Letter writer: ‘Miles Ahead’ insults Davis’ artistic legacy

Graphic by Lori Deaton

It’s understood that subjectivity comes into play when both viewing and reviewing a movie. Having said that, I must offer a strongly contrary opinion to Ken Hanke’s five-star lauding of Miles Ahead (April 27) [“Cranky Hanke Reviews & Listings”].

A simple definition of biopic is a “biographic movie,” yet the overriding storyline in the period it claims to represent bears little resemblance to Miles Davis’ actual life. Miles had a fascinating and absorbing life on its own merit. Why would [Don] Cheadle feel compelled to, as Miles might put it, “just make sh*t up?” Why toss in a totally fictitious narrative about a stolen tape, bring in characters that never existed, and for the love of God mix in a ludicrous chase scene (talk about a clichéd cheap trick!) and shootout? Seriously — Davis staggers into a prize fight with a gunshot wound and punches out some guy?

Surely the biopics on Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, to choose two other iconic musicians, took some liberties with fact, but nothing like this debacle that looked more like “Shaft Meets Miami Vice” than a representation of reality. The most egregious falsehood was implying that some made-up 20-something junkie inspired Miles to return to music, when in fact it was his former wife Cicely Tyson who coaxed him out of his self-imposed years of drug-fueled darkness.

I’ll give credit to Cheadle for portraying Miles’ prickly demeanor quite well; Emayatzy Corinealdi was terrific as Frances Taylor; and the music closing the film was superb. But aside from that, this film, in my opinion, is a disgrace and insult to Miles Davis’ legacy as an artist.

— Eddie LeShure
Asheville

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12 thoughts on “Letter writer: ‘Miles Ahead’ insults Davis’ artistic legacy

  1. boatrocker

    Aw crap I was looking forward to seeing this movie- I still plan on seeing it but you might realize that in today’s dumbed down movie industry, jazz isn’t ‘sexy’ unless there are speakeasies, Tommy guns and 1920’s gangster molls involved. Hollywood apparently has no clue what to do with that ‘bebop/thinking man’s jazz’.

    Just my 2 cents, the Johnny Cash movie was awful, but ‘Ray” pretty much followed his autobiography, “Brother Ray” minus the parts of him attending the school for the blind.

    “Bird” is still my go to movie about jazz, even though the scene where the cymbal was thrown was made up too.

    At the end of the day, biopics sell, whether they are true or not. So many of them suck, but moviegoers don’t want the truth, they want a stylized over the top “Empire” type treatment. If you want the truth about an artist, read a book about them that reflects their real life.

    “Walk Hard” in my mind lampoons all the awful musical biopics perfectly.

  2. Bright

    Cheap shots apparently are ok if money is the object. I don’t go to movies. Prefer to know the artist through their music, and reality through my own observation. Be careful…there’s an Idiot Wind a-blowin! 🙄

  3. Ken Hanke

    At the end of the day, biopics sell, whether they are true or not. So many of them suck, but moviegoers don’t want the truth, they want a stylized over the top “Empire” type treatment. If you want the truth about an artist, read a book about them that reflects their real life.

    I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with stylization or “over the top” — so long as you realize that’s what you’re getting. Anyone who goes to a movie expecting something factual…well…

    At the same time, so many biographies — and even more autobiographies (often not even written by the subject) — are riddled with errors, omissions, obstructions, personal agendas, and even outright lies that it’s hard (maybe impossible) to know that you’re really getting a picture of the real person. Just because someone wrote it down and got it published doesn’t insure truth or accuracy. At least a film like Miles Ahead makes no pretense that it’s accurate in any usual sense. It’s more Cheadle’s interpretation of Davis than anything else.

    • boatrocker

      Precisely- as long as moviegoers know what they are in for when seeing a movie. Movies about George W, Nixon, Howard Hughes, etc somehow don’t have to defend themselves s much as movies about musical types. I’m sure there were a few Baby Boomers who watched “A Hard Day’s Night” back in the day and wondered if it was real or not, as there was no disclaimer.

      I’m still going to watch it for liking Miles’ music. I’m also curious as to whether Cheadle plays the trumpet or if there is a ‘stunt trumpeter’ for the musical portions.
      If I want the ‘real story’, I’ll read up on the guy.

      • The Real World

        But you do bring up fair points, boatrocker. I had a dialogue with Ken some months back about the use of disclaimers in movies.

        My view is that a studio/producer/director can make any film they want but it is only fair trade practice to use a disclaimer at least largely commensurate with the content. Most products on the market require some descriptive detail about authenticity, contents, risks, etc. Disclaimers used on most movies BASED on actual people/events are lame. Intentionally so.

        Guess what? Audiences do not know which parts are true and which aren’t, why would they? I’ve seen many crestfallen, woeful faces when I mentioned the made-up portions of some recent movies. And these were educated people of mature ages. Just clueless about the heavily fictional films they dearly loved.

        It gets worse. The blatant political spin inserted into many of these “true” films also seems to fly over people’s heads. I suppose because it fits their bias so they can’t even tell when they’re being played.

        I could go on but suffice it to say that, in 2016, it is just as easy to dupe people and lead them down the garden path as it was thousands of years ago. More accurate disclaimers are what I argue for. Until then: movies = propaganda.

        You might like this website: http://www.historyvshollywood.com/

        • boatrocker

          Oh my goodness- all manner of cinematic critiquery here- I just wanted to find a bit out about the movie, as I like some music biopics. I enjoy Miles’ music, I know that caveat emptor’ applies to Hollywood and wondered if Cheadle played the trumpet in the movie.
          – hint- I am not a movie critic by any means, nor do I play on on TV. I am flattered however at the civil discourse when it comes to movies on this site- something sorely lacking in other comment threads. The Hard Day’s night was merely an attempt at humor via referencing a famous movie about music.

          Now can someone tell me if Cheadle plays the trumpet in the movie or not? I’m still all excited to see it- it can’t be any worse than Walk The Line- gulp- right?

          • Able Allen

            I read that he did learn some trumpet for the movie, but it didn’t sound like was actually performing all the tracks. You’d have to be pretty darned good.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            He appears to be playing – and doing so quite well – in the end credits performance with Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Gary Clark, Jr., Esperanza Spalding and Antonio Sanchez.

      • Ken Hanke

        As a Boomer who saw A Hard Day’s Night when it came out, I don’t think it occurred to me to wonder whether or not it was real. I was also 10. By the time I was 15, I knew better — if only because the real Beatles would have called Ringo Rich or Richey. (The only time his real name is mentioned in the film is on the invitation to the gambling club.) Thing is even if there had been a disclaimer, what kid is going to read it? For that matter, what adult? At the same time, there’s no disclaimer on Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, but I doubt anyone walked out believing that Franz Liszt ever grew a ten foot penis or that Richard Wagner came back from the grave as a combination of Hitler and the Frankenstein Monster brandishing an electric guitar machine gun.

        • Whathuh

          Wait what? Liszt DIDN’T have a 10 ft penis?!

          Now I’m gonna spend the rest of my day trying to figure out what else from my 2nd grade lessons was a lie.

          • Ken Hanke

            Adulthood is just one long moose fellation party of shattered illusions.

  4. The Real World

    “Adulthood is just one long letdown of shattered illusions.” (paraphrased)

    Totally agree!

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