Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA/France, 1986. Little Bear, PECF. Screenplay by David Rayfiel, Bertrand Tavernier, French translation by Colo Tavernier. Cinematography by Bruno de Keyzer. Produced by Irwin Winkler. Music by Herbie Hancock. Production Design by Alexandre Trauner. Costume Design by Jacqueline Moreau. Film Editing by Armand Psenny.
Fictional biography of a jazz musician that could easily be compared to the true stories of Bud Powell and Lester Young, which is made clear in the film’s dedication. Dexter Gordon is excellent in a rare screen appearance as Dale Turner, a once famous, now aging and ragged saxophone player who has come to Paris to play a gig at a middling jazz club. His friend Buttercup (Sandra Reaves-Phillips, who is excellent) keeps him locked up during the day to prevent his getting drunk at a bar, while at night he is shadowed by a diehard fan (François Cluzet) who ends up being his guardian angel. Bertrand Tavernier moves slowly through the proceedings of the atmospheric drama, one without impressive tension but dripping with mood and attitude. Gordon is a natural performer, his giant stature and gravelly voice complementing a charisma that makes his hard-shelled personality seem enigmatic rather than opaque. Then there’s the music, which fans of the genre will thrill to (if you eat up the scenes in Bird and Kansas City you’ll love this too). Even when it isn’t gripping, the film is told with wonderful sympathy, and all the performers excel. Martin Scorsese has a terrific cameo as an obnoxious American promoter.
The Criterion Collection: #1122
Academy Award: Best Original Score
Nominations: Best Actor (Dexter Gordon)
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Actor-Drama (Dexter Gordon); Best Original Score
Toronto International Film Festival: 1986
Venice Film Festival: In Competition