x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A jazz film can be an improvising appetiser

Dubai's International Jazz Festival starts on February 14th, and what better way to get in the mood than with a jazz-themed movie, like one of these 10.

Let's Get Lost, directed by Bruce Weber.
Let's Get Lost, directed by Bruce Weber.

Bird

Clint Eastwood directed this acclaimed 1988 biopic of the saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, who grew up in Kansas in the 1920s and started to play the saxophone at the age of 11. Forest Whitaker is superb as the adult Parker, plagued by heroin addiction, and Eastwood complements his mesmerising performance with an art-house feel and reverent use of Bird's memorable music. Whitaker won the Best Actor award at the Cannes International Film Festival for his performance.

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

A superb documentary produced by Clint Eastwood and Bruce Ricker (who also made the landmark jazz documentary Last of the Blue Devils), this features live performances by Monk and posthumous interviews with his friends and family. Put together after a large collection of footage of the jazz pianist and composer was uncovered in the 1980s, this 1988 film features John Coltrane, who was a member of Monk's Blue Note band of the 1950s and many other talented musicians who create a picture of the troubled genius from their memories.

The Jazz Singer

There have been three versions of this story - the Al Jolson-starring 1927 movie musical, a 1952 version with Peggy Lee and the 1980 remake with Neil Diamond and Laurence Olivier. The first - also the first feature with synchronised dialogue, making it the first "talkie" - remains the best, with Jolson as the young singer defying his traditional Jewish family by singing in nightclubs, but the Diamond version is worth a look for its sheer awfulness (Olivier and Diamond won Razzies for their bad performances) and the kitsch soundtrack (including Diamond hits America and Hello Again).

Sweet and Lowdown

Jazz aficionado Woody Allen wrote and directed this 1999 comedy set in the 1930s. Sean Penn is the fictional jazz guitarist Emmet Ray (Penn's solos were played by Howard Alden), who falls in love with mute Hattie (Samantha Morton) but risks it all by sleeping with socialite Blanche (Uma Thurman). With a cast including Anthony LaPaglia and Gretchen Mol, this is one of Allen's best movies of the past two decades, earning Penn and Morton Best Actor and Supporting Actress Oscar nominations.

Lost Highway

David Lynch's films are always twisting, perplexing and riveting and this 1997 psychological noir thriller is no exception. Bill Pullman is a nightclub jazz saxophone player who is arrested for the murder of his wife, but denies killing her and is convinced a strange man he met at a party is the real culprit. But when he is in jail, he morphs into a young mechanic (Balthazar Getty) and things start getting really strange …

Play Misty for Me

Clint Eastwood's 1971 directorial debut remains his most tense and creepy movie. He stars as Dave Garver, a night-time DJ in Carmel, California (Eastwood's real-life home), who has a brief fling with a fan named Evelyn (Jessica Walter) who always requests the jazz standard Misty on his show. Universal Pictures was rumoured to have paid US$25,000 (Dh91,800) to use the song. It plays a pivotal role as Evelyn becomes more obsessive about her relationship, in a movie credited with being an inspiration for "stalker" movies such as Fatal Attraction.

Let's Get Lost

The photographer Bruce Weber wrote and directed this stylish documentary about the trumpeter Chet Baker, and it's fascinating stuff. Friends, children, ex-wives, girlfriends and contemporary musicians remember him and Weber follows his career from its heyday in the 1950s, through his addiction to heroin and ravaged middle age, featuring performances from that time and some from the end of his career before his death in 1988.

Lady Sings the Blues

The song was jazz singer Billie Holiday's, and also the title for the 1972 biopic of her life starring Diana Ross. Beginning with her arrest in 1938 and then flashing back to her earlier days working in a brothel, struggling as a singer in nightclubs, and her later drug addiction, the drama co-stars Billy Dee Williams as Billie's manager/husband Louis and Richard Pryor as her friend Piano Man, but from beginning to end it's Ross's film and she delivers the best performance of her cinematic career.

The Cotton Club

Jazz fans will know the Cotton Club of the title was a famous Harlem jazz club in the 1930s, but this 1984 Francis Ford Coppola movie uses it as a setting for a crime drama starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, the dancer Gregory Hines, Nicolas Cage, Bob Hoskins and Laurence Fishburne. Regarded as a flop at the time (the budget was US$58million [Dh213m] and it made less than half that at the box office), it's the story of a musician who mixes with mobsters to aid his career, and while it is overlong, there are some great scenes and, best of all, very good jazz performances on the soundtrack.

New York, New York

Martin Scorsese's 1977 musical tribute to New York and jazz music is also a love story between the saxophone player Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) and the singer Francine (Liza Minnelli) as they both find fame after the Second World War. Like The Cotton Club, it was a box office failure, due in part to its 155-minute running time, and was later released in an edition cut by 20 minutes. A full version is available on DVD, complete with an alternate ending, while the theme song - made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1980 - remains one of the most performed songs in the world.

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