1 November 2019 | reginadonk
Using the talking heads option is so out of date
Without doubt Miles Davis was one of THE premier creative artists of the 20th Century. Beyond that he has also come to symbolise cool in so many ways. However, the realities of his character; his cruelness, tendency to violence, (often perpetrated against women) his serious addictions, disputes and asocial nature are well documented. Do we want to know those details, though, or do we prefer to focus on the genius, the sophisticated aura that he engendered, and forgive the artist his human failings? Well, this documentary certainly chooses to avoid delving too deep into the darker heart of the man. It purports to be revealing and exposing but it isn't. Yes, it acknowledges the wife-beating and the substance abuse but it manages to play down these as either a very small side of his complex nature, or, in the case of the drug use, blame it on external forces. (such as his joyous sojourn in Paris where he was lauded, followed on then by his return to a racist America that treats him like a dog - The film views his subsequent descent into heroin addiction as completely understandable in the face of this experience) This is how one goes about re-writing history, forgiving the often unacceptable, and creating a myth.
Meanwhile, if we concentrate on the music then there is no question of his utter integrity, his dedication to the craft and his pioneering spirit. That is fine, although we never get enough lengthy excerpts here to sit back and wallow in. Instead we see and hear endless talking heads giving us their take on the man or how significant they (or they like to think they) were to him during his life. Using the talking heads option is so out of date in the wake of the new wave of celebrity docu-films. It smacks of cheap obvious TV style profiles and is simply artless and lazy. Having said that, there was so little older footage and interviews that I suspected that the makers were either denied rights to much film, of would have had to pay top dollar to use it.
So, we end up with a cheap, airbrushed and empty story.
Saying all that, the film has one moment of clarity: Someone comments that the cool, the aloofness, and the asocial behaviour of Miles Davis is potentially forever forgiven when we hear the emotion, the humanity and the vulnerability in his playing. If we focus on his message through his music and not his struggle with being a human being we feel the art and that dwarfs the trivia. The speaker assumes that it is this that made women fall at his feet and every guy to want to be him.
This film should have been so much better.