"Round Midnight" is a masterpiece of a film that portrays the life of a jazz musician on an extended residence in Paris in the 1950's whose struggle with alcoholism and abuse by his "handlers" invites the friendship of a young Frenchman who attempts to aid him in sobriety and salvation. The protagonist jazzman, "Dale Turner," was based on a composite of real-life jazz legends Lester Young (tenor sax) and the tortured and enigmatic Bud Powell (piano). In fact, while much of the film is fictionalized, much of it is drawn directly from the memoir/biography "Dance of the Infidels" written by Francis Paudras, who in real life befriended Bud Powell during his Parisian expatriate days and on whom the character "Francis" is based.
The tone of the film is wistful and tragic as it follows Turner's struggle as an artist creating incredible beauty but destroying himself with alcoholism, and the desperate attempts of his friend to save him (if you like happy stories over realism, stick to your standard Hollywood fare). Tavernier defied the movie studio by insisting that real-life jazz tenor sax great Dexter Gordon (who himself played with Bud Powell in Paris in the 50's) play the role of Turner (he also helped to revise and rewrite the script). Gordon has a soft, but gravelly voice that is difficult to understand on first listen, but his acting is top-notch (he is after all, playing someone he knew, as well as himself to some extent) and he nails one scene after another. He captures Turner's struggle with disillusionment, death, loneliness, paternalism, racism, and the constant pressure to create art to a T.
I don't think you need to like jazz to like this film, but it probably wouldn't hurt. There are a lot of extended scenes where Dexter Gordon is playing the music, along with a supporting cast composed of other real jazz legends such as Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, John McLaughlin, Wayner Shorter, and Pierre Michelot. The result is an authentic portrait and tribute that captures the Paris jazz scene of the 50's, along with a stellar soundtrack (released in two parts as the official soundtrack "Round Midnight" and "The Other Side of Round Midnight" under Gordon's name).
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