- Movie Rating -

Presenting Princess Shaw (2015)

| May 11, 2015

I suppose it says something now that the idea of anyone becoming a star has taken on the same randomness as the outcome of a game of roulette.  You are either discovered or you’re not, talent is more or less beside the point.  There are millions of people on YouTube, some more talented than others but it doesn’t exactly take talent to be discovered, it just takes a lot of luck to get ahead of a pack that includes literally millions of videos.  The point is to keep going, keep creating and keep hoping that someone is watching

The documentary Presenting Princess Shaw opens with a quote about the importance of a multitude of voices and then displaying those millions of voices.  It is supposed to be, I guess, inspirational that so many voices now have a platform, but I found it hard to be inspired.  I am not as inspired by the millions of voices as I am in what it takes to be the individual.  As a critic who works in the medium, I am in a field of millions of voices both talented, less talented and sometimes downright irritating.  They are all equal in number.  Sometimes you just get lucky.

Our subject in this journey is an underdog, Samantha Montgomery, who has a job caring for the elderly at a New Orleans nursing home.  Her stage name is Princess Shaw, and she is a very talented singer with a voice that is surprisingly individual.  The songs are her own, which she sings, records and then uploads to YouTube where it might get around 20 hit (I have a channel myself, I can relate).

At the same time we also meet a remix artist, Ophir Kutiel, also known as Kutiman whose job it is to seek out untapped talent like Montgomery and add a musical accompaniment without the knowledge of the artist in order to build a video collage that earns him millions of hits on YouTube.  It is effective enough that in 2010 it was projected on the exterior of the Guggenheim, a striking image that is supposed to say something about the state of talent and fame in the 21st century but, to be honest, left me with more questions than any sense of awe.

The tale of how Kutiman acquires these videos and essentially turns them into a clip show is far less interesting than the story of Princess Shaw’s underdog status.  I was more interested in what drives her to keep on creating videos that are seen by only enough people to fill the waiting room at a doctor’s office.  How does it make her feel?  Does she want to give up or does it motivate her to keep going.

I guess the filmmakers are trying to make a bolder statement, far from the drollery of just focusing on an untapped talent, but I think there is a lot more to be said about untapped talent then a guy who is ultimately exploiting these people to his own ends.  In other words, I think the documentary is trying to go bigger and be about more than one individual.  But the individual is what this movie needs.  Kutiman’s projected image of thousands of YouTube videos isn’t inspiring, it looks to me like exploitive pandering.  And yes, Montgomery is delighted that she has been discovered in this way, but I wanted to know more about her, about her music, about her process, about what she hopes to achieve.  Seeing her this way, she feels less like an individual and more like a stunt, a face in a thousand faces that just happens to be out front for a moment.  I guess I wanted more than that.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary