What to watch when you’ve already watched everything Part Thirteen! Binge worthy, not cringe worthy recommendations from Isolation Studios in the eerily quiet downtown Toronto. Three movies to stream, rent or buy from the comfort of home isolation. Today, a financial crisis, a blacklisted writer and a troubled trumpeter. #TheBigShort#Trumbo#BornToBeBlue
Welcome to the House of Crouse. Today Richard has a look at the Chet Baker biopic “Born to be Blue,” with the help of its stars Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo. They discuss creativity, what it is like to be an artist and their work on the film. C’mon cool cats and kitties, stop by for an jazzy look at what it is like to have a creative life.
Richard and “Canada AM” host Marci Ien have a look at he weekend’s big releases, the psychological thrills of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the grown-up children’s tale “The Little Prince,” Ethan Hawke in the Chet Baker biopic “Born to be Blue” and the toilet-clogging glory of “The Brothers Grimsby.”
In Born to Be Blue, a stylish new biopic about the turbulent life of My Funny Valentine trumpeter Chet Baker, Miles Davis tells the horn player, “You haven’t lived enough” to be a great musician.
When I ask Hawke if great art can be created without life experience, he says, “My take is that there are no rules, but you don’t become Nelson Mandela without suffering. There is a huge myth around Mozart that he was just divinely inspired, in truth he worked really hard. He was obsessed with music from a very young age.
“You could make the case that Michael Jackson suffered immensely and that is part of what drove him. I think the service of the artistic community is to translate our lives back to us and hopefully to lend some understanding. You need to participate in life and feel life to be able to do that. But you know lots of people suffer without a gift or talent to translate it into a beautiful painting.”
Baker took Davis’s comment to heart and set off on a life long self-destructive bender that saw him fall into drug addiction, even pawning his instruments to support his drug habit.
“In the arts, self destruction is a real enemy,” Hawke says. “If you eliminate self-destruction, if you get out of your own way, give yourself permission to have respect for yourself and treat yourself like someone that you love, your chances of success quadruple. That’s really hard.
“It sounds so simple. The documentary I made [Seymour: An Introduction] is all about how hard that is. The joys of life are actually really simple. We think they are going to be, ‘Oh I’ll be happy if this, that and the other thing [happen].’ In truth it is pretty awesome that the sun comes up and if you stay focussed on that things go OK. As soon as you take your eye off that, life gets really weird and tricky.”
Hawke shares Baker’s rough-hewn good looks and does a convincing job of imitating the fragile beauty of his singing voice. More importantly he apes the addict’s temperament. Charming one minute, petulant and or incoherent the next, he plays Baker as a talented train wreck; a man whose tragic life experience fed his art. Unsure which of his proclivities are his angels and which are his devils, he’s a conflicted guy who tries to do well by those around him but often fails. Hawke may resemble the musician but the similarity is only physical. He is comfortable in his skin in a way Baker never dreamed of.
“It’s strange, I’m turning forty-five this year,” he says, “and I have been professionally acting for thirty years. When I was young I was really afraid that I wouldn’t get to do it. That was a big part of my identity as a young person. Even if a movie did well that I would think, ‘Is it over?’ Will I ever get to do it again? It’s how I imagine baseball players and professional athletes feel. Do they ever really know when their last game is? With acting, I’m working on my King Lear now. I’ll be able to do this until I am old no use to people anymore. In athletics it’s not that way.”
Trumpet player Chet Baker is no stranger to the big screen. He was the subject of “Let’s Get Lost,” a 1988 documentary by Bruce Webber, acted in movies with exciting names like “Howlers of the Dock” and “Hell’s Horizon” and his sublime playing haunts the soundtracks of everything from “The Sixth Sense” to “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” He’s back on the big screen as the subject of “Born to be Blue,” a stylish new drama starring Ethan Hawke.
Writer-director Robert Budreau begins the story during a valley in Baker’s life. Consumed by heroin, a beating by a drug dealer leaves him broken and barely able to play. To recuperate he and soul mate Jane (Carmen Ejogo) head to Baker’s childhood Oklahoma home where his antagonistic father (Stephen McHattie) sheds some light on why the musician behaves the way he does.
Later, on the comeback trail, Chet and Jane live in a van in Los Angeles as the trumpeter tries to convince his old producer Dick Bock (Callum Keith Rennie) to work together again. As he regains his chops and confidence the question remains, will he be able to embrace the change or will fall back into his old bad habits?
It’s a matter of historical record how Baker’s life ended, but “Born to be Blue” isn’t particularly interested in the facts. Jane is a composite figure of several of Baker’s girlfriends and wives and some of the events portrayed as fact are in debate. Instead the movie is more interested in giving the viewer a feel for Baker’s life and struggle.
Hawke shares Baker’s rough-hewn good looks and does a credible job of imitating the fragile beauty of his singing voice. More importantly he apes the addict’s temperament. Charming one minute, petulant and or incoherent the next, he’s a talented train wreck; a man whose tragic life experience fed his art. Unsure which of his proclivities are his angels and which are his devils, he’s a conflicted guy who tries to do well by those around him but often fails. It’s a compelling, if not uncommon, music bio story and Hawke embodies it.
Also compelling is Ejogo as Jane in what could have been simply a supportive wife role. She has great chemistry with Hawke and sparks fly in her character’s relationship with Baker. The heart of the film is their connection and sometimes the fireworks that fly between them are exciting, sometimes heartbreaking.
“Born to be Blue” suffers from occasional melodrama—Kedar Brown plays Miles Davis as a bebop caricature—but nails the sense of melancholy that characterised Baker’s best work.