Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1988. Warner Bros., Malpaso Productions. Screenplay by Joel Oliansky. Cinematography by Jack N. Green. Produced by Clint Eastwood. Music by Lennie Niehaus. Production Design by Edward C. Carfagno. Costume Design by Glenn Wright. Film Editing by Joel Cox.
The life and art of jazz trumpetist Charlie “Bird” Parker has been brought to the screen with vigour and intensity by director Clint Eastwood. Forest Whitaker is finely cast as Parker, a phenomenally talented musician whose personal life was dogged by tragedy and drug addiction.
Eastwood uses an improvisational narrative style to tell the story, presumably an effort to direct a movie the way Parker played the trumpet, though it is a bit awkward watching flashbacks within flashbacks. The effort to recreate the world Parker inhabited as well as his beautiful music pays off, effectively presenting period detail with impressive skill.
The soundtrack itself is a painstaking accomplishment, requiring the sound department to strip down Parker’s scratchy old recordings and isolate his playing, then use brand new orchestrations in the background for the scenes that are supposed to be live performances: the process took almost two years to complete.
Diane Venora is marvelous as Parker’s wife, who provides the personal dramatic conflicts away from his success as a musician. The film will be a bit too long for some, but for anyone interested in the music, the story and soundtrack will be a dream come true.
Academy Award: Best Sound
Cannes Film Festival Award: Best Actor (Forest Whitaker)
Golden Globe Award: Best Director (Clint Eastwood)
Nominations: Best Actor-Drama (Forest Whitaker); Best Supporting Actress (Diane Venora)