The Miles Davis Movie: Better as linear or nonlinear narrative? or: Deconstructing the ‘deconstructed biopic’

davis-life1 Get comfortable with the term ‘deconstructed biopic’ because you’ll be reading a lot about that phrase now that Darryl Porter (Miles Davis Properties) propagated it to describe the Miles Davis film.

I linked to a Variety article Monday about the state of music biopics, which featured a section on the Miles Davis project, and that’s where Porter commented on the narrative style being utilized for the movie.

He also said, “Our goal is to have a very broad audience and bring in a whole new demographic of Miles fans,” so a deconstructed narrative style is perhaps part of the strategy in trying to achieve that goal with the Miles Davis biopic.

Of course I’d love to know ‘how’ they plan to attract a broad audience to the movie and bring in that new demographic of fans. How the film is structured might have some impact, but casual moviegoers might need more than flashy cinema tricks.

The filmmakers could forgo a “Ray” like blueprint and follow something a bit more non-traditional like Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” the 2007 biography of Bob Dylan where six actors portrayed different facets of Dylan’s personality.

Porter noted that one idea being considered is to promote the film “…through posthumous collaborations between Davis and hip-hop artists…”

There’s a connection between Miles Davis and hip-hop (see: “Doo-Bop“), I agree, but is it enough to hang a film on? There’s a connection between Davis and musicians of all genres; he was that influential.

But the relationship between hip hop and Miles Davis, which I admit to not fully understanding on a purely academic level, is something I can imagine the producers trying to harness in trying to attract that broad audience they’re gunning for.

By that I mean tapping popular music (rap, pop, etc.) and the artists/celebrities associated with it to somehow cast an updated glow of pop culture importance on a film about a musician most people only know due to a ubiquitous name associated with nostalgic significance and a legacy of being ‘cool.’

Where linear and nonlinear is concerned, personally I see the Miles Davis movie succeeding in either option. The question of which storyline technique is best suited for a film about Miles Davis is certainly debatable.

I’m an admirer of films like The Usual Suspects, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kill Bill, Short Cuts, In the Mood for Love, Annie Hall, The Conformist, 8 ½ and Out of Sight – each a product of a creative, nonlinear structure.

The Miles Davis movie could very well start with Miles Davis on his deathbed and work back to various stages of his life. Or the movie commences by dropping in on Miles Davis during the Kind of Blue sessions and alternate between past and future. life-miles2

We’re not dealing with an intricately plotted crime drama like “The Usual Suspects,” so there’s no reason to make any biopic of Miles Davis a complicated experience for the audience.

It all depends how ‘creative’ Don Cheadle wants to be in telling the story. A Miles Davis biopic doesn’t need a lot of fancy narrative structure. There’s enough inherit drama and personal conflict to have a well-designed linear story that can thrive on powerful, affecting performances and the music, which, it can be argued, will be the second most important component to the film besides Cheadle’s portrayal of Miles Davis.

I like that Porter and Cheadle want to appeal to non-jazz fans as well. I’ve already said you don’t need to be an aficionado of jazz or Miles Davis to appreciate and enjoy the story of Miles Davis. I didn’t know much about Mozart when I watched Amadeus, but I loved the movie – because it stands alone as a slice of entertainment, and it’s a wonderful story.

Film is about adventure, mostly, as the audience commits to exploring a world (real/fantasy) they might know zero about, but are willing to find out.

I think a broad demographic will want to find out about Miles Davis; how the film achieves this remains a mystery – could be through clever marketing, critical-acclaim, hyper buzz or a combination of each.

Part of me is apprehensive about a deconstructed biopic. A nonlinear structure I have no problem with, but deconstructed worries me. I’d hate to think about the project trying to be too clever; you can start this thing at the beginning, roll camera right up to the end, and we’d have one heck of a biopic to experience.

So while all this stuff about hip hop, marketing and kooky narratives give me pause, at least we know the wheels are in motion. And with Thanksgiving around the corner that is definitely something to be thankful about.

*A brief word on the photographs: Google opened an online photo gallery this week that features millions of images from Life magazine’s archives that have never been seen by the public before. Needless to say there are some wonderful images of Miles Davis included.

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