I first heard Chet Baker on the jukebox of our local hangout, the Cafe Des Artistes in World’s End in London in the late fifties. I liked what I heard straightaway –although in Early Jazz PC, one was not supposed to mention Chet Baker in the same breath as Miles Davis.
I realize now that after a while –I don’t think anyone particularly noticed at the time– one tended not to hear Chet Baker anymore. Chet apparently “got lost”, developed a drug (mostly heroin) habit that ruled his music, his mind, his whole life.
The young Chet was probably too good-looking for his own good –in the James Dean/Elvis Presley mould he was a fifties heart-throb, and knew it. He was not too far from punk. His relationships with women –three of them his wives– seemed a mixture of exploitation and dependancy. With his kids it was more “Let’s get lost.” He got lost, and apparently, so did they.
Chet Baker was a sad sad case –although two unrelenting hours of this waste of talent made it hard to care.
This movie –in black and white and noir– captures his great musical talent for jazz trumpet and song and sets it against the nihilism of his “Let get lost” life. At the end I was left with an impression: a never-ending one-note tune and a never-ending one word song. Depressing.
It gave our little movie group –for all of whom the fifties were formative; more formative than any of us knew at the time– a lot to talk about, so the whole evening turned out very worthwhile.
(The other two movies on our shortlist were Rumanian (“12.08 East of Bucharest”) and Italian (“The Golden Door”). Where has the American cinema disappeared to?)