Music is nothing but styles, said Miles Davis, and this film, written by Steven Baigelman and Don Cheadle is a reflection of that. Davis’ life was decades of musical brilliance that he referred to as ‘social music’ rather than jazz, a decade or so of drug abuse and silence. This film is about the silent period in the 70s. Cue to a lot of jewel-coloured satin shirts.
Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) lands on the doorstop of Davis’ house in New York City – a writer disguising himself as a Rolling Stone journalist with ambiguous motivations. The premise of the film is about a potential album of music that Miles Davis is hanging onto and that his record company would like to get their hands on. The question is who owns it? Is it the musician or the person who paid for the recording session? As Dave says: “You may be a quitter, but you’re an earner!” referring to the people trying to make a buck from Davis’ career, when he had seemingly given up. Davis unwittingly takes Brill along as he deals with his fears, challenges, a few gangsters, and reflections on the relationship he had with his muse and wife, dancer Frances Taylor.
Motivated by the Davis family, it was suggested to Don Cheadle, while auditioning for ALI (2001), that he play Miles Davis in a film. Both honoured and aware that a film about Miles Davis had never been made, Don Cheadle ended up as co-writer, fundraiser, director and playing the lead role. The financing of the film required multiple sources including crowdfunding. Cheadle said: “We crowdfunded via Indiegogo, deferred payment, I put money in myself. Kevin Hart, Pras, my producer’s cousin, my other producer’s friend put money in. It was just like that kind of a situation”. By 2014, after 7 years in development, they ended up with a budget of $344,582, while giving away a lot of tshirts and avoiding the restraints of a major studio.
This is not a bio-pic. “I wanted to tell a story that Miles himself would have wanted to see, something hip, cool, alive and ahead” said Cheadle. And he has done so convincingly. As Davis said: “If you’re going to tell a story, then come with some attitude, don’t be all coy and that shit”.
Everyone wanted a piece of Miles Davis – his story, his music, his privacy, his secrets. “Hey Mr Davis, do you have a ticket?” asked a bouncer in front of a club. “You’re looking at it”, replied Davis.
If you want to see Miles Davis in his only feature film role, have a look at DINGO (1991). A film made by Australian director Rolf de Heer (BAD BOY BUBBY) made just before Davis died in 1991.
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