Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jung Man With A Horn- by Steve Provizer

When it comes to Hollywood doing jazz bio-pics, I prefer hagiography: The Goodman story, the Dorsey Story, the Miller story-they're just the Lindburgh story, Curie and Young Abe Lincoln stories with swing music. Fonda coulda been Miller and Stewart could been Lincoln. Greer Garson as Marian McPartland? Anyway, it's a nice, comfortable roll in the nostalgic hay. Why do those nut jobs in L.A. go all pseudo-egghead on us and decide they have to "explain" jazz? It's a formula for disaster.
Remember your initial excitement when you heard about "Round Midnight," and about "Bird"? Remember your disappointment after you saw them? Why didn't they let Dexter play anything up tempo!! Why did they make Bird a man-child!! Is every black man a tragic figure and every white man a dolt?
Possibly the most exasperating example of the genre is "Jung Man With a Horn." Sorry-Young Man. The insane ilk of psycho-babble that floats through this movie like celluloid arteriosclerosis is unmatched. Kirk Douglas/Bix Beiderbecke has "one wing" then falls for the broken pseudo-shrink Bacall who has a pet macaw? She smashes your 78's? I hate to see that; even if they're just Caruso on VIctor. You're right, Kirk/Bix, she is "dirty and twisted inside," while you-were-born-to-play-the-trumpet-and-can-only-communicate-through-that-damn-horn. Why, oh why do they try and foist off that juvenile premise: "I want to play the note that no one else has ever played?" Bejasus.
Don't ask me if the same 4th-class Freudianisms befoul the "Dorothy Baker novel of the same name." I can only deal with psychic effluvia in one genre at a time.
"Based on the life of Bix Beiderbecke"? My moldy toenail. Harry James, a fine player, is the film's "music adviser" and dubs the trumpet parts. Kirk Douglas pushes the trumpet valves convincingly and has the appropriate unyielding embouchure and convincing semi-ecstatic gleam in his eye. Unfortunately, Harry James' style bears as much resemblance to Bix's as, well-you finish the analogy. I don't want to sound churlish. Happily, the movie is quite informative for all you trumpet players out there, as there are at least 4 mentions of the loathsome "roll" in this movie. You know, where the mouthpiece gets too low on your lower lip? You better correct it pronto, or I will strap you in this comfy chair and force you to listen to cinematic dialogue about trumpet rolls until your chops fall off. There are good documentaries about jazz. Why is this music such an lousy fit in feature films?

A "Bad" Embouchure


Unknown said...

I seem to recall another lost bit o crap with Jack Webb..Pete Kelly's Blues, I think.

And who can forget the awful Billie Holiday bio movie?

El Lay lives in a head up ass world..

Hollyweird and the entire msuic industry is but a bastard stepchild of the Giant Screen.

Steve Provizer said...

Jack Webb as Red Nichols. Poor Peggy Lee as the girlfriend. Marty Milner's in there. Remember him in Sweet Smell of Success as the guitarist in Chico Hamilton's band that gets framed by Tony Curtis for pot. Strictly squaresville.

There are often jazz set pieces in these wretched movies. Never long enough.

Unknown said...

On a completely different plane we have that "Art Film" from France, I forget the name as I'm not much for movies but this was some thing about precocious Parisian kids enthralled by Charlie Parker records.

I never saw it but smaht people I know who care about movies spoke well of it.

Steve Provizer said...

Heresy I know-but the mediocrity Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud-"Elevator to the Gallows." Way over-hyped.

Unknown said...

Just looked it up..Murmur of the Heart...Louis Malle.

I'm surprised I remembered.

Never saw it, no clue.

Steve Provizer said...

Memorable because the boy has sex with his mother.

Unknown said...

Go figure...the things you miss when you can't stand movies.

bigtiny said...

Yeah, but 'Young Man with the Horn' has one of the great lines.....Douglas attends his first rehearsal with some band (can't remember who) and doesn't follow the music. The leader asks him "Why do you think we use that sheet music?" and Douglas replies "I don't know...."

I'm paraphrasing of course....

keith hedger

Steve Provizer said...

Keith-Actually, I think you have what Kirk/Bix says dead on. And to his credit, Kirk looks completely mystified when he says it.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree slightly with your opinion, Steve. Not everything sucked in each of those movies.

Okay, the biographical errors are legion in all the films you've listed; but: The music in "The Glenn Miller Story" is played very authentically (NOT "Chattanooga Choo-Choo").

It's nice to see Gene Krupa & Cozy Cole, doing a little drum battle in the great nightclub sequence with Louis Armstrong (same film); and Tavernier's "Round Midnight" is, as far as I remember, one of the better films of the genre, and quite authentic. Alas, the end (a fictional memorial concert for the hero) sucks quite a bit of course.

There are some up-tempos too: "Una Noche Con Francis", or "Rhythm A Ning".

You haven't mentioned the best, and the darkest of all the biopicals on jazz musicians: "The Red Nichols Story" aka "The Five Pennies". This is a good film, if you disregard some completely surreal "comical" (?) showcases with Danny Kaye.

The worst of all is (fortunately?) not on your list: It had been projected as a biography on Chet Baker, and it became one of the worst "jazz" films I have ever tried to watch ... ;)

Why only "tried"? Because it's so miserable, that you can't sit it through entirely.


"Baker was reportedly the inspiration for the character Chad Bixby (sic!), played by Robert Wagner in the 1960 film All the Fine Young Cannibals."

Gosh! That's really a bullshit-film!

@Chris: You are referring to Louis Malle's Murmur Of The Heart (1971) which is actually a good film with a great soundtrack.

Since Clint Eastwood's "Bird" has one of the worst soundtracks ever, and the movie is almost entirely based on Ross Russell's fictional book "Bird Lives", I wanna spare you my usual outbursts of polemics when it comes to this very film.

Okay, I will have mercy, and give you just one symptomatic quote from one of the studio musicians from the liners:

"I always wanted to play with Charlie Parker."

Nuff said!

P.S.: As for "Young Man With The Horn" -- The music is great as such, but the film sucks indeed very much.

gmoke said...

Try "Blues in the Night" with Richard Whorf and Jack Carson. A band goes from catching freights to playing in a New Jersey roadhouse run by mobster Lloyd Nolan. Meller-drama.

Then there's "High Society" with Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, a remake of "The Philadelphia Story" set against the Newport Jazz Festival.

Best jazz on film I've seen is the Academy Award winning short, "Jammin' the Blues" with Lester Young and others:

Steve Provizer said...

Brew-I definitely don't think everything sucked in those movies. Unfortunately, the best parts-the parts with real jazz musicians playing-are always too short and are often interrupted by what the producers laughably call "a plot."

I dimly remember the Fine Young Cannibals, with Robert Wagner playing the trumpet player. It's nice to know we trumpet players are always so handsome...

There are a few shots of Chet's Italian movie in the documentary "Let's Get Lost." Now, say what you will, that's a movie that holds your attention. I prefer black and white movies.

Steve Provizer said...

George-Yea, Jammin is the balls-although outside out area of complaint as it's concert footage-no attempt at plot.

The academic boyz have run "High Society" through the deconstruction mill. Cole Porter on LSD.

I've either seen Blues in the Night or been ripped apart by wild boars. I forget which.

rob chalfen said...

Jammin' The Blues was shot in Gjon Mili's photo studio, to pre-recorded tracks.

Hapless musician, c. 1924: "Gee Bix, why don't we try some arrangements some time?"

Bix: "What would we do if the lights go out?"

gmoke said...

"High Society" is one of the reasons I bought a concertina. Someday soon I'm gonna havta get a couple of the reeds repaired so I can start practicing without wincing (too much).

gmoke said...

"Paris Blues" isn't a complete embarrassment, if only for the Ellington score and the lovely title tune.