Miles beyond the Biopic

By Chagollan, Steve | Variety, October 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Miles beyond the Biopic


Chagollan, Steve, Variety


Don Cheadle has managed to accomplish something no one has been able to pull off in two decades: serve up a bigsereen lie of jazz great Miles Davis.

"Miles Ahead," in which the versatile tor portrays the legendary trumpeter, larks the directorial début of Cheadle, /ho co-wrote the script The independently financed production, made for $8.5 million, wrapped a monthlong shoot in Cincinnati in mid-August, capping a lengthy gestation period for a project that began eight years ago with Davis' posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The picture, which has yet to score a U.S. distributor, is among a number of film endeavors centering on iconic black musicians - all of them divisive figures who were considered ahead of their time, with none of the films so far connecting with a wide audience. Most recently, "Jimi: All Is by My Side," starring Andre Benjamin (aka Outkast's Andre 3000) as Jimi Hendrix, bowed quietly Sept. 26, and has grossed less than $300,000 to date. "Get On Up," the $30 million James Brown biopic, received a similarly chilly reception, despite major studio support (Universal), grossing little more than its budget since its Aug. 1 debut. Alex Gibney's low-earning documentary "Finding Fela!" about Afrobeat pioneer Felá Kuti, opened in limited release in early August.

"Nina," which stars Zoe Saldana as troubled pianist-singer Nina Simone, appears to be in a holding pattern, embroiled in controversy ever since it was announced that Saldana, a lightskinned beauty of Dominican descent, would play Simone.

And there will no doubt be legions of naysayers who will object to the way that the Davis story is told, given the kind of fanatical following such artists tend to cultivate.

"Miles Davis is a hugely significant figure, perhaps one of the most important musicians and cultural figures of the 20th Century," says Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC, who specializes in the study of race and popular culture. "So attempting to reduce someone's life like Miles into a two-hour film is a challenge in and of itself."

Davis' career spanned some 50 years, and the highlights are many, from his pioneering "Birth of the Cool" sessions starting in 1949, to his first quintet with John Coltrane in the '50s, the second great quintet with Herbie Hancock in the '60s, and his electro-funk Prince of Darkness phase.

Cheadle's take on Davis, co-written with Steven Baigelman, leans toward the more conceptual, juxtaposing two periods in the trumpeter's life. "The central story takes place in two days, before he made his comeback (in 1980)," Cheadle says. The "B story," as he calls it, reflects back to 1956-66, which parallels Davis' relationship with his first wife, dancer Frances Taylor Davis. "She's sort of the one that got away," Cheadle explains, "the love of his life." Saldana was originally identified to play Frances, but the role ultimately went to Emayatzy Corinealdi (Sundance hit "The Middle of Nowhere").

Sets and locations in Cincinnati double for Davis' New York brownstone, the office of Columbia Records executive George Butler, and for performance spaces in the flashback sequences that could make up as much as 40% of the film.

The filmmakers are adamant that "Miles Ahead" not be considered a biopic, but rather an interpretation of what made the trumpeter tick. "It's like wall-to-wall truth, not wall-to-wall facts," explains Cheadle, who says the script ideas he rejected were too traditional in tone, and too aggressive in scope. "We're much closer to something like historical fiction, where this is a composition of our making, using Miles as our inspiration, our muse, to tell a story from our perspective."

At the time of Davis' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2006, his nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., a producer on the movie, was asked if a Miles Davis film was in the works. And, as Cheadle recalls now - adding that he didn't know it then - Wilburn had said, '"Yes, and Don Cheadle's going to play him. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Miles beyond the Biopic
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.