The Miles Davis Movie: Better as feature film, or Ken Burns documentary?

The correct answer is both. While I’m excited about the forthcoming Miles Davis biopic, I have to admit I’d be equally enthusiastic about Ken Burns owning eight-to-ten hours of PBS airtime to tell Davis’ story. And while we’re at it let’s get Keith David to narrate.

The leisurely pace, the slow zooms, the interviews, the archival footage, the delicate panning from one image to another… Gary Giddins; I can see it now. That’s just solid programming right there.

And while an in-depth documentary (be it from Burns or an equally talented documentary filmmaker) would be a thrill, there is something almost magical about a film when it hits all the right notes.

Obviously a two and a half hour film cannot begin to tell the complete story. The goal is to hit the big moments and be as entertaining and profitable as possible. There is a long list, I think, of A-plus biopics, musical or otherwise, that have been able to ‘get it right’ and produce great filmmaking. So no reason a movie about Miles Davis can’t be added to the list.

Of course with a documentary we lose the need to have an actor portray Miles Davis, but then again when someone like Jamie Foxx aces a legend like Ray Charles, there’s a desire to see Don Cheadle become Miles Davis – bring the jazz icon back to life and on the big screen.

(If there were a Ken Burns documentary I wonder who would be cast to be the voice of Miles Davis. There’s actual video footage to incorporate, but someone would be needed to read from his autobiography and assorted correspondence.)

There are a few DVDs available about the life of Miles Davis. I’ll say most are hit and miss.

According to IMDB there is a project listed as The Miles Davis
, produced through Anomaly Entertainment. Not sure what’s up, but I’ll keep an eye out. Perhaps this will be a companion piece to the film as Chris Wilkinson is attached as writer on both the documentary and the Untitled Miles Davis Biopic.

I like Ken Burns. I really enjoyed “The Civil War” and “Baseball.” I loved “Jazz.” I always seek out the Miles Davis parts in the series. His productions are so pitch perfect throughout it just makes for a supremely engaging and delightful media experience. The man is talented, no doubt about it. So I think about what he might be able to produce with a singular focus on Miles Davis – his life and legacy.

I’m biased so I think there’s a cool and sophisticated documentary for PBS waiting to be made about Miles Davis. But Hollywood – in its most general connotation possible – is a hard drug to resist, especially when we’re treated to a wonderful, movie-going experience. When a motion picture works, it just feels good. We all have our favorites and we all have different reasons why. They leave a lasting impression. Good TV, I believe, does the same, but in a different manner. My special memories of certain films are cataloged in my mind and heart differently than some of my favorite TV shows.

Where was I? Right, Miles Davis….

I was watching “Ray” the other night. Even on TV the film just sizzles. I watch that movie and think about the construct of the Miles Davis film. The man deserves to be immortalized on the silver screen.

At the same time I think fans and casual viewers would be overjoyed if they had the opportunity to have a comprehensive (and entertaining) look at his life and music over the course of a few nights.

The same can be said of countless artists, but in this case it’s all about Miles Davis.


6 thoughts on “The Miles Davis Movie: Better as feature film, or Ken Burns documentary?”

  1. Miles is the man. What a career. When will the HBO Doco on his life and times see the light of day on HBO? Can’t wait.

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