Thursday, 5 March 2009

(all that) jazz on film

Chet Baker in Let's Get Lost
Chet Baker in Let's Get Lost

For the first time ever the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) is coming to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) with a boutique film season of Jazz on Film.

Featuring biographies of jazz icons, a 70s psychedelic free jazzploitation sci-fi and a cult classic with a sublime jazz soundtrack, Jazz on Film will step inside the world of jazz: the scenes, the sounds and some of the people that  have been captured on film from the 50's to today.

"At a time when Melbourne is awake to jazz, we wanted to look at some of the leading figures as they are portrayed in the moving image," says ACMI Film Programmer Spiro Economopoulos.

"The idea behind the collaboration with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival was to pick titles that were a little bit less conventional in form but cinematic in scope. Bruce Weber's beautiful black and white portrait of Chet Baker in Let's Get Lost, Daybreak Express and Sun Ra: Space is the Place perfectly realised these agendas. Another component of the season was to look at the jazz soundtrack, which is why Henry Mancini's great score for Welles' Touch of Evil was chosen. And of course the wonderful Charlie Haden is actually going to be here so to see and hear him play live and then be able to watch the Australian Premiere of Rambling Boy well, that's just a luxury."

To open the season is Bert Stern and Aram Avakian's warm and nostalgic document of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). A classic amongst jazz lovers, the film features live performances from jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Dina Washington, Thelonious Monk and Anita O'Day. Jazz on a Summer's Day's fantastic freewheeling verite style perfectly captures the textures, the event, the generation, the style and the music. Screening with P.A. Pennebaker's 1953 paean to New York and jazz is short film Daybreak Express with a fabulous score by Duke Ellington. "It's pure Jazz", Economopoulos says.

A collaborator with the likes of Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman, Nick Cave, and Pat Metheny, multi-Grammy Award winner Charlie Haden is one of the most significant and influential musicians in jazz history. As part of this year's Charlie Haden's Jazz Festival residency, ACMI will be screening the Australian premiere of Reto Caduff's intimate documentary Charlie Haden Rambling Boy (2009). "The birth of the film industry is like the birth of jazz. It's an art form that was just being born when you see how these guys started making movies. So we decided to start the concept of Quartet West to be about film noir," Charlie Haden tells us in Rambling Boy.  Haden will be introducing the film and taking part in a Q & A with MIJF Artistic Director Sophie Brous after the screening.

The other jazz biography to screen is renowned photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber's 1989 moody portrait of iconic jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker. Let's get Lost documents the tragic rise and fall of jazz idol Chet Baker, who was once described as a cross between James Dean and Jack Kerouac. The film traces Baker's story from his rise in the jazz world as a celebrated trumpeter and singer, playing with the likes of Charlie Parker to his tragic demise in the 80's, when his matinee idol begins to look faded, he is unable to get gigs and battling with a heroin addiction.

Looking at jazz soundtracks in film, ACMI programmed Orson Welles' classic A Touch of Evil (1958).  A sordid story of murder, kidnapping and corruption in a Mexican border town, Orson Welles' seedy film noir stars Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Mercedes McCambridge. The film's famous opening one-take shot is one of the many pleasures in this complex crime drama. Above all though it's Henry Mancini's electrifying jazz score that drives the film into a sleazy world populated by hop-headed teenagers, double crossing, kidnapping and corruption.  

To close this very special season is John Coney's rarely screened psychedelic, intergalactic musical odyssey Sun Ra Space is the Place (1974). A pioneer of electronic music, space music, and free improvisation, Sun Ra was one of the first musicians to make extensive use of electronic keyboards in his music.  In the film, Sun Ra plays a space age prophet, jester, shaman-philosopher and avant-jazz keyboardist who lands his spaceship in Oakland and disembarks on a journey that takes in black power, free jazz, inner-city rap sessions and a world concert to blow your mind. Originally released in a truncated 63 minute version, due to cuts requested by Sun Ra apparently due to prudishness over the more salacious elements of the plot, the film was re-released in 2003 with the reinstated scenes, cementing the film's cult status as the trippiest sci-fi meets blaxploitation film ever! 

In Charlie Haden Rambling Boy, screenwriter Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York, Age of Innocence) eloquently articulates how he feels about the relationship between jazz and film, "Charlie Haden's Quartet makes me see Phillip Marlow's Los Angeles as it used to be, and a lot of it of course is wrapped up with images of movies. Sunrises and sunsets over the pacific. Sun rains. Guys in trench coats. Narrow alleys. Wet streets. Women under street lamps. Cars going too fast. Broken promises. Desperate love affairs. And the promise of some sort of redemption at the end. His music uniquely reflected to me the way these movies not only felt when you saw them, but the way the movies resonate in your memory."

Jazz on Film is on at ACMI Sun 26 April - Sat 2 May 2009. For more information about sessions visit
For more information about the Melbourne International Jazz Festival visit


Further information

Lior Opat
Communications Coordinator
Australian Centre for the Moving Image

[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2475 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 655
[postal address] PO Box 14, Flinders Lane VIC 8009, Australia

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