Excellent though uneven doc on Netflix, Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool.
BE Miles, ie Before Electric Miles, is my favorite jazz musician and Kind of Blue, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain are my favorite jazz records.
So the doc up to BE Miles is magical: it captures the essence of impact and beauty of his BE music.
The doc to that point is utterly compelling
As he in his life degenerates, and degenerates in his music, to me at least, the doc stays good but loses the magic that his best BE music imbues it with. So the doc about Electric Miles, the person and the music is interesting and well done but is at this point just another doc.
Stanley Crouch, a writer I liked a lot when I read him many years ago, says in the doc about Electric Miles, paraphrase, “I don’t get what people like about this music. I don’t like it. It doesn’t even sound good.”
Curious as to your reaction to the doc.
I watched it last week. I agree, both with the sweet spot in his discography and your take on the documentary. I loved the first third of it, the early stuff up until after Kind of Blue, and John Coltrane and BIll Evans went their own ways. From about when he was playing with Charlie Parker in the 40s to the early 1960s is also my favourite period. I love the music. Davis isn’t my favourite jazz musician - that’s Duke Ellington, but he’s right up there in the pantheon for me.
I like but don’t love the later 60s stuff and agree with Crouch (who I think may have been channeling Duke Ellington’s quote about there only being two kinds of 🎵 ). I’ve got a lot of electric Miles - Bitches Brew, On the Corner, etc. I’m glad I’ve heard them...once.
I thought the guy who did Davis’ voice was fantastic...he sounded to me exactly like Davis. I thought they gave too much prominence and air time to the ex-wives, though I can understand why.
Two good points among others you make in your nice note:
The voice of Miles: I thought it was him culled from interviews with him. I thought maybe Quincy Troupe had conducted some or some such. So I was taken aback to learn from the credits it wasn’t actually him.
And the partial focus on the wives and women: it had occurred to me there was a lot of it, but as you suggest, the doc is a kind of bio which weaves the predominance of his music to together with the the strands of his life.
We get the first glimpse of him beating on women with Frances Taylor—to whom time hasn’t been kind, she still thinks she’s hot stuff, mind you she was stunningly beautiful—and that’s for me the pivot on which the doc turns for the worse.
The wife/woman beating bleeds into our sense of his music in the doc and we see the the mix in him of a bullying, selfish asshole and a lyrical musical genius. The beating and abusiveness distance us from him to an extent whereas before its revelation in the doc, for as much as we generally knew about it, the music is so compelling that we’re drawn into him by the doc without reservation, or at least I am.