Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019) Poster

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An inside look at the legendary musician's tortured soul.
eelen-seth22 May 2019
Miles Davis was a jazz musician with a big impact on the music industry, even up to this day. A cultural phenomenon who didn't play by the rules, but did everything on his own terms and with success. Interestingly enough, there hasn't really been a decent documentary made about his life, until now.

Director Stanley Nelson takes us backstage and on to a journey into the highs and lows of Davis' career and personal life, with the respect this legend deserves. He shows us his road to success, breaks down his relationships and doesn't shy away from the darker side of his breakdown. Every strength and weakness get discussed in detail and analysed by professionals and musicians who had the chance to meet the man himself. From Quincy Jones and Carlos Santana to his children. For the hardcore fans, some of the footage might be familiar, but there is new material being shown that has been archived for years.

Miles Davis comes from a honourable family, but still has to deal with segregation in Illinois, in spite of his talent and success. After becoming a breakout star in the United States of America, he embarks on a European tour where he gets welcomed as a world star. Paris has a huge impact on his future career, but this dream doesn't last long as he needs to return back to New York, where he always felt like living in a confined domain. An addiction to heroin, and depression soon haunt him for the rest of his life. Always being afraid of becoming the mirror image of his abusive father, he becomes just that. His former partners speak out on the violence they had to endure and how they were able to escape that toxic environment.

His music gets analysed and we hear plenty of his early style of jazz - bebop - growing into the more experimental phase of his music into the 70s. His sound was unique, even when he reimagined himself completely when stepping back into the scene the last decade of his life. A king that will always be remembered by his success, style and class.

The film itself wants to connect mostly with a more familiar with jazz-audience than a younger one that grew up with poppy forgettable tunes. But when disregarding that certain audience, you might miss out on the opportunity to pull that group in and take them on that journey that is Miles Davis. You can tell his estate was heavily involved in the making of this film, by the amount of footage and music used - it's impressive and that's certainly understated. But what is noticeable in music docs this decade, is the lack of subjectiveness. This could make the film more visually pleasing and go even deeper into Davis' music and career.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool gives us a look at the legendary musician's tortured soul who was unpredictable in his actions as in his craft. He changed the game for everyone with his creativity and point of view. If only they showcased that bolder side of his personality, this film could've become something more than just solid.
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Very fine Doc on Miles Davis which serves as a Biography on film
gortx6 September 2019
Stanley Nelson's documentary MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL attempts to be a full biography on film. That it succeeds so well, is a testament to the long time documentarian - and to the magnificence of its subject, jazz legend Miles Davis. Nelson tells the tale in a fairly straight-forward and, largely, chronological order. From his childhood in an upper middle-class black family in Illinois to his fast rise as a teenage wonder on the trumpet to his status as one of the true pioneers of jazz. Nelson makes the wise choice of having Davis' own words 'narrate' his own story (beautifully voiced by actor Carl Lumbly). Virtually all of the music heard in the Doc is Davis' (music by other performers is specifically cited as such; too bad Nelson isn't as detailed when it comes to keeping the proper aspect ratio of existing footage). Woven through the movie is Davis' struggle against racism, which he discovers at an early age despite his family's relative wealth. While understandable in part, Davis was also prone to resentment and violence (particularly against women -- all of his relationships seem to have ended with the women leaving). Nelson doesn't shy away from the truth here, but never dwells upon it, either. Of course, the emphasis here is on Davis' music. And, what music the viewer gets to hear over the course of the (just under) two hours. Beginning with his work with Charlie Parker and others in the mid-40s, Davis was soon his own band leader and began recording with Gil Evans (a white Arranger with whom Davis would have a long simpatico relationship). Davis spent three semesters at Julliard, which showed his passion for the intense study of the musical form, dispelling the notion that everything in Davis' repertoire was improv. Davis was a master improvisational trumpet player, but, it came from an informed place (something he later tried to imbue in his fellow band members). Davis continued to perform right up to his passing in 1991 at 65. One of the things that makes COOL so satisfying is that Nelson was able to reach so many people who worked with and, loved, Davis. Everyone from French Actress Juliette Gréco to former wife Frances Taylor (who practically steals the movie with her verve and bravado) to musicians Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter. Carlos Santana and Quincy Jones are also on hand to provide the perspectives of those who were influenced by his work. Using Davis' own words is invaluable, but, so is the input of those who were there to give another point of view. The only major quibble with Nelson's Doc is that the strict birth to death structure diminishes the kind of emotional and distinctive pull that a less rigid format would have allowed. The movie was co-produced by PBS's American Masters series, which may account for that straight-forwardness (although the sometimes very blue language will have the PBS censors with their fingers on the bleep button...a lot!). A movie about jazz should be a bit looser. Still, COOL is a terrific accomplishment; Whether one is a jazz newbie or an aficionado, one will find a lot here to that satisfies.
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