Born to Be Blue

 

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Following in the footsteps of Miles Ahead we have another film about a giant of jazz - Chet Baker.

 

Born to Be Blue

Ethan's Chet

 

Chet Baker, trumpeter and vocalist, is the subject of this film written and directed by Robert Budreau. He is a new name to me, but Born to be Blue is clearly the work of somebody who has a real feeling for jazz and one imagines that making this movie was a labour of love. If that gives one confidence in the film, so do the lead performances from Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo, both proving to be well cast and totally persuasive.

 

Having been at the centre of Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, played now by Kedar Brown, has a supporting role here as does Dizzy Gillespie and it is fair to assume that both of these films will appeal primarily to jazz fans. Even so, by concentrating on one phase of Chet Baker’s career in the 1960s, Budreau has a dramatic story to tell that is compelling in its own right albeit that reality has in some respects been embroidered considerably. In 1966 Baker, who was in Los Angeles playing himself in a film, was beaten up and left with injuries which suggested that his trumpet-playing days were over. The film tells of his determined efforts to play again to a standard that would enable him to resume his career, a struggle in which he was supported by the actress Jane Azuka (Carmen Ejogo) who had been playing his ex-wife in the movie. In addition, this period in Baker’s life saw him trying to keep off the drugs that were pulling him down and which Jane would not tolerate. Even without that there was tension in their relationship, for it became clear that although it could be leading to marriage Jane’s parents disapproved and in time it was also evident that Baker was at odds with Jane over her attempts to build up her acting career.

 

There is plenty of material here on which to build a feature film and there is interest too in Baker’s reminiscences about Charlie Parker as his mentor and in flashbacks that show Baker’s own debut at Birdland in the 1950s. Just occasionally the intercutting of memory shots is distracting and equally the writing has the odd moment that seems clichéd but, for the most part, this is confident, involving filmmaking that gives proper prominence to performances of musical numbers ranging from 'Small Hotel', 'Over the Rainbow' and 'My Funny Valentine' to two versions of 'I’ve Never Been in Love Before' from Guys and Dolls. To pick Hawke as Chet Baker may not have been an obvious choice, but it has certainly paid off.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie, Stephen McHattie, Jane-Laine Green, Kedar Brown, Kevin Hanchard, Janine Theriault, Tony  Nappo, Dan Lett.


Dir Robert Budreau, Pro Jennifer Jonas, Leonard Farlinger, Robert Budreau and Jake Seal, Screenplay Robert Budreau, Ph Steve Cosens, Pro Des Aidan Leroux, Ed David Freeman, Music David Braid, Todor Kobakov and Steve London, Costumes Anne Dixon.


New Real Films/Lumanity/Black Hangar Studios/Telefilm Canada/Entertainment One/Productivity Media-Munro Film Services.
97 mins. Canada/UK/Germany. 2105. Rel: 25 July 2016. Cert. 15
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