The Miles Davis Movie: Do we need a movie about Miles Davis?


I could have left it at that, but I bring up the topic based on an interesting comment posted on this site by Todd who wrote:

A movie about Miles Davis? Impossible. Miles is more a concept and a state of mind – not a persona as a movie needs to portray. I have loved Miles and his music for my entire adult life, but a movie just won’t work. He transcends anything like that.

Of course we’re all entitled to our cinematic opinions (do I think we need endless remakes of good-to-great films of yesteryear? Nope!), but I figured I would take Todd’s view that a film version about Miles Davis is a futile task and open it up a bit to include some broader themes.

Hey, from the looks of it we’re a ways off from any kind of Miles Davis movie hitting the big screen so I need all the material I can get!

Whether or not the story of Miles Davis should or should not be produced for a movie is up for debate; the subject surely contains the necessary elements that make up what one might deem an entertaining film-going experience.

There have been movies made about the most famous people ever and those perhaps known only to a few. If you can find drama, conflict, humor, etc. in a life then you have some kind of basis for a film.

Some people want to see a movie about Moses and others want to see a movie about Andy Kaufman. I tend to like bio-pics and movies based on historical events. I feel like I can be entertained and learn a little something in the process.

With any film about a real person comes the gigantic charge for the filmmakers to keep the project as true to its subject as possible. Jamie Foxx looked and sounded like Ray Charles, so right there it was easy to go along for the ride. Todd Haynes’ contemplation on the life of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not

There” might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but one cannot say it wasn’t daring in its storytelling style.

For the most part I am under the assumption that the Don Cheadle-directed Miles Davis movie will follow the normal route of bio-pics such as “Ray,” with perhaps some creative flourishes thrown in to give the narrative some extra spark. Without having seen the script I can only wonder if they run through Davis’ entire life, or maybe drop in on various important moments in flashback form.

The super fans of Miles Davis (and maybe jazz fans in general) will certainly look at every detail of the movie to see if the filmmakers got it right, but for a general audience with either a passing interest in Miles Davis and jazz music, or just taking a chance on a Saturday night looking for some movie entertainment, broader themes will be what draws them in, keeps them interested.

Even if you’d never heard one Miles Davis song in your life, you still should be able to enjoy the film as a slice of appetizing entertainment. Those cinematic themes, which they teach in film schools, are the usual foundations upon which almost all movies are built. Not all! And that’s a good thing because the Hollywood formula sure can deliver some a-plus garbage, but the types of storytelling techniques that cater to a ‘broader’ audience.

We know the Miles Davis movie is not going to be “The Dark Knight” in terms of media hype, budget, etc., but the appeal should be there for audiences who also went to see “Walk the Line,” “Ray” and even an indie hit like “La Vie En Rose.”

These are all recent examples, but you get the point.

While Todd figures Miles Davis is more a state of mind – heck, I say he should be placed next to fire, water, wood, earth and metal in the five elements – and seemingly unable to peg down in cinematic form, I will assume he was a real-life person, and as such had one helluva life, on the stage and off.

But I get what Todd is saying. Can a 2 or 3 hour movie really do justice to the larger than life Miles Davis? Super fans like myself might prefer an 8-hour film with intermissions, but I am betting a well-edited 2 ½ hour flick about the life of Miles Davis might do the trick for the masses.

Some might say a film could never nail down a story of organized crime families in this country but “The Godfather” pretty much does the trick.

But capturing the spirit of Miles Davis is the trick – a point in line with Todd’s comment. This falls to Don Cheadle. Miles Davis is an iconic figure and Cheadle has to do more than simply act as Miles Davis, but inhabit his style, his inner-conflict and his talent. No small task, but my confidence has been high from the start.

Perhaps a movie cannot fully capture who Miles Davis was/is and his influence on music and culture. Maybe we need Ken Burns to produce a 5-part documentary, which definitely would not suck.

But a movie about Miles Davis feels right. Whether or not it becomes a classic, or simply fondly recalled by fans is unknown, but he is someone who should get the Hollywood treatment, for lack of a better phrase.

As far as Miles Davis goes, anyone who has the word ‘icon’ attached to their name at one time or another would seem to be a good subject for the Hollywood and/or indie-film treatment.

If they can make a movie about a Beverly Hill’s Chihuahua then by God one of the most influential musicians of all time can lock some time in at the local movie theatre.


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