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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