Tuesday, 11 March 2014

He Loved Him Madly

After months of will-they or won't-they speculation it looks like Don Cheadle will make his directorial debut later this year with his long planned Miles Davis film. The film entitled Kill the Trumpet Player is currently in pre-production and from the sketchy details that have emerged the film looks to dispense with the traditional biopic framework in favor of something more unconventional, the story apparently taking place over a day and half sometime during Miles' so called retirement between 1975 and 1979. Ewan McGregor has been cast as a fictional Rolling Stone reporter who lands an interview with Miles and gets "a wild and dangerous ride-along with a recording artist living at his edge, rife with shootouts, car-chases, and a tale of lost love to the sensual singer Frances"1. Hmm...

On one hand I'm thrilled to see Cheadle taking on the role of Miles Davis - for years he's been the only actor I ever had in mind to play Miles, but at the risk of rushing to judgement on a film where no footage has actually been shot, this is not the Miles Davis film I have long hoped for. It was following his 2004 film Collateral that I first imagined Michael Mann doing a Miles film, with Don Cheadle playing the Dark Magus. Mann included a significant homage to Miles in the film when Barry Shabaka Henley's jazz club owner (first seen playing Spanish Key from Bitches Brew) relates a great Miles Davis anecdote to Tom Cruise's cold clinical hitman:
I mean, everybody and their momma knew you don't just come up and talk to Miles Davis. I mean, he may have looked like he was chilling, but he was absorbed. This one hip couple, one of them tried to shake his hand one day. And the guy says, "Hi, my name is..." Miles said, "Get the fuck outta my face, you jive motherfucker, and take your silly bitch with you.
Michael Mann certainly knew Miles Davis - during the 80's, Miles played a pimp in an episode of Miami Vice (Junk Love, S2/Ep6, 1985) and he cameod as a musician in Crime Story (The War S1/Ep6, 1986).

Miles Davis as Ivory Jones in Miami Vice episode Junk Love

With Ali, Michael Mann made arguably the finest biopic in 20 years, and Mann and his writers neatly sidestepped the womb-to-tomb format of the biopic by concentrating on just 10 years of Muhammad Ali's life. My own idea for a Miles Davis film would begin on August 25th 1959, when Miles was beaten up and arrested by cops outside NYC's Birdland club, and from there would take in various stages of his life and music up to his comeback in 1979 when he reined in his self-destructive lifestyle and began recording again. It's a jazz fan's idea of a film to be sure, more Bird than Notorious, but if you've seen footage of Miles at the Isle of Wight in 1970, you might agree this film doesn't need a car chase. lncidentally, the title of this post relates to Miles' side-long tip of the hat to Duke Ellington, recorded in 1974 and found on the Get Up With album. He Loved Him Madly has always been a key Miles Davis piece for me - it was one of the first things that got me curious about Miles' music, after Brian Eno cited Teo Macero's spacey production in the liner notes of his 1982 album On Land. But more than that, the brooding, mysterious, melancholic music of He Loved Him Madly always seemed to me to perfectly encapsulate Miles' dark, complex, uncompromising personality. I hope Don Cheadle's film will capture some of that.

1. Plot sourced from here


  1. As much as I do like my 'unusual/non traditional' bio's, this one does sound like it might be a step too far. I mean, we will only get one film about him, if we are lucky, so it better be the best one it can be.

    Thanks for all the links in the article, giving me loads to dig through this morning. Also, I love that quote from Davis, the man does not fuck around. Had no idea he had some semblance of an acting career, either!

  2. Absolutely John, I think it's unlikely we'll get a situation like Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006), so a lot will be riding on Don Cheadle's film. But the whole thing really smacks of commercialism - making Miles some sort of Blaxploitation gangster... Miles was definitely a better musician than an actor but he equips himself very well in Miami Vice. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance but look fast for Miles as one of the busking musicians in Scrooged...

  3. It is possible that film might work as a near fantasy take on the man, but, as you said, there is a lot riding on it. We can only hope Cheadle has good enough taste to make it work, and maybe it will be more about the music than any real attempt to the paint the man as one thing or another. I have yet to see Infamous, but I loved Capote.