LFF 2019: Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool – Review

Release Date – 13th October 2019, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Stanley Nelson

Documentary looking at the life of jazz musician Miles Davis

“For him, not playing is like not playing anymore” says a friend of Miles Davis, arguably one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, let alone the 20th Century, as he talks about the trumpeter’s second period of drug problems. Davis himself said “I put down the thing I love most, my music, and found myself falling deeper into darkness”. Birth Of The Cool – which shares a name with one of Davis’ albums – tells much of Davis’ life over it’s nearly two hour run-time. From childhood to death, via multiple run-in’s with drugs. There’s a lot that gets covered and often a fair deal of it leads to the film feeling longer than it actually is, beginning to drag as the focus is refined to one man’s entire life.

Much of the film is built into stages and sections of Davis’ life, mostly through each of his albums. The creative process that went into them, the build-up to the release and the impact that it had on his career. The decision to break this story down into such stages helping to make the film slightly more digestible overall. There’s a lot to show and there are some elements that are rather interesting, especially within the final hour as we see the gradual fall and eventual slight bounce back of this musical icon, something which the film really seems to want to try to get across. It almost seems at times like the creators don’t want to say a bad word about Davis, and so stray more to look at his albums and music rather than his personal problems – in fact it’s for such reasons that the film itself has a somewhat by-the-numbers feel to it.

In fact much of Davis’ music – whether through his own bands or those that he was a part of – features heavily throughout the film. Lining almost every minute. While the music itself is, of course, quite good the feeling can’t be escaped from that sometimes it simply feels unnecessary or out of place, especially during the more laid-back moments detailing the more emotional stages of Davis’ life. When this is the case the music often simply feels too upbeat to properly capture the tone that the film feels as if it’s trying to convey, alongside the fact that it feels overused, being used in the background almost all the way through the film, never really being given a break and sometimes beginning to feel intrusive.

Davis’ life is one that can’t quite be confined to one film – at least one documentary such as this, especially when done in a rather basic, by-the-numbers way. There are some interesting moments, especially in the final stages of the film as the various interviewees begin to properly reminisce about the final stages of their friend and colleague. However, overall there’s a lot missing from the film, and some things – such as the music in every scene – that could be used a bit less. But, for what it is the film is a perfectly fine piece, maybe for those less aware of Miles Davis and looking to know more about him, or just for casual watchers. But, fans of the iconic musician may feel that there’s something slightly lacking in this seemingly made-by-fans documentary.

Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool is perfectly fine for what it does. While being relatively generic it does make some slightly interesting points, most coming from Davis’ own words, though his music does seem somewhat overplayed and unnecessary over the course of the almost two hour run-time of the piece.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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