“If you remember Milli Vanilli at all,” said Anita Singh in The Daily Telegraph, “it will be for their ignominious end.” They were the French-German R&B duo (Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan) who had a run of hits at the end of the 1980s, before causing a sensation when they were forced to admit that they’d not sung on any of their own records. They became the first act ever to have their Grammy revoked, and went down in history as frauds – but do they deserve their reputation?
“Milli Vanilli”, a new feature-length documentary on Paramount+, uses talking heads and archival material to argue that the “hatred and blame” that were piled on Morvan and Pilatus (who died of an overdose in 1998) should have been directed at Frank Farian, the producer who masterminded the hoax. Ridiculous though Milli Vanilli may seem now, with their “bandannas and shoulder pads”, the pair come across as deeply sympathetic, in a film that skilfully blends the tragic and the comic.
Morvan is interviewed at length, but there are also contributions from those who ran the business side of Milli Vanilli, said Chris Azzopardi in The New York Times. It adds up to a “jolting, eye-opening investigation” that unfolds like a whodunnit. Watching the pair perform, I was struck by how “obvious” it was they were miming – “they weren’t even in sync”, said Carol Midgley in The Times. Yet everyone was outraged – and the young men took the fall. It’s a pity Farian declined to be interviewed; but even without him, it’s an “enlightening 106 minutes about how the pop industry can work”.
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