Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is a new documentary telling the story of the eponymous master jazz musician. Even though his story has been told on the screen many times before, both in documentary and biopic form, this film manages to be captivating because of the sheer might of Davis’s talent.
There are few names which one would think of before Davis when talking about jazz. Truly one of the world’s greatest musicians in any genre, Davis was known for his beautiful sound and his unique improvisational style. Hearing his life story, especially if you are a fan of his music, is sure to be interesting, if only because of how iconic his career was.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really explore the more personal side of Davis’s life. He was known to have struggles with drug addiction and other such personal issues, but the focus of this film is solely on Davis’s music and career. Although this doesn’t affect the movie’s quality, it does mean that the film may not be able to branch out beyond those who already admire his music.
That said, some of the stories and anecdotes told in the movie are very entertaining and interesting. Perhaps the most intriguing segment of the documentary tells the story of how Davis created the score to the classic film noir Elevator to the Gallows, entirely through improvisation. Moments like these are the ones in which audiences will best understand why Davis was such a legend.
The movie is also quite well-paced. Even though the runtime is nearly two hours, it is understandable given the massive and eventful career which Davis had. There is no shortage of things about which the film could talk, and yet it is still unable to hit everything. As such, the movie never feels slow and is always entertaining.
Of course, Davis’s music is phenomenal, and the film makes great use of it, both actively and passively. There are a few times in which the movie allows Davis and his music to speak for themselves, but for a majority of the film, his wonderful jazz is used to underscore the interviews or archival footage being presented. Every once in a while, the beauty of the music can distract you from the story being told, but that isn’t a bad thing.
On a technical level, this movie is definitely excellent. Director Stanley Nelson is a very talented filmmaker, and he knows how to tell the story in a way that is equal parts compelling and informative. The editing by Lewis Erskine is absolutely phenomenal. The way in which he coordinates the images to Davis’s music is breathtaking. Additionally, Carl Lumbly, the actor who reads Davis’s words, does an excellent job of narrating.
All fans of music, particularly jazz, should move Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool to the top of their watchlist immediately. A well-made and interesting documentary about one of the greatest musicians of all time, this is a film you absolutely will not want to miss.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool hits theaters on August 23.