Footage from various club dates punctuated by poetry and all of it woven with Tom Reichman filming Mingus and his daughter during the final moments before they are evicted from the Manhatten studio where Mingus hoped to build a new jazz school. Yes, Charles is upset.
Not so much so that he's going to smash a bass (rock stars smashing their gear was apparently inspired by some Brit rockers witnessing a bout of Mingus stage-rage) but he's rightly peeved at the city, peeved at the government, and peeved at America. They'd already relocated his studio once with a list a lame excuses about feeds and licenses and by-laws, and relocated him into a rat-hole of a space. "I pledge allegiance to the White Flag of America ... for the hell of it." "What's the gun for?" "Somebody robbed me, first day I was in here ... Stole my watch, took a lot of money" I had to write this review seeing only one other that said this was the ranting of a mentally disturbed man brandishing a gun. This is a film of a man who used to be the darling of Uptown, down and out, no one even interceding to let him open a simple jazz workshop. I'd be drinking a bit of wine too, I'll tell you. I'd be a little bitter too. I'd have a few choice words, and maybe a few more as the wine bottle got emptied. If you ask me, Charlie Mingus, for all his hot-temper reputation shows remarkable restraint and decorum standing waist deep in his own Armageddon.
And he's nobody's raving armed madman; "Blood ain't my game. But women, women are my game; I'm gonna take (ie steal) his woman and sell her back to him ..." although, OK, he does demonstrate how the rifle he bought for $7, the same model used to assassinate Kennedy, does indeed work, but it's such a run down discard of a space, and the bailiffs are due with their muscle-men any minute, so, like, who really gives a @#$ about the new hole in the wall.
Remember, Charlie Mingus is from Watts, a bottom-cast man of little schooling who worked his way up to the top of Downbeat, a man of so-called "mixed race" growing up in L.A. long before Nike and Rap made it cool (if they ever did).
Remember, this is 1968 America, where a rifle costs only $7.
The concert footage is amazing, and you bass players are going to be very happy with the angles because you get to see every little pyrotechnic beat.
But I'm not so sure this is a jazz film so much as a film about America, about America even after Rev King, an America with still a long way to go. Today there is no doubt of the genius and authenticity of expression that was the composer Charles Mingus, and this film makes me wonder who it might be that we are evicting today.
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