Tag Archives: jazz

Louis (2010): review

Anthony Coleman in Louis (2010)
Anthony Coleman in Louis (2010)

The difference between homage and pastiche is largely a question of respect. It perfectly possible to pastiche something you don’t care for very much, or don’t understand, whereas a homage aims to be a worthy tribute to the art that inspires it. Louis (2010) is a pastiche. It’s a glossy, fast-paced film, with a charming lead performance from the young actor who takes the title role – and it’s occasionally funny, too – but I didn’t feel the love.

Louis, a “modern re-imagining” of a silent movie, is ostensibly both a tribute to Louis Armstrong, whose early life is mythologised here, and to the films of Charlie Chaplin. These two aims get so terribly bungled that the film shifts its attention away from the young Louis and towards what should be a sub-plot, featuring a villain who looks, and moves, in imitation of Chaplin. The idea of having an actor (Jackie Earle Haley, who is really very good in the role) mimic the Tramp while playing such an unpleasant character is bizarre: he’s a corrupt local judge who is guilty of murder and extortion. We see him attempting to pay off the prostitute who has given birth to his child, and when that fails, trying to suffocate the newborn in question. Adorable.

Louis may be ludicrous, but it very nearly gets away with it. There’s an undeniable pleasure in clocking all the Chaplin references, Vilmos Zsigmond’s back-and-white photography is crisp and the speeded-up chase sequences are a hoot. Yes, the film is set in a deprived quarter of early 20th-century New Orleans, but Louis is designed as a retro fantasy and if it stuck to its comedy guns, it could have been a family-friendly caper. Sadly, however, Louis loses its way very early on.

What might have been a charming film about a young boy’s love for music gets lost when it wanders on to adult territory, specifically the brothel. The scenes inside the bordello are both sanitised and horribly puerile at the same time – the women perform raunchy, anachronistic dance routines in perfectly laundered white petticoats. It’s more like a pop video than a movie in these sequences, but they are enough to give the film its US ‘R’ rating. More problematically, the storyline involving a prostitute going back to work after having an illegitimate baby raises issues that Louis is not sophisticated enough to deal with.

And then there’s the music. The score, written by Wynton Marsalis and featuring many pieces by Armstrong himself and Louis Moreau Gottschalk, is played by a 10-piece band at a volume that goes way beyond “accompaniment” – meaning, at least, you can barely concentrate on the plot holes. There’s rich, squelchy brass in almost every scene, and the tempo rarely takes a breath. You do wonder whether the music was meant to accompany the film or vice versa.

Louis is filmed in widescreen, with looping, extended Steadicam sequences and crane shots – it’s not a perfect replica of a silent film, but it will remind you of one. I don’t mind that it’s “inauthentic” in the slightest. Modern silents should come in all forms, and the idea of a silent biopic of a musician with a live score is an inspired one. The problem with Louis is that it gets distracted from what it does best, and a Chaplin pastiche is no substitute for the real thing.

Read more about Louis.

Sunrise at the Loop Festival, the Forge, 18 March 2011

Sunrise (1927)
Sunrise (1927)

The Loop Collective is a group of jazz musicians and the Loop Festival is their annual four-day event, which this year will take place in the Forge music venue in Camden. On the Friday night a trio comprising Alcyona Mick (piano), Geoff Hannan (violin) and Jon Wygens (guitar) will perform their score for FW Murnau’s sublime film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). The film tells the story of The Man (George O’Brien) who is tempted, by a seductress from the big city no less, to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor). It is one of the most beautifully photographed Hollywood silents you could hope to watch, with stunning mobile camerawork – I often recommend to people who haven’t seen a silent film before.

The group’s score was commissioned last year and has previously been performed at the Flatpack Festival in Birmingham. It combines improvisation with pre-written music. You might be interested to know that when the score was performed at the Flatpack Festival they used a print of Sunrise that had recently been found in Czech Republic, which is a little shorter than the better known Movietone print, the one that is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

That is just the start of the evening’s entertainment: the Risser/Duboc/Perraud trio will play later, and the headline act is Andrew Plummer’s World Sanguine Report, described as:

Part demonic vaudeville, part psychotic big band, vocalist Andrew Plummer revels and writhes in the macabre as he heads his jazz noir project World Sanguine Report through visceral tales from the dark side of life, love and death. Propelled by demented carny rhythms, Plummer’s bruised, gruff vocals and darkly-enthralling lyrics are enveloped in a tide of swirling tones and textures, with the constant threat of breaking into waves of cacophony.

Sounds too good to miss!

Sunrise screens at The Forge, Camden on 18 March 2011 at 8pm. Tickets are £15 for the whole night of music or more for a festival pass. More information is available from the Loop Festival website here. And you can buy tickets at the Forge website here.