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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser
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14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

The standard by which all documentaries should be judged

Author: nathan peterson from Boston, MA
2 October 2002

If you want to know what it is like to live be a jazz musician, it is important that you see this movie. As a jazz musician myself I have yet to see a film which captures the true essence of not just being Thelonious, but being a jazz musician in general. Thelonious Monk might just be the greatest jazz composer who ever lived, and this film is a tribute to his entire career. If you want to learn about a great musician, the life of being a jazz musician or even just how to make a good documentary, you must see this film.

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14 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

THE BEST MOVIE OF THE JAZZ GENIUS

10/10
Author: srfotog from United States
20 December 2004

Thelonious Monk is the most important musician ever produced by this country. He is the greatest composer and the most influential musician of the jazz era. This movie is so incredible because I had not been lucky enough to have seen him before he died, and when I saw the movie I was moved to tears. No one in the movie actually admits he was schizophrenic, but it seems pretty obvious and to me, makes him even more of a genius--that he could write and perform despite his disability. It shows the deep devotion of his wife Nellie, and others who helped him, and finally, how he sank into his illness before he died. Thank you so much, Charlotte Zwerin, for making this paean to Monk. When people are still listening to him hundreds of years from now, they can see him in your wonderful movie.

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10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

More Of A Concert Than A Documentary, But That's Fine

7/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
25 August 2006

This is a documentary but almost a straight concert, featuring jazz pianist who performed mainly in the 1950s and 1960s and is a legend in music circles.

I say "concert" because there is as much music, if not more, than dialog. Most of the tunes are excerpts from various much-longer numbers he did. Most of them are performed by Monk but some are done by other musicians. The coverage is in black-and-white and well done. Photography-wise, I particularly enjoyed the closeups of Monk's face as he performed. He wasn't the most articulate man so perhaps that is why this is more concert than documentary. He acted as if he were stoned most of the time. I don't know his history so I can't comment further on that topic.

Not being a jazz fan, I can't appreciate his music as others would, but I'm being honest.....and I still enjoyed watching this even though I own only a half dozen jazz CDs. I imagine those who love jazz would have to own this. It's nice that it's available now on disc.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

the title itself is a good summary of the film

7/10
Author: Michael Neumann from United States
7 January 2011

The facts in the life of the virtuoso jazz pianist are somewhat neglected in favor of the music itself, with most of the film devoted to various live performances and rare, behind-the-stage rehearsal footage. The latter scenes give this otherwise straightforward portrait its most revealing moments, showing how complex and exacting the work of jazz composition and arrangement can be. Biographical details are filled in by friends and family but never probed in depth: was Monk, for example, actually suffering some form of mental illness, or was his peculiar behavior merely the pose of an eccentric artist? If for no one else the film is a must for jazz fans and musicians (it was produced by Clint Eastwood).

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

This movie got me interested in jazz!

Author: quiet-4 from Seattle, WA
11 September 2004

Before seeing this movie, I wasn't much into Jazz, focussing most of my musical interest in rock: especially punk, new wave, classic, and industrial.

This movie completely blew me away! I had never seen piano performance before (or since) that was remotely like this. Seeing Thelonius play made me realize that I had been entirely neglecting a musical genre that was at least as cutting edge as the rock I had been subsisting on.

_Straight, No Chaser_ works because Eastwood and the director realized that the best way to present Monk (or perhaps any musician) is to maximize performance footage and minimize commentary. There is copious footage of Monk performing here, and I defy anyone with a sliver of interest in music to watch it and not come away with deeper appreciation of jazz.

His technique must make piano instructors cringe, though!

Jason K.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

super-cool and super out there, this is unfiltered Monk

9/10
Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
29 March 2007

Even though I knew enough about Thelonius Monk before watching Straight, No Chaser- mostly from the Ken Burns Jazz documentary- I never would have expected the guy to be like this. He's almost in his own sort of world, but one that can tune into things that most musicians would never ever think of tapping into. His genius was that of a kind of strange maverick who used the piano like one of the surrealist painters, in a style that would be furthered along in the horn section by Coltrane and the avant-garde jazz scene, where the tempo is not one easily distinguishable. As a jazz fan, it's like seeing a figure who intuitively knows the beats, the rhythms, and lays in his own interpretations of where and how these rhythms can be changed and modified for a particular, unique form in the realm of music.

So his appeal, really, doesn't need to be totally squared away; this is one of the pleasures of Charlotte Zwerin's work (previous collaborator with the Maysles brothers, with a similar sight for detail if not the sharpest eye in documentary film), as she can peer into what Monk is about in the recording studio and in concerts, and still remain something of an enigma. He's not as volatile as Miles Davis was, nor as gentleman-like as Duke Ellington, but he has a way with people, as evidence here, on a wavelength all his own, topped off with a really cool hat and a speaking voice that wanders off like his music. If you're already a fan do seek it out post-haste, but also if you've never heard of the guy and pass by the DVD in the music-section, it might turn some over to the craziest madman-genius of the jazz piano. Grade: A

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

One of the Best Documentarys Ever

10/10
Author: CactusJohn from Antelope Valley
16 July 2002

Clint Eastwood really did well with this film. It portrays the great and legendary playing and composing of Thelonious Monk and also his hard time during his life. One of the best films on Jazz to date. I suggest music lovers of all kind to watch this movie.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

This movie got me interested in jazz!

Author: quiet-4 from Seattle, WA
11 September 2004

Before seeing this movie, I wasn't much into Jazz, focussing most of my musical interest in rock: especially punk, new wave, classic, and industrial.

This movie completely blew me away! I had never seen piano performance before (or since) that was remotely like this. Seeing Thelonius play made me realize that I had been entirely neglecting a musical genre that was at least as cutting edge as the rock I had been subsisting on.

_Straight, No Chaser_ works because Eastwood and the director realized that the best way to present Monk (or perhaps any musician) is to maximize performance footage and minimize commentary. There is copious footage of Monk performing here, and I defy anyone with a sliver of interest in music to watch it and not come away with deeper appreciation of jazz.

His technique must make piano instructors cringe, though!

Jason K.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Covers the contemporary bases.

7/10
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
6 July 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you were ever curious about Thelonius Monk, the incomparable and (really) inimitable jazz pianist, this should answer most of your questions, at least about his mature years.

What a guy. Forty-some years ago, Monk's portrait appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and I remember reading about the difficulty that the artist had in keep Monk upright and properly posed in his chair. Monk would take innumerable extemporaneous breaks and return with a different hat ("lid"). He appeared to keep falling asleep during the sittings.

Monk never moved or spoke quickly. Everything he did seemed slow and deliberate. But the movement was almost constant. We see him walking through some sort of transportation hub, shuffling, and then he stops and begins slowly turning around -- and around and around -- leaning slightly from side to side as he twirls in slow motion, muttering to himself or to anyone nearby.

He smiled when he spoke, even if his speech was barely interpretable. If he's sitting at the piano and a member of his group asks him "A flat?", he says, "Yeah, A flat." Maybe. "Is it A flat or B flat?", asks the other musician. "Yeah, B flat." All very accommodating and even a little cheerful.

And it was all done with such self-absorbed deliberation. Except when he played the piano. Well, he didn't exactly "play" it, so much as he "attacked" it -- so forcefully that it seemed unlikely he was hitting the keys he intended. WHAM. WHANG.

I'm not a musician so I can't do some sort of vivisection on his music. His chords crashed, his harmonies were all over the place. The lines of his melodies were uniquely jagged. He could play anything, including cocktail piano -- "Laura" and the like -- but it was never likely to make you feel warm and fuzzy. Maybe that's why so few people can name any of his compositions except maybe "Round Midnight." They're not likely to walk down the street whistling "Straight, No Chaser." It's not my impression that he had a wide influence. His style -- either his playing or his composing -- never founded a school or anything. How could it? There wasn't anyone else like him.

The documentary gives the viewer about equal parts of Monk playing and Monk doing things like sitting on the subway, mumbling once in a while, grinning at some thought or some memory that looks as if it's swimming in the benthic depths of his impenetrable mind. Thank God his wife Nellie helped him get some of it out.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Excellent stuff

8/10
Author: laska_himself from United Kingdom
17 April 2010

Clint Eastwood presents: a documentary about jazz genius. Thelonius Monk is portrayed as an artist both blessed and cursed just by his genius. Apart from typical format of 'talking heads' of the genre master (John Coltrane), collaborators, figures from music business and Thelonius, Jr., there is shown small but intense piece of the musician's life: in the studio, on the road, during live concerts. And a note about unusual, long-lasting friendship between Thelonius and Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter. The makers were able to grasp tension coming from creative process (songs being written on the run, then played in front of huge audience without proper rehearsal), routine of life on tour with ever-tendering wife Nellie by his side, biased or just silly questions from journalists, more or less visible symptoms of mental illness (which might have been confused with artist's mannerisms, stage antics or eccentricities at most). And trademark exotic hats (could anyone else in the 20th century look cool in that historic Polish head thingy?). Another memorable thing is Monk's diction and his simple, street-like way of talking, being in contradiction with the kind of a man he was (supposedly extremely complex one) and with undeniably sophisticated music he composed and performed. Luckily, there is plenty here of the latter. Chamber, suggestive film in black and white about an extraordinary man. And a must not just for "jazz purists" but music lovers in general.

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