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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.
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.
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
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.
Before seeing this movie, I wasn't much into Jazz, focussing most of my
musical interest in rock: especially punk, new wave, classic, and
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!
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
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
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.
The film I will be reviewing is the documentary Thelonious Monk
Straight No Chaser. This film is a documentary of the late Thelonious
Monk born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, who
moved to Manhattan, New York, at the age of four. Thelonious was an
American jazz pianist and composer, widely considered one of jazz's
biggest figures and the founder of bebop.
The interest in this move for me began the very first time I heard jazz. This was watching the movie Block Party with Dave Chappell. This movie shows a lot of black musicians and a little of what they do back stage. In some of the clips they show Dave Chappell playing with some of the musicians. In one clip in particular Dave is playing a piece from Thelonious Monk. Surprisingly it didn't occur to me that he was playing jazz from years ago because it went with contemporary music of the time. So I looked it up. What I found was a great heritage of music that is timeless which I would have never listened to, and that's what interested me in this documentary
Straight No Chaser starts with Monk's start as a musician and his hand in the start of bebop. This movie shows raw footage as Monk plays a popular song "Rhythm-a-ning." The movie is especially interesting because it is in black and white and give's it that classic fill that monk gives off when he is playing. The movie explains how in the beginning not many knew Monk, even though he helped create the bebop style. They go through how he gained his popularity and showed great behind the scene pictures and clips of Monk. This movie is the perfect film for anyone interested in jazz or just the innovation of music. It is honest and holds nothing back from the life of this great musician. It glorifies his ups just as well as his downs. It also allows us to see in the life of a musician who was mostly private with his affairs and that makes it all the more interesting. The end of this movie is great for anyone who loves not only jazz but music in the creative sense. It shows how music affects the lives of people and how great and eclectic this musician really was.
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).
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.
Monk is one of those artists that even the very casual jazz fan knows
a group which I very much include myself in. So many of us would
instantly put a name to it when we hear Round Midnight for example, but
really wouldn't be able to talk much about the man himself as "proper"
fans would. This was sort of what attracted me to this film because I
was interested to know a little bit more about the guy. It is both a
good and a bad thing that this film doesn't do that particularly, since
it is not really a documentary in terms of having lots of facts and
insight thrown at you.
This was a little disappointing given the agenda which I came to the film with, but it was replaced by other things to enjoy since the film is very much about the music which I guess the man was too, so that works. This focus is facilitated by lots of footage which was apparently found in the 1980's which was filmed inside the studio, out on tour, in hotel rooms etc. There isn't too much talking in this footage; I'm not sure if Monk was particularly talky but if he was then it doesn't come over in the footage we have here. What there is though is music being played live while the camera watches, small moments observed and some contributions from friends and family (although really the vast majority of the film is the music). This is welcome as it all good stuff and has that extra addition of seeing it being performed rather than just listened to on CD.
If you are looking to get informed about the man and his story then this isn't the film for you, but if you like his music and want to see it performed on this very nice looking footage then it will be a very enjoyable 90 minutes and is well worth the look for that.
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