DOXA 2019 review: Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

(U.S./U.K.)

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      At just under two hours, this a wide if not deep appreciation of a very complex genius.

      For those not familiar with the subject, musically speaking, it's a pretty great primer, covering the entire arc from strung-out bebop understudy to the "clean" innovator of Kind of Blue, and then on through acid-Miles and finally landing on the exceedingly strange comeback creature of the '80s, complete with sequencers and Miami Vice cameos.

      There are holes. Sketches of Spain remains just that: a sketch. Betty Davis gets about half a minute of screen time. Some might balk at the narration, provided by actor Carl Lumbly in Davis's rasp, reading from his 1990 autobiography.

      Not surprisingly, Birth of the Cool also struggles to throw any new light on what made the Prince of Darkness tick—often violently—besides American racism, debilitating physical pain, and the kind of protean creative spark that produces both real art and fucked-up humans. But few 20th century artists lived more completely in the process, and Stanley Nelson's film, brimming with fabulous footage, doesn't fail to impart that crucial aspect of the story.

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