21 ago. 2011

Charles Mingus: The Triumph of the Underdog

(Don McGlynn, 1998)

The problem with music documentaries is that they never settle into a satisfying rhythm. We get 45 seconds of footage of actual music, then 45 seconds of someone talking (in this case his wives Celia and Sue, Gunther Schuller, several musicians who played with him), then some still phtotos, then more 15-45 second clips from the interviews. The music never lasts more than a minute or so before the editor decides to cut to something else.

This shapeless documentary about Mingus falls into the typical unsatisfying pattern. The narrative culmination is a posthumous performance of "Epitaph" conducted by Schuller wearing a hideous green jacket. The problem is that "Epitaph," which is supposedly Mingus's masterpiece, is also given in only a few brief snippets. I bought the cd of "Epitaph" when it came out, and I remain disappointed with the work, or at least the inchoate performance of it, so I had a hard time seeing it as the culmination of Mingus's career. The implicit argument of the movie is that Mingus is far more important as a composer than as a bass player. This is true, but his bass playing is so fine that I would have watched a documentary of him playing bass for 2 hours with more pleasure.