In a letter to her parents, the singer Joan Baez describes the work of recalling repressed memories of being abused by her father as “the bone-shattering task of remembering.”
Her account of that experience, which she says her parents denied, is shown in the new documentary “Joan Baez I Am a Noise.” In the wistfully immersive film — directed by Karen O’Connor, Miri Navasky and Maeve O’Boyle — Baez reveals these “bone-shattering” secrets while winding down her 60-year career as a musician and political activist.
At 82, Baez seems to have processed her struggles. She is plain-spoken about her early fame and her devotion to Bob Dylan, and does not let herself off the hook when her son admits to feeling her absence while she was “busy saving the world.”
The documentary has a gold mine of material: drawings and journal entries, concert footage, family videos and vintage photographs. Included in the mix is audio from one of her therapy tapes, setting the stage for her unflinching confessional about abuse.
As Baez rediscovers many of these items in her mother’s storage unit, her memories come alive, as if we are with her on this journey. O’Connor, Navasky and O’Boyle make imaginative visual choices to give Baez a full cinematic dimensionality, such as animating her sometimes haunting sketches.
There is ultimately a sense of resolve for Baez in “I Am a Noise.” And for the rest of us, the documentary is an eloquent meditation on making peace with the past.
Joan Baez I Am a Noise
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes. In theaters.