Friday, March 30, 2007

The Miles Davis Story

A big budget biopic is reportedly in the works, with Don Cheadle playing Miles Davis (5/26/1926-9/28/1991). I only saw Clint Eastwood's Bird (1988) once and hope to see it again soon for comparison. What I remember most from Bird is the music and some of Forest Whitaker's performance as Charlie Bird Parker, especially a tragic scene where he's talking long distance, filled with despair.

It's surprising that, given his stature and given the previous production of Bird, there's been so little on film yet about Davis. Mike Dibbs' The Miles Davis Story (2001, 2002, 2003) orginated as a British TV documentary before making its way into DVD format. At about two hours, it gives a fast-clipped overview of his life and career with lots of interviews. It emphasizes that he created a major new sound for the jazz trumpet, distinctly different from Louis Armstrong's style.

It takes him from East St. Louis to New York City to Paris, where he recorded the soundtrack to Louis Malle's first feature-length film, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud / Lift to the Scaffold / Elevator to the Gallows (1958). While there, he picked up a French girlfriend, who seems happily interviewed, as are many of the crew he worked with.

Back in Manhattan, Miles picked up his recording pace but was assaulted by an inebriated white off-duty cop that, because the incident was racially motivated, seems to have made him much warier in public and even more acutely aware of racism in the USA, especially after he was so well-received in Europe.

A segment on the making of Kind of Blue (1959) and the fabulously assembled recording band is joyfully discussed, as is his work with Gil Evans (whose "European sensibility" is noted), followed by his eventual progression toward electric fusion a la Jimi Hendrix, who died before they could collaborate and record together. We see Miles burning out in the 70s and then rebounding through the 80s.

A good documentary for any library. Miles Davis was quite a quipster. One of my favorite lines of his comes from the last decade of his life: "If I knew I was dying and I had one hour to live, I would spend it strangling a white man." I take no offense to this, certainly. Given the same circumstances, I can think of a dozen white men I'd like to strangle myself.

Today's Rune: Partnership.

Birthdays: Francisco Goya, Paul Verlaine, Vincent Van Gogh, Sean O'Casey, Sonny Boy Williamson, Warren Beatty, Eric Clapton, Lene Lovich.


JR's Thumbprints said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JR's Thumbprints said...

Davis & Hendrix, that's one collaboration I would've liked to hear. It's too bad it didn't happen. The two of them together might've created a whole new sound.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post Erik. MW

Danny Tagalog said...

I didn't know that quote - reminds me of Zappa's quip on Freak Out:

"Hey, you know something people?
I'm not black
But there's a whole lots a times
I wish I could say I'm not white "

But - we need to sub-divide between the Generational White Ruling Class and the White Majority hypnotised by the fiends above.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all for the commentos,

Jim, Bitches Brew may be the closest early attempt by Miles.
Thanks MW and DT, too. Danny, I'm with you on this. As well as fiends, I've heard members of this ruling class referred to as "soulless ghouls," which sounds about right. Among women, Barbara Bush represents this faction, I suppose.