The Miles Davis Movie: Why Not A Feature Documentary About Miles Davis?

I just finished watching When You’re Strange, Tom DiCillo’s feature documentary about the music and legacy of The Doors. I thought it was rather well-done and interesting. I like The Doors, so it’s no stretch for me to be a fan of the doc, which features some mighty impressive footage.

So I wonder, even with Don Cheadle’s ‘not a bio-pic’ movie about Miles Davis slowly crawling towards a production start date, is it possible to get a feature film documentary about the music and legacy of Miles Davis off the ground? And if so, who to make it happen?

Now that we know Cheadle is opting to focus his film’s narrative on an as-yet-unknown day and a half in the life of Miles Davis rather than follow the usual, Hollywood bio-pic blueprint, perhaps a comprehensive feature documentary could be produced to truly capture Davis’ life and music.

I imagine a producer or director interested in such a terrific idea would need the blessings of the Miles Davis estate and various music labels; the music is obviously the key ingredient, but previously unseen footage and assorted photo/audio content is almost a necessity in providing such a film project added importance.

Christopher Wilkinson (who along with Stephen J. Rivele were once the screenwriters on the Untitled Miles Davis Biopic) is working on the TV project The Miles Davis Documentary, which IMDB lists for a 2011 release. I’ve read the doc is headed to HBO, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

So we’ll see what Wilkinson comes up with. The producers look to have landed a host of jazz legends and other fine, musical artists to chat about Miles Davis, but hopefully there’s some rare concert footage, or old interviews with Davis, mixed in to give the doc an extra spark. But we remain excited about the upcoming project.

Nevertheless, if the powers that be running the estate that oversees the business of Miles Davis wanted to get moving on a big-time feature documentary I think it would get done.

Cheadle is having trouble finding the funds to get the cameras rolling, so why would a documentary have better luck? It might not, but I have to imagine the cost would be much less. With the exception of interviews to be filmed, everything else is the music and lots and lots of audio and video footage to be edited.

Okay, so it’d be nice to hire someone with a great voice to narrate (famous or not), but that shouldn’t break the bank.

I already offered up the feature film versus Ken Burns’ documentary debate about which is the better way to produce a Miles Davis Biopic, so maybe Ken Burns might want to look into a project about Davis for the big screen.

Then again, if Burns wanted to take a 6-hour documentary about Miles Davis to PBS I’m overjoyed with that idea. I’m also totally ready for a 5-part/10-hour HBO movie event that has the luxury of time to tell the complete story. These two options, plus the feature film doc are great ideas!

I am excited about what Cheadle has up his sleeve. Just watching Cheadle on screen portraying Davis is going to get jazz/music/films fans all worked up when this movie gets done.

But regardless of Cheadle’s final cut, I still think a comprehensive telling of the Miles Davis story is essential.

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7 thoughts on “The Miles Davis Movie: Why Not A Feature Documentary About Miles Davis?”

  1. Just like Miles fans to be a ‘no-show’ here on this page. His voice, his ideas, his tone, his sound, his wardrobe. All of that spells big bucks to producers with no guarantee of return. But as Miles once said, “If the mistakes ain’t there too, that ain’t all of you.”
    Not sure about Cheadle as Miles but then again this is always the prob with bio pics featuring strong personalities. The invidious comparison begins the moment the pic starts.
    Certain people should be left alone after death and allow us in the quiet recall of their prodigious talent through their recordings to enjoy what was missed first time ’round in their whirlwind journey past the rest of us.
    Michael C. Gwynne

  2. I agree with the original post. A documentary would be great (a Ken Burns doc on Miles would be superb!)… Also, I was thinking about how cool it would be to have a Miles Davis Biopic mini-series on HBO. Crazy to hear the exact same thoughts out of a strangers head! COOL! Truth is – a Documentary is pretty much the ONLY WAY to create a top-shelf Biography for the screen.

    As to the comment following the post: The only thing mentioned that would cost money is the wardrobe, however, since the proposed (Cheadle) film takes place over only two days, that shouldn’t be a problem. Though you’re 100 percent correct that there’s no guarantee on return, then again… When and where is there ever a guarantee of return on a film?

    Not sure about Don in the roll. Opinions abound. I’m not sure what it is that you know or infer of Cheadle’s ‘strong personality’ that might take away or distract from his performance. I’ll say this, many people (myself and the Miles Davis estate-runners included) can’t think of anyone better for the role. Do you have any suggestions?

    By that, I mean suggestions aside from not making the movie, so that those who are already fans of Miles remain the only fans he ever has (until they’re gone), or – better still – only his recordings are there for people that want to know about him to have as a resource. Then again, if ‘some people’ should be left alone, even continuing to sell his music is too much? I’m not sure.

    I do know that it probably isn’t up to either of us what would best suit the life and legacy of this legendary Artist. Other than that, um. Keep and eye on this blog! I know I will!

    1. many thanks for the terrific comments regarding the Miles Davis Movie. I appreciate it; it definitely keeps me thinking about the project and how to illustrate various issues and ideas that go along with such an endeavor.

      I will say that I think Cheadle is a great choice for the lead role. I have asked whether he should star and direct (mostly to stir discussion), but I think he is my #1 choice where known acting talent is concerned.

      all the best.

  3. Capturing Davis’s personality should be a challenge for Cheadle. Davis’s music is timeless and still captures the imagination of younger generations once they’ve listened to it. Most of the mainstream garbage should drive people out there with any sense of taste to jazz, generally.

    1. i agree all around w/ you nate. but if cheadle can nail it, it will be something special. but certainly a difficult endeavor to capture the spirit, personality, style etc… etc… of miles davis on film.

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