Tag Archive | Heroin Addiction

Jazz Legend Chet Baker’s Life Gets an Anti-Biopic Reimagining in Born to Be Blue

 Ethan Hawke Shades (Chet Baker)
Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in Robert Budreau’s, Born to Be Blue. (All Images Courtesy of IFC Films/Caitlin Cronenberg)

Perhaps a story doesn’t need to get all the facts exactly right in order to capture the creative and spiritual essence of a person’s life. In writer/director Robert Budreau’s new ‘anti-biopic,’ Born to Be Blue, the life lived by American Jazz Trumpeter Chet Baker is keenly interpreted by actor Ethan Hawke in a surreal but gritty performance that tells you all you need to know about the troubled musical genius — renowned as both a pioneer of the West Coast jazz scene and a style icon — who just couldn’t seem to get out of his own way.  Born to Be Blue has a tight focus; imaginatively extrapolating several key, true events in Baker’s life, and launching his story at a time in the 1960s when he was struggling to come back musically after years of debilitating heroin addiction. But while drugs were a demon that Baker battled until the end of his life, this movie emphasizes how he never surrendered the passion he had for his art, or his determination to play music at the top of his game (albeit on his own terms).

Born to Be Blue opens on a  scene of Baker being released from jail, based on an event in the early 1960s, when Baker was imprisoned on drug convictions in Italy, and producer Dino de Laurentiis approached him to star in a movie as himself. While that film never materialized in real life, Budreau uses the narrative device of Baker playing himself in a movie to set a dreamlike tone that accents both the improvisational nature of his music and also the opiate haze of his severe heroin dependency. The movie-within-the-movie is also shot in black and white, for transitional contrast with the ‘real life’ color sequences, which adds to the film’s often hypnagogic feel.

Carmen Ejogo
Carmen Ejogo as Jane

Born to Be Blue also takes on Baker’s stormy relationship with romance. While on the movie set, Chet meets Jane (played by Carmen Ejogo) a beautiful and smart actress playing his love interest. The two start a passionate affair in real life, and Jane becomes Chet’s muse, inspiring him creatively and giving him a place to live after he has basically become homeless. Jane’s character isn’t based on any one woman in Baker’s life, but rather she represents composite elements of his wives (he was married twice) and girlfriends into a fictitious female love interest, and Ejogo is vibrant in this role.

In 1968, Baker was the victim of a brutal beating from which he lost of most of his teeth. The film’s reenactment has Chet being attacked by drug dealers, to whom he owes money, as he and Jane leave a bowling alley together. Chet’s severe injuries all but completely destroy is ability to play the trumpet, and lead to filming on the movie being shut down permanently. Baker gets fitted for dentures, but physical pain, and frustration he feels at the loss of his embouchure (the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of the trumpet) make staying off heroin impossible. Ethan Hawke does a fantastic job of portraying Baker as a tortured artist who couldn’t see his way out of a life of addiction.

Ethan Hawke (Chet Baker)

There are many scenes in Born to Be Blue of Chet Baker in the recording studio and also performing live, so fans of his music will not be disappointed. Hawke did all his own singing for the film, while versatile trumpet player, Kevin Turcotte, recreated all of Baker’s trumpet parts (Turcotte also portrays two other jazz trumpet players in the film, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie). The film culminates with the wildly suspenseful and emotionally harrowing retelling of  Baker’s comeback show at New York’s famous Birdland Jazz Club, where he’s surrounded by his heroes, peers and fans. It’s not like we don’t already know how the story ends, but Hawke makes Baker’s choice between The Lady or The Tiger: trying to play inspired jazz on a dose of methadone, versus channeling his divine muse with just one more fix, creates authentic dramatic tension while breaking your heart into a million pieces.

It’s been said by those who knew Chet Baker that even the biographical documentary, Let’s Get Lost, contains numerous factual inaccuracies. Rather than call itself a definitive biography, Born to Be Blue is more like a love letter to Chet Baker, his ground breaking music, and his contribution to pop culture, despite his status as an unarguably flawed protagonist.  As far as what is truth and what is fictitious, the film is comparable to Todd Haynes 2007 masterpiece, I’m Not There; where  six characters embody a different aspect of the life and work of Bob Dylan. As long as it captures and honors the spirit of the artist, what else really matters?

The Worley Gig Gives Born to Be Blue Four out of Five Stars!

Born to Be Blue is now playing in limited release. Visit Fandango Dot Com to find a theater where it is playing in your area. The film will be available via Video on Demand starting March 31st.

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Must Read Book: Nick Kent’s Apathy For The Devil

It’s no secret to anyone born prior to 1980 that the best years – the truly Golden years – of Rock music are now decades behind us. By the “best” years, of course, I’m talking about the 1970s. Some of us were lucky enough to live through this truly magical decade that, when speaking of Rock music, came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. Think about it, the 70s embodied a sonic revolution like no other: ushered in softly by the final days of The Beatles – the band that invented everything – and ushered out by the glorious cacophony that was first wave British Punk Rock – a movement that’s influenced countless pop music genres that have arrived in its wake. From the Beatles to Punk Rock; there arguably is no decade that has had a greater impact than the 1970s, historically and influentially, on any modern music that is worth listening to.

The Seventies live on for music fans of a younger generation because so much of that music is archived and still available to anyone with an iTunes account. But just hearing the music isn’t the same as being privy to the rich and exotic history behind the people who made those songs come alive. That is why we must be grateful for rock journalists like Nick Kent, a rock critic and avid fan, who was at ground zero for almost everything noteworthy that happened musically between the years of 1970 and 1980,  for having captured his experiences living the rock and roll dream, and its nightmare flipside, in his recent memoir entitled Apathy For The Devil (Da Capo Press). I’ve read a ton of music bios and memoirs on the Seventies and, seriously, this is best book on the subject that I’ve come across.

Just how great is Apathy for The Devil? Well, I would venture that it’s an even more satisfying read than Bob Greene’s long-out-of-print gem Billion Dollar Baby, that writer’s inside account of going on the road with the original band called Alice Cooper – and that is lofty praise indeed, because that book is just insane. As a writer for England’s NME magazine, a first-hand participant in and keen observer of so much of rock’s from-the-gutter-to-the-good-life history, Kent’s memoir is both entertaining and edifying. I mean, the guy knew, met, interviewed and wrote about everyone: Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, The Whoeveryone. Certainly too many bands and artists to name and keep this review under 5,000 words. And the war stories he’s brought back from his close encounters will knock your socks off. I love this book!

Divided into nine chapters, one for each year, with 1978 and 1979 combined into one entry, Apathy For The Devil is quite a roller coaster ride, and at the end of the ride you may find many of your previously held opinions enriched or changed flat out. For example, the chapter entitled “1973”, in which he elucidates his understanding of the inner workings of The Rolling Stones and his assessment of just how Mick Jagger’s mind works, piqued my interest and enthusiasm for that band in a way that 40 years of their recorded music had been unable to do. Apathy For The Devil is, in Kent’s own words, about “surreal people living surreal, action-packed lives.” And although he was talking about rock stars when he wrote that, what you come to realize as you flip through page after page of vivid, fearless, darkly humorous and wickedly compelling prose, is that he is also talking about himself.

In the florid pages of Apathy For The Devil, we learn not only every gloriously gritty detail about Kent’s intimate personal history during ten years spent writing about every band that mattered, but also amazing details about the personal histories of dozens rock stars and music industry luminaries that are now household names; from the aforementioned legends like David Bowie and Mick Jagger to Chrissie Hynde (who was Kent’s girlfriend in her pre–Pretenders years) and the notorious, Punk Rock Svengali Malcolm McLaren, who had never even heard of Jimi Hendrix before he met Kent. As if the insider stories of Rock’s most decadent decade weren’t enough, the author also shares his decent into and recovery from heroin addiction in riveting detail. So, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, it’s all here in a book that’s amazingly well-written and so much fun you won’t be able to put it down.

For Rocking hard enough to Crack a Skull, The Worley Gig gives Apathy For The Devil Five out of Five Stars.