Review: Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019)

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019)

Directed by: Stanley Nelson | 115 minutes | documentary, music | Starring: Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Flea, Juliette Gréco, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Ashley Kahn, Lee Konitz, Carl Lumbly, Betty Mabry, Carlos Santana, Archie Shepp, Wayne Shorter, Greg Tate, Frances Taylor

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-1991) was an enigma, prone to addiction like so many musicians, hiding behind the velvety tones of his instrument. Davis remains an enigma for the viewer, even after ‘Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool’, a solid documentary in which intimates, colleagues from the music world and the deceased protagonist himself have their say. The biggest problem is that Davis has been dead for nearly three decades, so his difficult personality is mostly talked about with affection and respect.

We say ‘so’ because real tension between persons disappears with the passing, also controversy and pain. The result is a music documentary ‘plus’, a work with few negatives that just won’t come to life. Drama is missing, dramatic sigh that could have been sated with a living or recently deceased person. Because although an oyster as a human being, it can be known in its interaction with others. That won’t work if someone hasn’t been there for so long.

It can also be different. When the biography of the poet A. Roland Holst was presented, he had already passed away for a quarter of a century. During the presentation, friend Elly de Waard read a poem written by the master for a lost loved one. “Oh, why are you dead, dead so long?” Poetry evokes right spirits, transcending intimate ties. Music can do that too, a multitude of talking heads with age less. They mostly talk about, not with Miles’ mind.

Miles Davis communicated with his instrument, often heard as aural support of the content. ‘Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool’ is convincing as a rational musical document, but emotions do not unfold. The film feels like a late in memoriam. Man is no more, and is not brought to life, not even with the help of the alchemy of memory and a single tear. An open door, just like the accessibility of the work.

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