The Miles Davis Movie: Filming the death of Miles Davis

On Sunday we marked the 17th anniversary of Miles Davis’ passing — ‘Miles Davis, Trumpeter, Dies; Jazz Genius, 65, Defined Cool’ (a well-written nytimes obit).

It got me wondering if a movie about Miles Davis would explore the days in September of ’91 leading up to his passing at St. John’s Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

Davis had been at the hospital for several weeks according to reports, and I really have no knowledge of who was with him (I assume family) and what went on, other than Davis trying to survive.

But I wonder if the film being developed by Don Cheadle will even work its was up to (and beyond?) his death. My go-to biopic example, “Ray,” stopped around the time Ray Charles kicked his drug addiction and went on with his legendary career. Cue the touching montage and notes about Charles until we are shown the title card with the date of his death.

It’s a nice style to wrap up a film because a montage can zoom over time and it leaves the director not having to worry about cramming every significant moment into a movie.

This method could, I gather, work for a Miles Davis movie. I have already wondered if Davis electric period will even be explored, much less his work during the ’80s.

I think the film would suffer if they didn’t get into the period of the late ’60s and early ’70s and the jazz-funk fusion he essentially built.

Even “Walk the Line” wrapped it up after Johnny Cash kicked drugs. And maybe that’s fine. We probably didn’t have to spend an extra thirty minutes watching Cash in the ’80s and so on. I know “Lady Sings the Blues” worked its way up until almost the end of Billie Holiday’s life; it’s flawed, but I like the movie, and I like the montage of news reports that plays at the end opposite Holiday (portrayed by Diana Ross) performing at Carnegie Hall. Of course the last clip is her obituary.

It’s important to frame a story properly when dealing with a real person (same holds true for fiction, but more leeway because, well, you’re making it up!). In most cases going from young to old can work. But in the case of Miles Davis we don’t have 4 hours to devote to film, so one must put a blueprint together of essential plot points and from where we’ll enter and exit the story.

If I had to bet right now I would say his death (including the ’80s altogether) will not be explored except via montage. I could be wrong, but I just have that feeling.

The question is: at what point in the film, and that is to say in the life of Miles Davis, do they stop the narrative and wrap the rest of his life up in a cool montage?

He had already kicked drugs at a much younger age so that’s out. How about after the Second Great Quintet and before the jazz-rock fusion period? Perhaps 1981 when Davis returned after a six-year retirement. Or better yet right before his six-year retirement.

Maybe they cut the story after 1959 and the recording of ‘Kind of Blue.’

It’s a tough one. And then again perhaps they make big jumps in the narrative in order to cover the bulk of his life. I haven’t even begun to wonder about how they delve into his youth, in east St.Louis, much less his passing in ’91.

Miles Davis would be 82 if he were with us today. It’d be fun to hear what he thinks about all this.


1 thought on “The Miles Davis Movie: Filming the death of Miles Davis”

  1. Cutting the story after the making of “Kind of Blue” would be, how you say, premature.

    The logical stopping point would when he came back in 1981, then do a montage of his later years (plenty of visuals there with those crazy outfits he wore!) with notable stuff mentioned, and finally his death date over a picture of a smiling Miles (the shot they used on the cover of Jazz Times after his death would suffice).

    Fade to black. The end.

    Or, if you wanted something offbeat, end it with the interview he did in 1982 on the “Today” show with Bryant Gumbel. The end always cracks me up. See what I mean here:

    I got nothing on Mr. Hyatt, but I’ve been thinking about this movie a lot, too.

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