The Miles Davis Movie: Better As A Documentary Film?


I read an article in Variety about the difficult marketplace for music documentaries.

We’ve definitely come a long way from the Oscar-winning “Woodstock” and other classic, music docs like (the awesome) “The Last Waltz” and (equally great) “Stop Making Sense” — there have been plenty of good music films over the years, but the market has changed, how entertainment is consumed keeps evolving and this leaves music projects without proper distribution, or none at all.

As noted in the article, “Much of it has to do with round-the-clock access to popular music via cable and the Net, with sites like YouTube and Wolfgangsvault offering free streaming and downloads of rare and vintage performances that were once the exclusive domain of bootleg collectors, not to mention the increasing audio and video sophistication of home theater systems.”

I discussed awhile back if a biopic about Miles Davis would be better served by a 9-part, Ken Burns documentary on PBS. Maybe 9-parts is a personal dream, but I still wonder if it’s a more accommodating venue for telling the complete story, as opposed to a 2½-hour film. I even mentioned the idea of a 5-part/10-hour HBO movie event (like “John Adams”) that provides the luxury of time to tell the whole story.

But then there’s a music documentary – like “The Last Waltz.” I can only imagine the wealth of archived footage wherein to find live performance, interviews and who knows what else. Then, of course, you get the appropriate talking heads to give the project its necessary gravitas.

I should add that, according to Miles Davis biopic screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson’s IMDB page, there is a Miles Davis documentary currently in production and, I believe, slated to air on HBO.

Whether or not it’s shaping up to be an updated version of The Miles Davis Story, which came out in 2001, I don’t know, but a new documentary is forthcoming; not sure if it’s just a coincidence that one of the biopic screenwriters is directing the TV doc.

And though I welcome a new TV project about Miles Davis, a theatrical documentary is a different beast. But after reading about the state of new films, featuring big names and classic bands, having a tough go in the marketplace, maybe it’s best to keep the focus on Don Cheadle’s movie version of the Miles Davis story.

Is a music documentary about Miles Davis commercially and financially viable? That all depends how you measure it, but I’ll say the movie would draw crowds worldwide. It’s a project that may require a bigger name in the director’s chair (besides Cheadle), or some Hollywood heft in the supporting roles, and would presumably use the film festival circuit as a launch pad, but overall I think it’s a feasible endeavor.

I’m a fan of musical/non-musical film documentaries, so a project about Miles Davis is right in my wheelhouse, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not more than a little anxious to see what a talent like Don Cheadle can do with the story of the jazz icon.

The Miles Davis story deserves the majesty of cinema and all the Hollywood, hype, fascination and glamour that goes with it.


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