What I know about Miles Davis can be written on the back of a postage stamp, you may only need a few more for what I know about jazz, so I was unsure if I was going to enjoy Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool.
It’s not that I don’t like jazz, I do, I just don’t know anything about it. I have Miles Davis vinyl somewhere, but again, I know nothing about him. Well, thanks to Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Summer”, “Wounded Knee”), I now know a lot more.
Nelson appears to leave no stone unturned as he provides a full on biography of the jazz legend over the nearly two-hour run-time.
The documentary starts at the beginning, although skips over his childhood other than informing us of the fact that he would have grown up around large-scale racism despite coming from a reasonably wealthy family.
The documentary has Miles own words voiced over the top, this is done by Carl Lumbly (“A Cure For Wellness”, “Men Of Honour”), who puts on Mile’s gravelly voice beautifully.
Nelson doesn’t shy away from the harder aspects of Miles Davis’ life but the more extreme parts do only receive a light touch. We learn that he did become a heroin addict after becoming depressed travelling to Europe and meeting the ‘enlightened’ of the world.
But exactly how long this period lasts and how bad it got, well that’s never mentioned. He gets himself clean. Equally Miles’ general feeling of resentment and violence, which mainly seemed aimed at the female of the species, doesn’t perhaps get the time it should.
Miles puts this down to a night in NYC when he was attacked by a police officer after refusing to move whilst stood in front of a club he was playing at that evening.
But, and it’s a big but, when you mention Miles Davis it’s the music you want, the sound, the passion, the thought behind it all, and it is this that Nelson delivers in spades.
If you are a fan of jazz, particularly Miles Davis, you are in for a treat as we see, and hear, original recordings and various current artists from Herbie Hancock to Quincy Jones to Flea and Carlos Santana, talk about the tracks.
Nelson kicks things off in the mid-40’s and Miles Davis working with the likes of Charlie Parker and his time at Julliard, the noted musical school, and keeps going right up to 1991 when Miles sadly passed away aged 65.
If you are easily offended by ‘strong’ language (why can’t we just say swearing?) then you may want to have your bleeper at hand as Miles wasn’t shy from expressing himself by swearing, dropping f-bombs and using the n-word all over the shop. Personally, I don’t give a f…but some may.
Miles Davis: The Birth Of The Cool is a lovely documentary, you can chill to it as the sweet, melodic sound of the trumpet flows mellifluously from the speakers.
Perhaps, for a documentary about a jazz musician, one who had the ability to freeform and amaze, some may see it as a touch rigid. This may be fair but Nelson likes his structure and, as I understand it, the documentary is certainly comprehensive.
(This film was written as part of the BFI Film Festival coverage)
12th October 2019