the movie is re­ally about, Haar’s ap­proach could be seen as more re­al­ity-show than doc­u­men­tary. The re­veal, when it comes, isn’t be­la­bored. Be­ing on hand for her re­ac­tion when she sees Ku­ti­man’s video, which we have been an­tic­i­pat­ing for some time, doesn’t feel ex­ploita­tive. The movie’s struc­ture is nov­el­is­tic, with two sto­ry­lines that con­verge at the end. Through­out, mo­ments in Ku­ti­man’s tran­quil life are con­trasted with Mont­gomery’s more hec­tic one. (She has just gone through a breakup and got­ten her own apartment when her car is in­ex­pli­ca­bly van­dal­ized.) Though Mont­gomery doesn’t ex­actly shrug things off, she doesn’t dwell on the daily strug­gle, ei­ther. She’s friendly to ev­ery­one she meets. She is, in her own words, open. That she is re­warded in the form of some­one like Ku­ti­man find­ing and se­lect­ing her video out of the bil­lions watched on YouTube ev­ery day seems like a mod­ern-day mir­a­cle, pos­si­ble only in the in­ter­net age. — Jen­nifer Levin

In­ter­net sen­sa­tion: Sa­man­tha Mont­gomery

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