Cinema of Jazz Festival at the Royal Cinema and Camera Bar, July 7-14. See Indie & Rep Film, page 100 . Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If you watch a lot of movies, you could be forgiven for thinking of art in general, and jazz in particular, as a side effect of addiction. The story about the artist struggling to wrest his creativity away from boozy, narcotic little demons bent on his destruction makes for a smooth moral arc and has the added benefit of often being at least partly true.
But it's not the only story, and the Cinema Of Jazz Festival doesn't limit itself to the "addiction and despair" school of jazz filmmaking. Instead, it offers a broad sampling of jazz myths, from tragic, boozy dramas to upbeat biopics. It's a good strategy in that you get to pick the version you like best. Do you prefer the upright, earnest Dizzy Gillespie who upbraids Charlie Parker for being unreliable in Clint Eastwood 's 1988 Bird , or the dizzy Dizzy Gillespie who pisses off Cab Calloway in Jean Bach 's The Spitball Story ? They're both here.
Two films on the program belong firmly in the doomed romance camp. The aforementioned Bird (Saturday, July 9, 9 pm, Camera, rating: NNN ) has Forest Whitaker as a damaged Parker, compensating for Eastwood's heavy-handed storytelling with unearthly quantities of charm. Bertrand Tavernier 's 1986 drama 'Round Midnight (Sunday, July 10, 8:45 pm, Camera, rating: NNN ) features saxophonist Dexter Gordon in a moving portrayal of a booze-damned composite of Bud Powell and Lester Young, destitute in Paris until his rescue by a worshipful young Frenchman.
In contrast, there's A Great Day In Harlem (Friday, July 8, and Tuesday, July 12, 9 pm, Camera, rating: NNNN ), the celebrated 1995 documentary by elder New York jazz scenestress Bach. It's a simple premise, elegantly executed: she interviews all the available surviving jazz musicians from Art Kane's 1958 Esquire "class photo" of New York's jazz giants. The photo unleashes a flood of reminiscences and reveals one thing that the dramas tend to miss: jazz musicians spend a lot of time thinking about music.
Finally, there's Cruzao (Tuesday, July 12, 7 pm, and July 14, 10:15 pm, Camera, rating: NN ), an effort at mythmaking by filmmaker Vitold Vidic about local trumpeter Nick "Brownman" Ali and one of his myriad musical projects. It's a reverential portrait of Ali as a mentor and pioneer in the Toronto music scene. Unfortunately, a prophet's documentaries are often hard to swallow in his own country, and glamour shots of basement rehearsals and lukewarm ovations at the Distillery Jazz Fest come across as a little spoofy here, although that might be splashback from the film's tacky concert climax, in which three rappers chant Ali's URL over his Latin stylings.