Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Sept-Oct Contents 122 Rhythms
This year’s Melbourne International Film Festival
featured the usual array of music documentaries and
music-oriented features, some of them excellent and
either already available on DVD or soon to be released.
Born To Be Blue, directed by Canadian Robert Budreau
and starring Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker, was the music-
related film that most affected me. Hawke’s performance
as the trumpeter/flugelhorn player and world-weary
vocalist is superb and he perfectly captures the character
and moods of a musician wracked by a drug addiction so
bad that it would eventually kill him. But Baker’s demise
did not occur until he had at least tasted some success,
received accolades and caught the attention of Elvis
Costello and recorded with him.
Budreau’s film, however, ends just prior as the career
redemption is beginning and it focuses on two crucial
years that set the scene for the rest of Baker’s life. In the
film Baker is rescued from prison in Italy and brought
back to Los Angeles to star in a film of his own life.
Shortly after the start of filming he is beaten savagely by
thugs sent by his drug dealer, loses his front teeth and is
unable to play trumpet for months. The film is cancelled
and he has to learn to play again.
Like Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead biopic, Born To Be Blue
is a reimagining - meaning that it is loosely based on
the facts. Baker did get deported from Europe and did
get beaten during a drug deal gone wrong and he was
approached by a studio but turned down the offer. Hawke
inhabits the role of Baker in a way that few actors are
able to do convincingly when playing musicians; he even
sings and plays on some of the songs. I suggested to
someone that he might be the Brando of this generation
and they responded that he could be the James Dean -
either is a worthy comparison. Carmen Ejogo is equally
wonderful as Jane, a composite of Baker’s wives and love
Don Cheadle’s film on Miles Davis employs Ewan
McGregor to play the part of a journalist allegedly
writing a story for Rolling Stone magazine as a device to
enter Miles’ life in one of his least productive periods.
Cheadle is terrific as Miles, but it is a pity that the only
way he could get the finance for his fascinating film was
to use this plot device to make sure he had a big name
box office ‘white’ star. You can understand why African-
Americans in the film industry are upset!
Baker’s story is a lot more salutary than the Miles
story - although they both had severe drug addictions
- but ultimately it is a story of redemption (almost).
Famous as a pioneer of the West Coast jazz scene and
possessed of a breathy, intimate voice, his attraction was
understandable. Yet, despite the fact that at the end of the
film it is noted that he enjoyed success in Europe in the
latter part of his life, Hawke’s powerful portrayal seems
so real that even if you knew nothing of Baker’s life you
would know it was not going to end well. (The film should
get a wider cinema release and it is available on DVD).
Jim Jarmusch had two films at this year’s MIFF. I loved
his new feature Paterson, starring Adam Driver, and
although nothing much happens in the film it does so in
mesmerising fashion. I kept thinking that Adam Driver
could easily play Townes Van Zandt if someone ever
decides to do a film about the singer.
Jarmusch’s documentary on The Stooges, Gimme
Danger, should be compulsory viewing for anyone
planning to make a music doco. The film avoids the usual
hagiography that plagues many music docos (and music
books) and cuts to the essence of what Jarmusch calls
“the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band ever.” We might disagree
with his assessment but there is no denying his affection
for the band - which does not overlook the sex and drugs
at all (actually, mainly the drugs). Iggy Pop emerges as
surprisingly eloquent for some who started with the aim
of writing songs with lyrics of no more than 25 words.
One surprise was that the band recorded an album in
Jimmy Webb’s studio with the songwriter’s support!
While you might not be a fan of the Stooges music
Gimme Danger is a must see for anyone interested in the
real history of rock n’ roll.
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