8. LET’S GET LOST
(1988, Directed and Written by Bruce Weber)
I am well aware that it would be possible to produce a number of these lists devoted to particular types of music – pop, jazz, classical, even metal – and perhaps in the future I will do so. In this list, however, I wanted to look at all music films across all the different types of music, and to that end Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost is included, ahead of the likes of Bird, Round Midnight and Lady Sings The Blues, as the great jazz film, being simultaneously as loose and controlled as the music (and musician) it celebrates.
Let’s Get Lost is almost a cinematic equivalent of Oscar Wilde’s magisterial novel about art and ageing, The Picture of Dorian Grey. Just as Wilde juxtaposes the eternally youthful Dorian with his rapidly decaying portrait, so Weber contrasts the elderly jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker with his younger self, as caught on camera in film and television performances from the 1950s. The young Chet was as beautiful as James Dean, and almost his exact musical equivalent in bringing youthful energy and flair to an ageing art-form (in Dean’s case cinema, in Baker’s jazz). Thirty years later, however, Weber was a junkie, and Weber does not flinch from showing the terrible toll that his addiction has taken on both his looks and his musical ability.
Nevertheless, Let’s Get Lost is also a celebration of arguably the greatest white male jazz singer (Sinatra excepted, but Sinatra couldn’t play an aching trumpet solo like Chet). And its title is almost the perfect definition of jazz itself, the form of music that celebrates improvisation and self-discovery like no other. Weber stays true to that sense of ad hoc creation in his own film-making, especially when Chet arrives at the Cannes Film Festival, ostensibly to join Weber for the premiere of another of his documentaries but in reality to show an almost broken but undeniably genuine artist against a backdrop of glitz and superficiality.