The Miles Davis Movie: The fanboys and the hype machine

Am I a Miles Davis fanboy? Can someone 35 years-old even be considered a fanboy? I ask because the term has become quite ubiquitous these days as it relates to movies and music, comics and TV shows, cars and video games and just about anything else a teen male can obsess over non-stop and pledge their eternal devotion to.

The term recently was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and there’s even a new film about fanboys called Fanboys set for a September theatrical release.

Clearly, I am not a boy, so the expression doesn’t relate to me, but its description is something that can apply to anyone with a deep passion for… whatever. How about fanman? Is that ridiculous? Yes…yes it is.

I write a Blog (two actually) about a forthcoming movie based on the life of Miles Davis, so obviously there’s obsession involved here.

I bring this up because in the aftermath of the intense hype surrounding “The Dark Knight” – there’s still residual hype, but last week was off the charts crazy – I am wondering what kind of grass roots/enthusiast momentum will build for the Miles Davis film.

I don’t expect message boards and movie websites to overheat with euphoria, but I’ll be watching with interest to see where the early buzz is coming from once news about the movie starts to filter out; you could say my Blog about the Miles Davis movie is very early to the media party in covering, discussing and hyping the forthcoming biopic.

Once a teaser trailer, or casting news hits the Blogosphere there will be an immediate jump in coverage on the numerous (by numerous I mean a whole heck of a lot) websites and Blogs that cover the ‘movie business’ and all its moving parts.

Many of those movie sites are linked on this Blog; they’re invaluable portals of breaking news, movie reviews, analysis and all you need to know about what the heck is going on in Hollywood and across the film universe.

That ‘jump’ in coverage will be a post/news item with requisite observation, followed by commentary from the readers. This moment will provide some insight into how much buzz is out there for the Miles Davis biopic.

The Don Cheadle factor definitely pulls in the non-jazz fan on ‘general’ movie websites. Music-related Blogs and websites can play up the Miles Davis angle. No doubt the information superhighway outside the U.S. will also spark to any Miles Davis movie news.

I have no idea how many jazz fans are out there. I also have no idea how many Miles Davis fans are out there.

This is not a superhero movie, so no one is expecting worldwide mania, but if the film were to follow the same trajectory as “Ray,” for example, that’d be OK by me.

Both are legends of music with extraordinary stories, but how Ray Charles and Miles Davis stack up on a purely marketing/box office potential basis I’m unsure.

Ray Charles, as a brand, might have an easier time bumping around the general, pop culture marketplace than Miles Davis, who one could argue exists on the cool periphery for those ‘in-the-know.’

Regardless if what I just typed makes any sense, I do know there are a lot of fans out there of the jazz legend, young and old. And if they own just one Miles Davis record, hey, even if they own just one jazz record, it’s almost certainly Kind of Blue.

Kind of Blue has been certified triple platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America. It’s also most likely the best-selling jazz record of all time (though there is some dispute).

And how’s this: Kind of Blue still sells about 5,000 records a week.

Who is buying this record these days? Well, besides those of us who have worn out their old copy, I’ll say it’s a younger demographic getting their first taste of Miles Davis.

I think this demo is going to take an interest in the Miles Davis film. Not on a massive scale, but an interest nevertheless.

While we’re on the subject of Kind of Blue, 2009 will be the 50th Anniversary of the seminal recording’s original release date.

Not a bad time to release a Miles Davis biopic. I like the synergy.

Is a Miles Davis biopic mainstream entertainment, or is it geared toward an arty crowd who knows their Louis Armstrong from their Thelonious Monk?

My hunch is that it’s somewhere in the middle.

Don Cheadle is central to my assumption. He’s not famous like Brad Pitt is ‘famous,’ but he’s a respected actor who has been part of some big Hollywood films (as well as critically-praised smaller projects). So he’s known, as it were.

This ‘celebrity,’ whatever that means nowadays, does give the Miles Davis biopic extra gravitas. If the Miles Davis film were to star a newcomer I’d say there’d be less early buzz. It doesn’t mean the movie wouldn’t be a success, but a ‘name’ always grabs the attention of the mainstream press. The Blogs who cover every detail of the movie ‘biz would still eat it up, but not mainstream – they need the sizzle.

The Miles Davis movie is not going to be on a level with “The Dark Knight,” but depending on how the film is produced and then marketed will ultimately determine ‘who’ buys a ticket.

I’ll dig deeper into the audience demographic down the line, as it’s a topic that intrigues me.

Some folks don’t care for the hype. They just want to get away for a couple hours at the movies; walk up, check the movie posters and show times, grab some popcorn and hope to God they’ll be entertained. Not everyone mines the depths of their soul to determine what movie to see, charging through reviews and opinions and endless conjecture.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that since I am definitely in the latter example.

But the hype factory in Hollywood and on the ‘Net will play a huge role in how the Miles Davis movie (like most films these days) is positioned on the ever-shifting buzz rankings, with the critics filling in the blanks for those who seek their counsel.

So let’s see what happens when the first ‘real’ news (aside from Don Cheadle as star and director) hits the mediaspehere; maybe it’s a one-sheet, or a cast addition or a release date.

It’s all quite exciting when you think about it. I’m happy to be part of the show.


6 thoughts on “The Miles Davis Movie: The fanboys and the hype machine”

  1. Lots of food for thought today… where to begin?

    The fanboy thing: It’s a really cheesy term, no doubt. But I kinda figure if I do get accused of being a fanboy, I’d rather it be for something Cool (cap ‘c’ intentional) like Miles than something else a bit less so.

    I don’t have a blog, but I can count about 40-plus Miles albums in my collection, not counting box sets. And I have three Miles books in my collection, have devoured countless other reading material from the library on him. And I have two concert DVD’s (Isle of Wight and the ’59 CBS special) on my shelf.

    As far as grassroots reaction, it won’t be overwhelming, but it will be good.

    Ray Charles had the benefit of being an icon for the last 25 years of his life. And a cuddly one at that. Remember, this is the man who showed up on “The Blues Brothers”, performed at the REPUBLICAN national convention in 1984 (just think about all the drugs he did in his life and then picture a beaming Ronald Reagan and George Bush gladly shaking his hand. You don’t even need a joke here.), and did that “Right One, Baby” ad campaign for Diet Pepsi.

    So by the time he passed away (right around when Reagan died, coincidentally enough) he had built up this image of charming elder statesman of music.

    But us diehards knew it wasn’t that simple.

    If I had a dime for every time one of my friends who was a casual fan of his music told me how “shocked” they were to discover how rambunctious his early life was after seeing his biopic, I’d have a nice chunk of change.

    Miles, on the other hand, never got that graceful of a second act in life. Yes, he was recognized and beloved by those he worked with closely. Even won a Grammy for “Tutu.” But he was Miles to the bitter end: enigmatic, contentious and a seriously brutal personality. He wasn’t going to change for anybody, and more power to him for that.

    I mean, the news of his death did not even crack the front page of just about all the major American newspapers. Not saying it was because of his lack of tact with the media, but the fact he didn’t pander and make himself more friendly and visible late in life might have had something to do with it.

    But thanks to the brilliant marketing of Columbia and the fine work of people like Bob Belden, the interest in Miles and his music has really hit a fever pitch in the last 10-plus years. And rightfully so.

    It’s just that the protagonist isn’t around to benefit from the newfound appreciation/revisionist history that’s gone on.

    So that’s why I think the grassroots hype will be good, but not as great as say for Ray or Johnny Cash, to cite two recent examples.

    But — and this is key — we still do have the music.

    In the “Different Kind of Blue” doc that came out in 2004, Santana described Miles’s music as personifying the saying “If you listen, I gotcha!” In other words, you just have to listen for a bit and he’ll take you on an incredible journey.

    I can testify to this. My exposure to Miles began when I checked out “Kind of Blue” from my neighborhood library in New York, where I was living at the time.

    From the opening strains of “So What,” I was hooked. It was one of those profound moments where I kept thinking, “Where have I been all my life?”

    I listened obsessively to it for months, and the love of his music blossomed from there. I play it for my young sons constantly to this day, and whenever someone I know has a new baby, I always gift them a copy of “Kind of Blue.” What better and more enduring gift than some of the greatest music ever made?

    So how will the buzz go? The die-hards, however big or small that group is, will be there no questions asked. The big Hollywood crowd will also check in I’m sure with someone like Cheadle all over this project.

    My point is that I hope the casual fan demographic does give the movie a chance and is pleasantly surprised or profoundly moved by the music therein.

    And to you, sir, thank you for providing this platform for us “fanboys” to toss around our thoughts. No shame in being early to the hype party.

  2. you make some great points, ed.

    the note about how differently ray charles and miles davis were known/perceived in the latter stages of their lives is right on the money; ray charles had a triumphant second act, as it were, while Miles held firm to who he was, for better and worse.

    miles certainly wasn’t singing, ‘you got the right one, baby!’ in any soft drink commercials… that’s for sure.

    if anything there should be a high curiosity factor for the miles biopic.

  3. Yeah, I’m trying hard to think of what things Miles did to embed himself in pop culture the last years of his life and there just isn’t much.

    He showed up in an episode of “Miami Vice”…. playing a pimp.

    He did a Honda commercial…. that only aired in Japan.

    Without question, a man of his own terms. Whether you like it or not.

    Like I said before, a shame that he couldn’t be around for the renewed interest in his music. Maybe by now, he would have warmed to the idea of looking back, especially when he saw lots of dollar signs over his shoulder.

    Or not.

  4. it is a shame he isn’t here to see his legacy continue to be appreciated and discussed — in pop culture and in jazz history.

    i know he’d marvel at the record sales.

    there was also that “60 minutes” interview… that was interesting. lol.

    i wonder, if he were alive today if we would not already have seen a film made of his life. perhaps less red tape with him around to make certain decisions.

  5. Yeah, I rewatched that “60 Minutes” interview on YouTube the other night. Interesting is right, LOL!

    I bet for certain that he would have been pleased to see his fusion era stuff finally get its just due. The early stuff and “second great quintet” era was always appropriately appreciated.

    I mean, based on how reviled “On the Corner” was and how poorly it sold, he would have been floored (and thrilled) that they released a box set 35 years later that got better than reasonable reviews.

    Agreed, the movie would have been done by now. There were tons of landmark years they could have released it on: 40th anniversary of Kind of Blue (1999), Miles’ 75th birthday (2001), Miles’ 50th anniversary of his debut with Columbia (2005) and so on.

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