Thursday, September 19, 2019

New Miles biopic, fun but fair?

Not sure this is getting wide release but it was here in the wonderful Austin Film Society's cinema for most of a week and made sure to get there last weekend. For those who know and love Miles' music, this is a fine way to spend a couple of hours. For those new to him, I am not sure how you'll feel after watching this.

There's a school of thought that says a musician's (or artist's) output is all you need to experience, anything more is noise, PR or both. Ultimately, I agree with this but that doesn't stop me studying the lives, exploring the personalities, and the context of their work since I feel it brings me deeper into the experience of the art form. And yes, I do spend more than is really reasonable to capture the outtakes, the alternative versions and the unreleased detritus of recording sessions that the artist may never have wanted others to hear.  So, in this way, if you want to experience Miles Davis, you can spend years just listening to his phenomenal official output. Any maybe that is enough.

But if you want to go further, this is an interesting stop on the journey. If you know the music and have some sense of the man, there's little here that will surprise you but you likely will enjoy the old clips of him playing, particularly with some key folks like Coltrane, and you will laugh at the accounts of his foul-language laden tirades at others (mainly white folks and other musicians) but I am not sure you will learn much. If you know nothing of the man but perhaps think Kind of Blue is cool, you may be in a bit of a surprise.
Miles was famously testy, angry at the world, and very, very opinionated. He channeled this mostly in creating incredible music that sounds timeless today, so you can only imagine the reaction in the 50s and 60s. The biopic outlines some of the source of his anger but leaves unanswered many questions. The makers will say they acknowledged the wife-beating, and they do, largely through an incredible interview with the wife who suffered him yet in his words remained the love of his life. But later years of self-indulgence and, by many accounts, cruelty go largely unexplored. I don't know that this is good, a nod to the intelligence of viewers who can read between the lines, or some censorship of the message so that the Davis lustre is not entirely dulled (as if if could be).

If you can, see for yourself. Miles remains an enigma - a restless, searching artist who lived life to the extremes until the end, leaving a remarkable recorded legacy that still surprises and inspires.  My favorite moment, Archie Shepp remarking how he once asked Miles if he sit in with him when watching a club date. 'Archie who?' says Miles..."Fuck you, you cannot sit in with me'.  Who can't smile at that!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Miles Davis was many things to more than a few people. Having said that I should like to point out the one fact that seems to escape most of us.

He was just a man.

Talented, yes. But still just a man. I doubt that he would want to be placed atop a pedestal. Why?

Because for many the moment that happens signals the end of what it means to be one of "us", if you will. When society or anyone really, places a person on a pedestal it is almost ( but NOT always!) a given that sooner or later they will look down on you.

I think most adults here know exactly what I mean. Me? I come not to praise Caesar nor to bury either faint praise or virulent virtue signaling.

I'm just gonna dig his music.