Monday, May 06, 2019


Almost nine years ago, I attended a screening that likely won't be topped any time soon in terms of sheer coolness, seeing a silent comedy about the early days of jazz in the Apollo Theater with a live score performed by Wynton Marsalis and Cecile Licad. I dug the movie and was kind of fascinated by how director Dan Prtizker had a companion piece, Bolden!, shot with much the same cast and crew at around the same time, planned for 2011.

It didn't come. Just never showed up on the schedule. Every once in a while, something would remind me of it, and eventually when I checked IMDB, I saw that Gary Carr had replaced Anthony Mackie in the title role, the latter having wound up in Captain America and other bigger things which apparently didn't leave him a lot of time for another almost complete re-shoot of this movie. And then it fell off the radar again. You can do that when you're one of the richest people in America, as Pritzker is (his father, among other businesses, founded the Hyatt chain of hotels), tinkering until you get it right. I'd pretty much written the movie off until I saw a discarded invitation to a pre-release screening at Boston Common, and then saw a bunch of ads for it.

It, of course, did not actually open in Boston. It looked like the closest it was going to play was New York, and I was putting together plans to go there for the weekend even though I was kind of zonked from IFFBoston and a trip to NYC is not something you plan just a couple days ahead. Fortunately, I found out it was paying here:

The Liberty Tree Mall is not convenient - I had to take the 88 bus to Lechmere, the Green Line to North Station, the Newburyport Commuter Rail to Lynn, and then the 435. It took 2.5 hours one way, with the movie running like 108 minutes. But, they've apparently got a couple of small screens that they call "AMC Extra" that play stuff which there is apparently no room for downtown, and I kind of scratch my head over that sometimes, like Boston is still under-screened despite the places that have opened in recent years, because there's just no room to squeeze something like Bolden in the way there is when you've got 20 screens to fill in Danvers and Methuen. Maybe when/if the ArcLight opens, that will change some (and The Hub seems mostly ready from what I saw at North Station), but who knows.

It's also kind of a boring mall, as you find when you go to a Sunday matinee and discover that the next bus back to Lynn won't arrive for a half hour. Not even a Newbury Comics to kill time in, and it's surrounded by other big box retail/casual dining chains, with another mall like a mile away. I'm not entirely sure whether I outgrew malls or they got worse, but it wound up just chewing up an afternoon.

Admittedly, I was amused to see this:

Apparently AMC just replaced some of the signage inside the theater a year or so ago, so it's not that crazy to see this one still up, but it looks like it hasn't been changed since the place opened twenty years ago, like it's never been used to actually promote the movies inside. Quite visible from the bus stop, where I got a bit of writing done while waiting for the 435 back to Lynn, from where I'd take the 422 to Wonderland, the Blue Line to State, and then a brief walk to Downtown Crossing to take the Red Line back home. I suspect going to NYC might have been easier, if longer and more expensive.

At any rate - this was no trip to the Apollo for something really cool, but how many sequels can live up to the original?


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 May 2019 in AMC Liberty Tree Mall #15 (first-run, DCP)

We don't know much about Buddy Bolden; it's generally accepted that he played a crucial part in the development of jazz, arguably inventing it, but spent the latter half of his relatively short life in a mental institution. One photograph survives, and none of the actual music. It's thin material for a biography, and that filmmaker Dan Pritzker makes acknowledging a core part of the film this is both the great strength of Bolden and what often makes it frustrating: The audience comes in wanting to know his story, but much of what follows involves being told that it can't.

It's introduced by a 1931 radio broadcast featuring the return of Louis Armstrong (Reno Wilson) to New Orleans; the nurse on night duty at the institution is listening (it is exceedingly rare to hear a fellow African-American on the radio), and the sound makes its way through the air vents to Bolden's room. It stirs memories in Bolden (Gary Carr), from meeting his wife Nora (Yaya DaCosta), stunts to get attention for his new sound encouraged by his manager Bartley (Erik LaRay Harvey), and clashes with Judge Perry (Ian McShane), at least partly due to Buddy's fondness for the same dance-hall girl (Kearia Schroeder), which as much as the drugs and the breakdown led to him winding up remanded to that place.

Or at least, that's the legend - which also includes one recording on a wax cylinder that has never surfaced over the course of a century - and the odds are that there's just not going to be a lot of new records about a black man who lived at the turn of the twentieth century turning up. Pritzker deals with this by using Bolden's mental health issues to not necessarily make him an unreliable narrator but to leap over gaps and connect one incident to another in a way that reflects the spottiness and unreliability of the historical record without ever feeling tentative or too self-aware. It feels like the best anyone could piece a narrative together under these circumstances without breaking the fourth wall and apologizing, and once the trick is clear, it becomes a part of fabric of the film, as Bolden both resists and is puzzled by the idea of recording a performance (the live experience was both part of the art and how they made their money at the time) while black people were often considered disposable.

Full review on EFilmCritic

No comments: