2019, Movies

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019, Stanley Nelson)

This is a completely fine documentary about Miles Davis’ career. I didn’t realize it was a PBS documentary but it makes sense as it’s a totally fine TV documentary.

This documentary hits the highlights of Davis’ career, with some attention spent on his personal life. Muhammad Ali it is not, and we’re definitely left wanting more about his personal life. To the filmmakers’ credit, they get a little bit into the abuse, but there’s not much about his childhood and the women come and go without a lot of worry about how or why.

It hits the highlights of his musical career but doesn’t really delve into it enough. There’s Birth of the Cool, the hours of music recorded in a couple of sessions, A Kind of Blue, the Gil Evans records, Bitches Brew, On the Corner (!!!) and a few others but it often feels like the context is missing. Talking heads tell us he changed jazz but there’s very little information about the context of jazz while he was doing it, and they basically ignore how much critics hated his music once he went electric. That’s…weird. (Though I appreciate that this documentary doesn’t hate his electric music. That would have been far weirder.)

The decision to accompany the film with almost exclusively music he made is a weird one. He obviously grew up during the heyday of jazz as a commercial force and to not emphasize what that sounded like strikes me as fairly arbitrary and helpful for people who don’t know him. But once his career is going, it’s more appropriate. It would still help to orient viewers if they new what he was rebelling against every time he changed course.

But it’s fine as an introduction to his career and music.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.