Born to be blue

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Born to be blue

Director and Writer : Robert Budreau; Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie, Stephen McHattie, Janet-Laine Green, Tony Nappo. 15 cert, 98 mins. Camera (color, black and white), Steve Cosens; editor, David Freeman; music, David Braid, Todor Kobakov, Steve London; music supervisor, David Hayman; production designer, Aidan Leroux; costume designer, Anne Dixon; art director, Joel Richardson; sound, Robert Scherer; re-recording mixer, Martin Jensen; visual effects supervisor, Jason Rayment; visual effects, Black Hangar Studios; assistant director, Dan Murphy; casting, Nancy Klopper.

‘Everything happens to me’ happens to be…

The story of Chet Baker is unique and full of unexplained directions.  Directions indeed is the name of one of his nemisaries  , Miles Davis’s album’s.  So cleverly to the chagrin of some jazz fans, not this one, Robert Budreau puts out a note to accord with the style and perception of a trumpeter whose talent absorbs him and his closest followers. He tampers with the facts to make a non-biographical story to hook viewers instead of focusing on the Jazz disease of what one of the good guys says inflicts so many jazzmen and women for that’s sake, Billie Holliday a prime example of lack of treatment and the opposite – being persecuted for her illness. He uses a fictitious love story to explain the people and the times. The fuse of film to narrative is distant and close, drawing Claxton and Weber influences out.  Also there was a short made by Budreau to suggesting possible endings in the 2009 short The Deaths of Chet Baker, with Stephen McHattie.

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Kings of Jazz in combat.

Canadian Director Robert Budreau begins his story setting it in 1966 Los Angeles on a film set of the events around 1960 when Chet Baker is just out of jail and trying to restablish himself again with the Jazz set.  He is shown being asked to make the film by a Director in jail which never came to fruition, then we are in a film set and within a spit of the stage at Birdland  when he is victim of a set up which is myth and mire making, when his lover, Jane (Carmen Ejogo) bursts in and he is at another troubled time in the relationship.  Whether the spiking – in full sight, Chet was all for it, took place or not is a fairly crass entry for any film, bearing falsehoods as it might, even as part of a film within a film as it is. The point is presumably the ongoing weakness at Birdland of his addictive tendencies but also to highlight and contrast the rivalries among the jazz kings.

There is black/white thing going on and it’s more feasible as a trope having jealousy entering the jazz kingdom – the Kings being Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.  As random a shot at the probable conflict between musicians this may be, I see it as derisory as a pivot point for a film narrative.  No racial tensions were meant or present, it was the new age of Dylan, electric guitar and it is the subjegation of this jazz – which was a great equalizer among all people, all races, – coming to an end as the main concern of Miles and everyone concerned with Jazz.  It was kind of ‘It’s over guys’ moment, for all concerned. Joe Zawinul progressed and brought along the likes of future derailed tragically Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter was revived, Billy Cobham got a hearing and new forms opened up. Chick Corea, Jazz guitarists aplenty, Miles Davis was back into be-bop and never stopping in the one place finding a new audience, the older ones misguidedly felt betrayed, when, untimely, his  spell was over.  All over in 1991.

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Popular culture crossover.

Chet Baker was onto a unique style of West Coast Jazz which heralded post war uplift and better times.  It was also an unparalleled sound which had a lot of followers overseas that opened boxes even Davis and Gillespie couldn’t.  If you think of French style and the supreme use of music to depict, denote good times and be ever fresh then this is how Baker appealed and also in Italy. It was hot to trot in every way and a very sexy potent catalyst for the things the French and Italy were properly fixated on – themselves, love, sex and their relations to each other.  Davis was a less penetrative artist and this soirée music was not his style but improv was as was his incredible musical gift along with his perseverance as a band leader and composer.  He was a matador, Sketches from Spain, Visigoths, to the Gallic – France, Charlemagne/Constantine /Roman influences Italy – A Love Supreme, inherent in Chet Baker.  His sex drive was heightened by his drug use/abuse and this is not avoided but lifted into a higher more closely observed factor in how his relationships developed.  Creating here a love triangle, the drugs as his prop to play, the music itself and the love of his life Jane, factored in here oddly as representing all the women he relied on.  During one scene (making the film)the actress, Jane, wonders why ‘she’ stays and the story of ‘their’ relationship is set p to explain why.  In fact there is another scene near the end when the emphasis shifts back into what drives his relationship and how his playing is his alter of obedience.

In stylish and distinctly well considered homage Ethan Clarke gets the Chet Baker outward look spot on (unlike in my view Don Cheadle’s Miles in Miles Ahead, reviewed previously) and becomes himself a Mister Cool among actors having reached this higher plain.  A stave or octave or two above his previous work.  Plain Chet was awaiting trial for drug-related offences in Italy in 1960, and is approached by a Hollywood director.  It never came to anything.  But here the premise is they are making a film of his life as the pull back after a return to black and white Birdland – named after my favourite jazzman, Joe Zawinul’s composition, hits the blue notes compellingly sharp and deliciously counter melodic.  The backdraft of the times is gloriously felt cinematically and with many so called ‘minor’ parts heightening the impact.  Like the Dizzy Gillespie promoter Danny Friedman, the parole officer and on set musicians.  The fans and atmosphere are beautifully portrayed and there are a lot of Amy Winehouse beehives working the tables or just hanging out. If Ethan is heading for an Oscar so be it but the part just failed me in largesse for it to be an On the Waterfront mind blower, but then it doesn’t need to e these days for an Oscar.  Mark Rylance, in front of blue screen, ought to get it maybe for BFG.

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Examines his recovery.

These times are now meant to be the late sixties when he is in semi-recovery for heroin addiction and a period of recuperation which features highly in this film, of repair to his jaw and the instrument employed to play, his mouth which was severely messed up by drug dealers he owed money to.  It had a devastating affect. He takes for parole reasons Methadone.  Ethan Hawke commits his voice to rendering in the drawl which is not an effecting of his voice but a placement of his inner feelings of present vanquished creativity.  His palatte is the trumpet and it is only aided by drugs.  The Capitol recordings are perhaps of limits for this film or too expensive and here the trumpet player – noises off or whatever the equivalent mime trope is – is Kevin Turcotte doing an impressive replacement job. Further on I note a few albums not mentioned in the film, of European flavour for reference and a film with a close beatnik type revolution sans drugs, French style. The Cheaters.  The guy must have loved Paris.  Equally he must have loved the sexually liberated undercurrent of the times and in this film it seems the love interests are channeled into one with alongside the emotionally and drug charged Chet -Ethan Hawke gets his sexual psyche into action – is the other main component of this story, this film, Jane (Carmen Ejogo).

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Jane of all parts. The love story shines through.

She is a complete foil as a groupie and lover.  Another review I read introduces brilliantly though not enough play on the word is evoked, —  embouchure – em·bou·chures [ahm-boo-shoo rz, ahm-boo-shoo rz; French ahn-boo-shyr] –  The mouth of a river. The evocative delta of sound eclipsing, evocative of erotic pleasure.  The opening up of a valley into a plain.  The musician adjusting their mouth to the mouthpiece.  The mouthpiece itself. This is the territory of the film where the couple find themselves interlocked and entwined within a harmful, gone wrong narrative which here they are disposed to repeating in a sanitized false version as a biographical film.  This of course is the opposite.  The refrain is the despair which addiction and halted creativity produces in a couple now making adjustments to suit their times.  A comeback is envisaged and the history is vinyl pressings and old feels of film capturing a golden age.  Jane has him living in her VW camper van as they construct a life for themselves.  She as an actress’ and a mean jazz pianist from back in the day when she played musicals and revues, wants acting work badly and faces rejection.  She deals with rejection better than him but perseveres as the relationship bonds them in knowing each other’s faults.  Both sets of parents feature. A seashore encounter with Janes parents sets a marker for love.

A large chunk of the story is given over to the Chet family as he visits his early home in Yale, Oklahoma – Mother Vera and Pa, an ex-musician, whose rendering of the Mel Torme set a path for junior.  Chet recalls it fondly but the early fame and the resulting drugs dependency disclosures hurts his old man Chet Sr.  Jane and Chet make big strides there at the homestead nevertheless and his ‘talent’ makes it into low paying venues where his dues are paid while he knocks on the door, literally of his former chums and believers.  It ends up with good results and drives through the film with lots of tension and energy.  A bit like displaced jazz notes, important to play them out, auto shed or not and settle the meaning and mind on the art performed.  Ethan Hawke is credited with playing the tune Blue Room.  He obviously loves the sounds.  Callus Keith Rennie plays the former producer (into zen, meditation, plants, more than Chet’s comeback initially) Dick Bock.  I heard Chet/Ethan call him Vic, Shady, as memory lost loops once or twice.

Comebacks and catalogue.

He spoke Italian. Fans go to Hotel Universo, Lucca, and ask for Room 15, still today highly requested and it looks onto the piazza of the Teatro del Giglio where Chet held several concerts.
But maybe, for him, the most exciting concert held there was the one organized in his honor on December 15, 1961 by his jazz friends Giovanni Tommaso, Franco Mondini, Antonello Vannucchi and Amedeo Tommasi, on the day he was left the San Giorgio prison in Lucca, following one year of detention.

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On the night of July 31, 1960, Chet, who had a history of drug use, collapsed as a consequence of a heroine overdose in a gas station washroom just outside the city. About twenty days later, he was arrested and indicted. He got away with two years instead of the due seven and during those months, Chet who was a composer, would play and fans would gather to listen to the notes of his trumpet coming from within the prison.
‘Everything happens to me’ happens to be his European directed album for Parisienne’s and jazzphiles alike. The listing goes thus. Release Date 1988 Duration 01:10:04 Genre – Jazz – Styles – Cool, West Coast Jazz, Jazz Instrument,Trumpet, Jazz. Recording Date October 24, 1955 – November 28, 1955. Album Moods Intimate, Refined, Reserved,Restrained, Elegant, Sensual, Somber, Stylish, Autumnal, Sophisticated, Album Themes, Introspection, Relaxation, New Love, Romantic, Evening.

Conclusion ####4

There are holes to be picked in this but I feel it is above all a great story somehow relating to reality given the alterations which initially baulked at – re. the Miles Davis rivalry. Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo are a phenomenal pairing and sexually supercharge the roller coaster of a story which blatantly avoids the – ‘if I was you I’d leave him’ trap which his additions no doubt caught up with him in real time.  Some early flashbacks and interior stories weaved into the making of a film which never happen are a jazz acrobatic manouvre Bourdeau is not able to pull of.  It offers though the instant when the relationship in this essentially a troubled love story began.  The influences and music topics are fully thrown out there and the perils of the monster of having talent and using it are brilliantly excecuted.  It is a real scoping story of an artists rose fall and – we don’t get to the rise again but for sheer will power which Ethan Hawke thin as a rake method actor! puts across superbly though the narrowness of gauge – the fact his good times – the vibe he created in Europe is virtually unexplored – means it limits his acting scope and as noted in review he may fail to get the Oscar it probable deserves.  The era at the 60’s this music associates which even enters cinematic culture as I note with the Jean Paul Belmondo Le Tricheurs a forebode to the French cinema attribute at the time of Breathless breaking new ground.  It is actually a light dose of the delights to follow.

 

John Graham

3 August 2016

Belfast

 

On at QFT Belfast from Friday 5 August to the 11 August 2016.

The music which are not the original recordings is superb in the Cinema setting and as the Universal Pictures logo roves up in front of you you realise the higher sound level denotes the primacy of the sounds to follow and it does not let you down.

Footnotes

An album review.

‘Sentimental walk in Paris’ is another journey through his European influences, with a collection of his Vladimir Cosma covers from the ’80s. Although Baker was past his prime and had descended into heavy drugs, he was still an ace trumpeter. His gorgeous sound overcomes the arrangements (which are not bad, but tend to get cheesy at times), and fit perfectly into Cosma’s mood music. In fact, Cosma produced the album and acted as Baker’s handler during the recording sessions. The pairing is an inspired one, although Cosma’s jazz influences have always been apparent. The orchestration that Cosma used for filling out Baker’s sound was wonderfully appropriate, bringing to mind the amazing soundtracks of Henry Mancini or Elmer Bernstein. Fans of either artist should not be disappointed, and even curious listeners looking for a good orchestrated jazz album should give this a listen. Baker may have been at the end of his career, but his unique style was still quite strong.

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Cinema and bold expression.

There is a film which you may have heard of or seen.  Listening to that?” said the woman, pointing with a smile to the radiogram. “That”, said Bob, “is my favourite Mulligan. Bernie’s tune. It helps you to concentrate, you know…” Bernie’s Tune – Gerry Mulligan Quartet (with Chet Baker)

“What am i doing with them?  What shall I do now with them all?  In future I shall feel old…… No, it’s far better not to go. It hurts too much to see a pair of lovers, people who love each other or are quite ridiculously happy. Happy, as I perhaps might have been.  Rubbish! You never are. You simply think you are, and that comes to the same thing.”
Françoise D’Eaubonne, The Cheat(er)s, 1961

Les tricheurs aka The Cheaters (1958) Director: Marcel Carné Setting the stage for the new wave cinema – Breathless? 1960.

Stars: Pascale Petit, Andréa Parisy, Jacques Charrier, Jean-Paul Belmondo The Cheaters opens with a shot of two beatniks, cigarettes dangling from mouths, bopping in front of a jukebox. A Parisian college student gets involved with the existentialist beatniks of Saint-Germain-des-Prés who defy the rules of society (like stealing records from a record store!), get involved in blackmail, do some heavy drinking and participate in bizarre love triangles.

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Selma : A Film Review

Selma 2014 US/UK Cert. 12a.
Director. Ava DuVernay. Cast: David Oyelowo, (Martin Luther King Jr.), Carmen Ejogo, (Coretta Scott King), Tom Wilkinson, (Lyndon Baines Johnson), Andre Holland, (Andrew Young), Omar J. Dorsey, (James Orange), Tessa Thompson, (Diane Nash) Colman Domingo, (Ralph Abernathy), Wendell Pierce, Tim Roth, (George Wallace), John Lavelle, (Roy Reed), Jeremy Strong, Dylan Baker, (J. Edgar Hoover), Oprah Winfrey, (Annie Lee Cooper).

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Selma in the 1960’s
When the Television hit the living rooms of modern life in the shapes of mass produced plastic boxes, carrying life through the lens of the Networks and state Media outlets which quickly had become the news digest medium of moving image broadcasting.

The war in Vietnam covered a long period but when in 1960 US President Eisenhower pledged American assistance to the South Vietnamese after decades of sporadic involvement which went back to the early days of the century and further the Television was there there to bring pictures.

Ava DuVernay the Director of Selma clearly is aware of the media presence, the new media, in tackling Selma and the story of the war fought inside America in respect of Racism. The division of white black and other races was a complete unresolved and to a large extent still remains an unresolved mammoth in the Politics of the United States of America as well as every continent on the planet.

Lyndon Blaine Johnson was only a small part of it.
As far as Martin Luther King Jr. was concerned he was the principle obstacle.
So what linkage has the Film with LBJ and what he was at?
There were 5 U.S. Presidents during its involvement in the Vietnam War. They were:
1. Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)
He wanted the breakup of Vietnam to stop the influence of Communism in South East Asia.
2. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
He decided to use Machinery sending masses of aid. Three weeks before he was assassinated he had organised a coup against Diem who he was also ‘aiding’.
3. Lyndon Johnson (1963 –1969)
He became embroiled in 1964 vastly upgrading the inner war by the Operation Rolling Thunder. US Combat troops had hit the ground in March 1965. He instituted the draft in the face of anti-war protests across campuses and Wider America.
In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred and its resolution gave Johnson more powers to wage the war in Vietnam. He was the President who ordered the bombing campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder and sent the first combat troops to South Vietnam in March 1965 after an attack of Viet Cong on U.S air base in Pleiku. The draft was instituted soon after that and caused many anti-war protests nationwide especially inside campuses.
4. Richard Nixon (1969 -1974)
He decided Vietnam was not enough and decided to go into Loas and Cambodia. His Christmas bombing of 1972 an especially personal act of retribution on North Vietnam
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So this is the background to the film.
The Proximity of War
To wage war you need troops and so for Texas anti-communist Lyndon Blaine Johnson it must have been obvious that as he had a war of continuous making; it was an inherited war against Communism, sometimes fought with the US also.
The arms industry was a widescoping and labour intensive work and profit wielding operation, giving with it the supremacy of power sought against the Eastern Bloc of Communism post-war that Russia had become and the quite Maoist China had grown into against its agrarian broadly egalitarian principles, the modern America had within it the black community disenfranchised and treated as second class citizens.
Producing Product
Brad Pitt in Producing role and Ava Du Vernay the Director must have sat down together and looked about at a script or treatment to sort out into Selma. The casting is odd and the Criminal Americans, George Wallace, LB Johnson with principle British Actors complete with wavering Texas, Alabama accents and frankly dumbed down ‘psychotic minds and blood thick contempt’ are cop outs by Americans not wishing to put that nest of vipers on their own doorstep.
It makes you wonder do they have what it takes to tell a complete story.
The counterbalance is also that perversely the Mr and Mrs King performances of the good characters is splendidly accurately and deeply prescribing the emotion and humanity both these people undoubtedly possessed. Oprah is not sole a exception in delivering a stunning and extraordinary memorable acting part. There is seldom an American who does not inhabit nor convince you this reality is now in the room.
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Civil Rights
To tell the story of Martin Luther King is a grand project. Quite literally he alone turned the United States of America to the mirror and look into itself.

The hatred , the division, the sectarian, the discriminatory, the exploitation, the inequality the cultural gulf was theirs to own in the USA.
David and Carmen
David Oyeloyo is introduced to us as Martin Luther King in the Brad Pitt peacock way, in a plush hotel room with the peacock feather flock wallpaper alongside the doting wife Coretta played beautifully and smartly by Carmen Ejogo. The Nobel Peace Prize awaits and The scene is our introduction as the Ascot tie is unfurled and retired as with customary and honest reflection, David Oyeloyo conveys the differences existing throughout America as they both have come to this citadel of honorable notoriety.

A very Scandinavian backdrop of pastel mistreatment sand geometric clashes of subdued angst cover the walls behind him on acres of canvas as he receives the acclaim and he has the opportunity to deliver his soliloquy.

The stage is set and we are next to see the memorable, very, very, accomplished performance of the central embodiment of the issue in the form of Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper, a nurse sought her right to vote in Selma Courthouse. It is a scene of oppression and dignity plainly conceived and effectively delivering for its writer Paul Webb his and our grasp of where we shall be going.

It is the straight and narrow path which it has been the vision of Martin Luther King to symbolism, focus and harness around the odd gospel doctrinarians that stood the Black communities in good faith through the venal hardships of white slavery and which manifested all over the world in various non-believing forms.

The he actors are well up to this task as most and probably all a have a large part of the memory, the history, the feelings of hurt manifested and manifesting in every core of their existence. This is the story as noted above of holding up mirrors and seeing the reflection inside and out. Of seeing through the impressive though tangibly flawed concept of film another reminder of ourselves flawed and unable to breakdown fears.
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Black Power for a War?
Tom Wilkinson as Lydon Blaine Johnson plays the role of the US President (the one the film ignores who saw the need for troops and Black troops suiting his warring ambitions against Commmunism) as a vexed, lagubrious control freak leader manipulating all about him in an ill fitting suit and displaying cockamayne bullshit language as a means of acting plain stupid when he utilised it as another tool in the armoury. David Oyeloyo is never outplayed and neither is given the reign to overbalanced the other in direction. Quite literally this combat of words and gestural conflict are brilliantly handled by Ava DuVernay.

The same is with almost every passage through the film.

The delivery of the Selma town as being atypical Alabama and spokes town for the cities. The Boston’s, Philidelphias, the Chicagos of America as MLK distilled into a real life narrative to focus, focus and bring explicitly and implicitly onto the new TV screens of America.
Ferguson another Ulster name.
DuVernay composes the bridge scenes when the central plank of the film which is the march to set out from Selma to the town of Montgomery (I wonder now about the white settlers from Ulster? erstwhile fundamentalists?) which has as it’s first physical obstacle the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This happened in 1965. It’s was a scene of passive activism meeting with violence unleashed under the authority of Alabama’s Wallace and with the probable blessing of US President Johnson.
Neither of who wanted any power to reach the hands of ordinary people bearing in mind the Black majority in States of the South.

Such was their land theft and exploitation of white and black workers the whole edifice of control was part of an even broader picture of modern empire.

The scenes on the bridge are pivotal and while large parts of America are adjusting to difference, that it was there to stay in many immigrants from Europe’s eyes, it is was entirely different for the Native American and those whose own history was the relatively young slave nations and continued exploitation throughout America.

DuVernay delivers vividly the issue through pieces of dialogue between for example, Malcolm X played Nigel Thatch and Coretta with Carmen Ejogo understanding only too well how personally high the stakes are set against them both.

There is also the civil rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee whose players have the raw anger of youth and played out by the respective actors superbly.

On March 7th, “Bloody Sunday,” is the centrality.

Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton,is brutalised on the march, likewise Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash.
Bloody Sunday and the Courts
In the Courthouse Martin Sheen as presiding Judge has a small role and this must have been another tilt at Hollywood’s finest remaining in the room under the invasion of outsider acting.

I noticed and it is not a spoiler, that as well as being a continuity key, DuVernay has a black and white girl on the central steps of the Court staircase conversing leisurely as the case is awaited, adjudicated and discharged.

It is a bit of sisterhood over the male violence which is at the fearful root of the hatred.

Conclusion. ####4

This is a very pivotal film for America to be making as it will be soon bro into the habit of commemorating and making sense of these times after and amid conflicts fought since elsewhere.

The film is a great accomplishment regardless of any caveats, Americans and Foreigners bring to it. It is smoothly achieved without being overwrought. Without rancour it repeats sometimes in the frame of the old footage of TV. Black and white footage without the sight of blood that it had excess of and it is for people like Oprah to get this story told over and over in countless ways. The witness of the United States of America needs is of campus, State museums right in the heartlands telling each part of the story from wherever it reveals the truth of the divisions. The inter gyration of communities need united in principles and seem through the mirror of History.

Despite misgivings on casting and they are in my mind intentionally non-committal moves of intent, the lack of addressing the Politics in an analytical observant way by critics and commentators, it delivers a many vectored and visually impressive and solid story of Historical narrative handheld with excellence by writer, director and the vast bulk of the cast.

It is a wonderous achievement – the achievement of Martin Luther King that is brought In no small part alive and it should not be the only vehicle to explore and inhibit more adventurous filmmaking in looking into the mirror of America. US Cinema should be up for it having so long relied on false narrative, escapism, fantasy for its Cinematic canon.

Less fantasy please America, more of this opinion shaping medium.

The USA needs this continued analysis and the connections run back in many directions, slavery, imperialism, religious division, to the dislodged from the little Island of Ireland for one. Further as well to the more worrying presently pressing, fore bearers of Jewish diaspora from Europe whose religion is like Middle East politics entwined in the industrialisation of War and all have completely undermined their futures in failures to contend with content of the Bible. The commandment not to kill a fundamental evidence of blind faith.

John Graham

4 February 2015

Go see it at QFT from
Friday 6th February to Thursday 16th February 2015

“Glory,” a song by Common and John Legend ends the film.