Friday 24 May, 2019

TT Film Festival rolls into S/F'do for free open air cinema

When the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) pulls into San Fernando Hill this Saturday, April 15 to screen Miles Ahead, about famed jazz musician Miles Davis, you can expect one heck of a ride.

This is, after all, a focus on the heydey of jazz - with its wild parties, fights, infidelity, copious sex and drugs, but most of all - wonderful music made by troubled, yet talented, geniuses.

The movie is being screened as part of the ttff’s Community Cinergy Series – a free outdoor cinema experience, sponsored by bpTT.

Acclaimed around the world for his musical genius and innovation, Miles Davis (1926 - 1991) was at the forefront of a number of major stylistic developments in jazz over his five-decade career, and is considered to be among the most influential and celebrated figures in the history of jazz.

Born into an affluent middle-class African-American family, his father, Miles Dewey Davis II, was a successful dental surgeon, and his mother Cleota Mae, a music teacher and violinist. They owned a 200-acre estate and a profitable pig farm where Davis and his siblings rode horses, fished, and hunted. His later music career would seem far removed from this childhood idyll and become marked by hard times, controversy and drug addiction. Indeed, by his own account, Davis was at one point snorting four or five grams of coke a day, while also smoking four packs of cigarettes - a practice that would wreck havoc on his voice and his health.

With Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda,  Swordfish, Crash, Ironman) at the directing and acting helm, this is no ordinary biopic, but rather a unique, madcap caper and no-holds-barred portrait of an artist in crisis, in the midst of a dazzling and prolific career. According to film critic Roger Ebert: “Cheadle’s performance is pure elegant vulgarity. He curses as if he is speaking poetry. He carries himself like a man who has lived a thousand lives. He cares less about Miles’ cool than he does about the tragedies he’s inflicted upon himself and others. The way he cares for the man is evident in his performance, by the honesty that comes with each moment, whether it be Miles whipping out a gun in Columbia Records or asking Frances to marry him as two naked women lie in his bed in the next room.”

Cheadle, who also co-wrote the film, said he wanted to make a movie “about this dude as a gangster — 'cause that's how I feel about Miles Davis. He's a G. All those apocryphal stories about how bold and dynamic he was, the gangster shit he'd do ... I just thought, let's do a movie that Miles Davis would say, 'I want to be the star of that movie. Not the one about me. The one where I'm the f---er running it, and I tell everybody what happens.” Hence Miles Ahead, is less a factual, linear story of Davis’ life, but rather an attempt to cast Miles in a caper flick that he might liked to have been part of. A fictional re-telling of a period of his life when he disappeared from public view for five years.

In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Cheadle explains how his reinterpretation of the Miles Davis story came about. “... we suddenly begin to realize that one of the most interesting parts of his life isn't when he's reinventing music several times over, it's when he's not making music. He's sitting in this house by himself, he's recovering from this hip injury, he's indulging in self-destructive behaviour and he might be dying. What's going on in his head? ... Why did Miles come back in 1980? …… why did he stop in the first place? ….. what happened to get him out of that hole and playing again? In the books (about his life), it's this much. [Holds fingers an inch apart] So we thought, that's the movie. How Miles got his groove back.”

In the film, Davis exile from public life in the late 1970s is spent alone, holed up in his home, beset by chronic pain from a deteriorating hip, his musical voice stifled and numbed by drugs and pain medications, his mind haunted by unsettling ghosts from the past. A wily music reporter, Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) forces his way into Davis' house and, over the next couple of days, the two men unwittingly embark on a wild and sometimes harrowing adventure to recover a stolen tape of the musician's latest compositions.

“Hopefully, this movie starts a bigger conversation about him (Davis): Let's talk about the drugs. Let's talk about the abuse. But let's also talk about the music. Because that's just as big a part of who he was. The irreverence for rules, the restlessness, the mindset of "I just invented cool jazz — OK, what's next? Modal jazz? Fusion? Let's follow that and see where it leads." That's what made him a great artist. You can't leave the music out.”

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