The Miles Davis Movie(S): Two Movies, One Hope To Get It Right

In the world of All Things Miles Davis, it’s big news about producer Nick Davis Raynes and director George Tillman Jr. all set to film a biopic of Miles Davis. The news also puts Don Cheadle’s long-gestating project in the spotlight; with Cheadle’s commitment to the Miles Davis Estate-approved movie way back in 2007, his endeavor has held a nice, first-mover advantage with buzz and anticipation among film and jazz fans.

But now things are getting interesting.

What makes the competing projects so intriguing are the complete opposite approaches the filmmakers plan to tell the Miles Davis story. Raynes has said they are developing a traditional biopic, similar to “Ray.” This goes in total contrast to Cheadle’s plan, which is to construct an unconventional narrative that follows Davis over the course of one day.

‘Producer Nick Davis Raynes said they were aiming for a film in the same vein as the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” writes Andrew Pulver in The Guardian. Said Raynes: “We want to make a film that will do the same justice for Miles Davis.”

Safe to say the Tillman/Raynes biopic is in development with no start date for any kind of production. I doubt there’s even a script or screenwriter at this point. I also have no clue if any funds have been secured to pay for the movie endeavor. But they seem ready to make it happen.

My personal taste always leans towards a biopic like “Ray.” It tends to be an easy path to go down where following a story (especially a real-life story with lots to tell) is concerned, but most importantly the movie has to be good. And “Ray” is a good movie, so the biopic blueprint works.

I do want to add that I have been totally on board with whatever Cheadle has up his sleeve. It might not be traditional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining, or serve Davis’ legacy properly – on film.

But for many Miles fans, no film of any kind could ever properly capture the life and music of Miles Davis.

I agree with that as well. But I will gladly watch a 2 1/2 hour movie about Miles Davis, even if I realize it’s almost impossible to tell the whole story, A to Z. A 6-hour, Ken Burn-style documentary is my vote.

The key connection for both biopics is the music. Without securing rights to the music, neither would be worth much at all. Becasue Cheadle has the backing of the Miles Davis Estate, they seemingly did not have much trouble securing rights with Sony Music, which owns just about all of Davis’ finest recordings.

An article in JazzTimes reports that Tillman Jr. and Raynes do have access ‘to much of Miles Davis’ music,’ but it’s primarily from 1963-1977.

That’s a key point, because that era does not include many of Davis’ most celebrated works. But we’ll see if their film will utilize work from Kind of Blue, Miles Ahead and so on.

The other key part here is the lead actor. Don Cheadle has been attached to star as Davis since 2007. And even though he has been busy playing War Machine in the “Iron Man” films, to go along with other acting and producing commitments, everyone still knows he is one day going to suit up as Miles Davis.

It will be interesting to see if Raynes/Tillman Jr. go the unknown actor way, or find an established name to play the jazz icon. My feeling is that a relative unknown might work best because Cheadle already fits the bill as Miles pretty darn well from the established Hollywood actor ranks. And I cannot even think of anyone else right now besides Cheadle who could work for the part.

There hasn’t been any comment from Cheadle or the Miles Davis Estate that I have seen regarding the other biopic, but it will be interesting to see how the news impacts Cheadle’s plans in getting his movie made.


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