The Miles Davis Movie: The Betty Year

“If Betty were singing today she be something like Madonna, something like Prince, only as a woman. She was the beginning of all that when she was singing as Betty Davis.” ~ Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography

I’m wondering if Betty (Mabry) Davis will make an appearance in the Miles Davis biopic… Let the casting suggestions begin immediately.

Their marriage only lasted a year (1968-1969), but it is common knowledge that Betty had a big influence on Miles, his music especially. And depending on whom you talk to this influence was not always positive.

Here’s a clip from a 2003 All About Jazz profile about the funk-a-licious model/musician:

Her cutting-edge musical tastes and incomparable sense of style were too much for Miles to resist. A self-righteous 23-year old model, Betty conquered the man twice her age with a potent mixture of youth, beauty, and sex. Within a year, she had completely remade Miles in her own youthful image.

As she poured herself into him, his playing grew younger, his outlook fresh. She ripped through his closets, tossing out the elegant suits he had worn for years. It was during this ‘Betty’ chapter that Miles felt the radical thrill of funk and rock – notably in the form of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix.

It wouldn’t be long before he unleashed the revolutionary “Bitches Brew” on the world.

More from AAJ:

This monster he created would sadly run amok as fusion lost its soul and became an F word. But for a brief moment during these still glowing days of late ’60s Eden, Betty ruled as the mentor-muse for the original man and his music.

Then there’s that rumor about Miles breaking up with Betty because he suspected she was cheating on him – with Jimi Hendrix!

Apparently she’s denied this allegation ever since, but still… who can we get to play Jimi Hendrix for a quick scene or two?

Not knowing a thing about the story the writers are cooking up, they might not even get to the late ’60s in the film.

Is the year-long marriage to Betty even worth a few scenes? If the film works it way through the fusion years then I’d say yes. It was a pivotal era in the Miles Davis story and Betty was part of that story, even if short-lived.

The woman is such a funky diva, how could she not make a great character in the film?

Take a listen to her self-titled, ultra-funky debut and you’ll realize why this woman is a wild ball of fire.

Don’t forget, this is a woman deemed ‘too wild’ for Miles Davis, so that has to tell you something.

In his autobiography he wrote: “Betty was too young and wild for the things I expected from a woman…Betty was a free spirit, she was raunchy and all that kind of s**t.”

Whether or not Betty Davis appears in the film isn’t going to determine its ultimate success. The same could be said for Cicely Tyson and Frances Taylor – other notable women in Davis’ life.

Incorporating the women in Miles’ life is important if we desire a completist’s version of the Miles Davis story, yet with a biopic you’d figure to run about 2 hours (and change) it’s impossible to integrate everything of note, just as we don’t know what major themes the filmmakers plan to focus on.

(A film like “Malcolm X,” as was pointed out in the comments from Ed on the Biopic Blog, is a great example of a film that does hit just about all the major developments of that particular life, but I have a feeling the Miles Davis biopic is not going to run three hours – plus. Not that I’d mind… )

I will say that the ‘relationships’ Miles Davis had with women should not entirely be swept under the rug; I have no aspiration to extrapolate on the tospy-turvy personal life of Miles Davis, but needless to say it’s ripe with affecting moments any filmmaker developing a biopic of the man would be sure to make use of; only with an equal supply of dents and polish to the armor of an iconic figure can we have a genuine cinematic experience.

To wrap up this tangent I have floated off on…

Professor Robin D. G. Kelley’s commentary for the New York Times – Miles Davis: The Chameleon of Cool; A Jazz Genius In the Guise Of a Hustler – exposes ‘the two sides of Miles’ in what was deemed quite a controversial piece when it appeared in May 2001.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues Kelley raises about Miles it is an enlightening read.

So to wrap up this interminable Blog post I’ll say that I’d like to see Betty Davis make an appearance in the movie. As to which actress might be good to portray the wild woman of funk, I’m working on my list now….


3 thoughts on “The Miles Davis Movie: The Betty Year”

  1. Taraji P. Henson could play any of them..she has that chameleon kinda character/personality assimilatory gift in her.. she will do Betty & Frances lotsa justice

  2. My first taste of Miles was a recording of the popular jazz standard, Devil May Care. I still love the reckless way he plays the solo on that. It jumps, swings and is very soulful.


    Rare Trumpets

  3. Betty and what she was into was an incredible connection that set Miles off in exactly the right direction.
    If you listen to what’s on Bettys own records, they all contain that raw, bluesy funkvibe that Miles so groundbreakingly incorporated to his bands.
    It made everybody in the band take off into new areas and sounds. New music was born! Still some of the most vital and fresh stuff around!

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