Sunday, January 16, 2022

‘No Ordinary Man’ Review: The Life and Death of Billy Tipton

The documentary “No Ordinary Man” examines the life and death of Billy Tipton, a jazz musician who rose to prominence in the 1930s, and whose career spanned more than 40 years. Billy was described by his friends as a consummate gentleman, and he raised his family, with three children he adopted with his partner Kitty. Billy lived his life quietly, but his death in 1989 became a nationwide spectacle when during funeral preparations it became clear that he was transgender. Members of his family made appearances on talk shows including “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, where they testified that they did not know Billy was transgender.

Directors Aisling Chin-Yi and Chase Joynt use a variety of strategies to present a rethinking of Billy’s life and memory. In interviews, transgender historians share their knowledge of her career, and how they place the chaos that followed her death in the broader context of transgender representation in the media. The filmmakers envisioned scenes from Billy’s life, employing transgender actors to play Billy. Actors are asked to consider their influence of Billy, and how their experience relates to their own experience. Billy’s son, Billy Tipton Jr., discusses his memories of his father, most dynamically.

It is a respectable tribute that is very secure morally and cinematically in its execution. It seems as though any revelation or perception among its speakers about Billy could upset the private and absent-minded person at the center of the film. The result is a film that feels bittersweet, a collection of impressions for a man who may never be fully known.

no ordinary man
not evaluated. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. in Theaters.

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