the miles davis movie that we deserve
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Cincinnati premiere of Miles Ahead, the new film directed by Don Cheadle. A while back, I donated to the crowd funding project for the movie and got a ticket to this event so I was thrilled to see the project come to life. I thought Miles Ahead was a great film and I want to take a few minutes to explain what is impressive about it.
Any Miles Davis film faces two problems. First, Miles Davis was a horrible human being. He was a drug addict, wife beater, philanderer, plagiarist, dead beat dad, and a homophobe. I’m sure I’ve missed something, the dude was crooked. So you can’t make a truthful movie that presents Miles as a lovable or misunderstood guy. Second, there is no arc to Miles’ career. As early as high school, he was recognized as an extraordinarily talented musician. He was accepted to Juliard and offered a job playing trumpet in Duke Ellington’s band. Throughout his entire career, he was always pushing. There is no “high point” or great point of recognition. So you can’t make a movie that leads up to “the moment” when Miles finally made it, or when he overcomes some great adversity. His life is more or less a story of continual evolution.
Cheadle solves this problem by simply making it up. The movie is fiction and Cheadle uses various points in the action to cue flashbacks to moments that recall Miles’ life, mainly in the late 1950s and 1960s. A lot of reviewers were upset that the movie doesn’t review his early life, but that’s ok by me. It’s not a documentary. There’s even dialogue where Miles explains to another character that he’s not going to bother with the whole story of where he grew up. He’s just not into dwelling on the past.
I agree with the reviewers that the “plot” of the film – Miles has to recover a stolen recording – is hokey, but I forgive because the plot isn’t that important. What is more important is the film’s impressionism, attitude, and flare. And this is very consistent with how Miles played music and approached his personal style. Finally, I also note that the film does a good job covering Miles the horrible human being. It doesn’t dwell on the depravity, but uses his more introspective moments to explore the good and bad moments in his life. If you love jazz, you should definitely see this film.