This week I was invited to an early, special-screening of the new Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, and came away feeling inspired by this film that focused not on his life, legacy or chronological narrative, but the story of just two crazy days in his life. It's everything we like to think a Rock n Roll music stars life is like 24-7.
Image courtesy of Icon Film.
Miles' album Kind Of Blue is the best-selling album in the history of jazz music but In the midst of a dazzling and prolific career at the forefront of modern jazz innovation, Miles Davis (Cheadle) virtually disappears from public view for a period of five years in the late 1970s. Alone and holed up in his home, he is 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, (the things us music journo's do to get interviews!) Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) forces his way into Miles' 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. Miles' mercurial behavior is fueled by memories of his failed marriage to the talented and beautiful dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
The idyll however, was short lived. The eight-year marriage was marked by infidelity and abuse, and Frances was forced to flee for her own safety as Miles' mental and physical health deteriorated. By the late '70s, plagued by years of regret and loss, Miles flirts with annihilation until he once again finds salvation in his art.
The film seems to operate on two speeds. The present scenes are fast and dangerous, while his past is cooler, more controlled and often romantic.
Here's what the film made apparent to me:
GETTING FILMS MADE IS TOUGH. GETTING FILMS MADE ABOUT BLACK CHARACTERS IS TOUGHER, BUT CROWD FUNDING HAS MADE THINGS POSSIBLE!
Over the years we've all heard about how tough it is to make films about or with black characters. After several setbacks including one of the largest recessions in global history, Don Cheadle's MILES AHEAD finally locked down partial financing before turning to IndieGoGo to raise the funds to make up for the shortfall. "It actually felt right that we used a social platform to complete the film" observed Cheadle "since Miles was someone who made social music''.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW ABOUT JAZZ OR MILES TO ENJOY THIS FILM.
Film Producer Pamela Hirsch reassures us '''MILES AHEAD is engaging and enjoyable purely as filmmaking a treat both for aficionados of Miles Davis's life and music as well as audiences who know very little about him.Don has created a film that is truthful to Miles 'spirit, film he would have starred in. He was a complex character who lived a fascinating life and it's all in there".
MUSIC GENIUS' LIKE TO STRAIGHT TALK, BUT ARE EASILY SUCKED IN BY THE DEVIL.
MILES AHEAD shows that Miles embodied a very multi-layered personality that was hilariously funny, shot from the hip and suffers no fools. Yet like most musicians I've met, at some point during their careers, the escape-haven of drugs, alcohol, smoking and party life takes a hold, spawning classic enhancing music and killing their souls simultaniously.
MUSIC STARS ARE ALWAYS UNDER THEIR RECORD LABEL MASTERS THUMB.
More recently pop star Kesha has been all over the news accusing her record label of mistreatment of various kinds, like hundreds before her including Michael Jackson and Prince. Miles' story shows that this is an age-old story. Whatever ethnicity or music genre you are from, the music star is always beholden to the record label master.
IF YOU'RE GOING TO PLAY ONE OF THE BIGGEST MUSICIANS OF ALL TIME, YOU'RE GOING TO NEED TO BE ABLE TO ACTUALLY PLAY A TRUMPET LIKE A PRO.
Don told us '''As a kid, back in fifth grade, I played the alto sax and I would listen to people like Charlie Parker and try to figure out how they were playing. It was much easier then to slow down a 78 record on a hi-fi to 33. Once I committed to learning the trumpet for the film, I played every day and still do. I've become completely geeky about it. I'd say I've gotten to the level of a good ninth-grade trumpet player.I watched film and video of Miles and I also had seen him perform in the early 80s shortly after the period in the film''.
MILES DAVIS AND HIS PEERS EMBODIED THE EARLY ELEMENTS OF THE GENETIC HIP HOP BLUEPRINT DNA.
The youth of today love a variety of music with rap music being a dominant genre. Before rap existed Miles was already doing sampling in his music, the only difference is that it was analog instead of digital. Miles epitomises the definition of 'Swagtastic' with his verbal slanguage, his over the top leery clothing and his fast talking,attitude filled dynamism.
MILES DAVIS WAS AN UNDENIABLE DON. NO OTHER EXPLANATIONS NEEDED.
Miles Ahead is released in UK cinemas on April 22nd 2016.