Miles Davis’ music deified typical convention and changed an entire genre in the process. Considering the magnitude of Davis’s achievements, it is nearly impossible to contain it all in one film. This does not stop Stanley Nelson’s film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool from trying though. The film attempts to compress the musician’s life into two hours and succeeds for the most part.
Using never-before-seen footage, Nelson’s film constructs a broad portrait of Davis’ life. Tackling everything from his days as a musical child prodigy to his days on the New York club circuit to continually reinventing himself musically, the film leaves no stone unturned. Birth of the Cool is most riveting when documenting the boundary pushing sounds that Davis created; and exploring how he championed up-and-coming artists, such as John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, and encouraged them to experiment and find their unique styles. Nelson also does a great job of showing the racial inequity that Davis endured, and how he became an activist and symbol of strength for generations of African-Americans.
As engaging as Birth of the Cool is, the film does tend to bite off more than it can properly chew. Too much time is spent on elements like Davis’s fashion while glossing over deeper issues such as the incidents of spousal abuse. Given more time, the film could have better juggled the numerous themes flowing throughout. Fortunately, there is plenty in Miles Davis: Birth of Cool that will satisfy both Jazz fans and those interested in learning about what made Davis a legend.
Saturday, May 4, 6:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1