“This rocks ass.”
A gracious catchphrase greeting her many life-affirming moments in a new documentary about her life and realm of making it big in music, Samantha Montgomery also declares it in response to a standing ovation following the film’s New Orleans premiere in June at the Contemporary Arts Center.
Presenting Princess Shaw adopts Montgomery’s stage name for the title of a heartfelt, expertly executed documentary as raw and vulnerable as it is riveting and victorious. While Princess Shaw uploads both her songs and personal confessions/aspirations to YouTube at night—after Montgomery toils through her day job as a nurse in her native New Orleans—the plot switches upon her discovery online by acclaimed Israeli musician and composer Ophir Kutiel. Known to the world as Kutiman via his 14 million–plus YouTube views and video/art/music exhibitions at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, his trademark is a mashup of individual musicians to create a seamless synthesis of song. Capturing this connection and its catapult effect on Montgomery’s career, acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Ido Haar (credits include work with Jonathan Demme) tells in triumphant fashion the classic tale of the pursuit of happiness with Presenting Princess Shaw, now released on Magnolia Pictures.
Further addressing her CAC audience following the screening—during a Q&A that revealed her R&B/hip-hop style comes from influences as varied as Etta James and Kings of Leon—Montgomery explains that the year and a half of filming Presenting Princess Shaw involved no re-enactments. An amazing feat, considering the narrative’s arc from “What the fuck is wrong with me?” frustration to frenzied, wall-to-wall crowds at clubs in Tel Aviv, where Montgomery greets Kutiman and company with hugs and “Hey, sugar” before rehearsals showing her vocal scat abilities, on par with the finest vocalists. Over the course of the documentary, one can’t help but root for Montgomery as she faces her many life obstacles.
An open mic night at Café Istanbul falls flat before an empty room that barely notices a poorly mixed PA butchering Shaw’s song “Backwards.” All four tires are stolen from her car. Her voice goes out during try-outs for The Voice. She visits aunts and cousins in Atlanta—where she finds a vibrant, supportive scene a far cry from her crime-ridden, opportunity-stagnant hometown—and together they talk over the family’s sad secret of rape denial. But with now more than one million YouTube views and a forthcoming album of 12 original tracks, thankfully there’s plenty to cheer for in Presenting Princess Shaw.
“It was nerve-racking at first, but it becomes easier,” Montgomery tells OffBeat after the film, about her sharing many intimate details in it. “We’re all the same people with all the same struggles. Life goes as it may so I live it without putting too much of an emphasis on anything.”