leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Like fashion photographer Bruce Weber's later documentaries, BROKEN NOSES (1992) and CHOP SUEY (2001), this documentary is first and foremost an exploration of Weber's personal obsessions. But this particular obsession, jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, has a rich and evocative story: Baker's meteoric rise, precipitous fall and sadly diminished end are the stuff of pop-culture legend. Born in Oklahoma in 1929, Baker grew up in California and had already begun attracting attention in music circles by the time he was 21. In 1952 and '53, Baker was a member of Gerry Mulligan's acclaimed jazz quartet. Baker was talented, movie-star handsome and wickedly self-destructive: His appetite for drugs, women, alcohol and picking fights quickly took their toll on his personal and professional lives. During the '60s, Baker decamped for Europe (the clips of his appearances in Italian teen pictures of the '60s are priceless), got married, had three children and treated his family badly. In the late 1960s he got his teeth knocked out in San Francisco — accounts of the incident vary, as do accounts of almost all the significant events in Baker's life — and it took years to repair the damage to his mouth. He underwent methadone treatment and began to rebuild his professional life in the '70s, but his looks were gone and his legend was tarnished. Weber interviews Baker at length, and though Baker doesn't come off as an especially introspective man, he speaks freely about his escapades. His matter-of-fact countdown of jazz musicians who succumbed to the lure of drugs, apparently delivered extemporaneously, is truly chilling. All three children — Melissa (Missy), Paul and Dean — also have their say, as do Baker's wife, Carol, and his weary mother, Vera. Frankly, nothing anyone says is as eloquent as the juxtaposition of photos of Baker in his glory days, when the press dubbed him "the James Dean of jazz," and the present-day footage of his gaunt, leathery visage. Baker died in Amsterdam on May 13 (a Friday), 1988, shortly after Weber finished shooting; he fell from a hotel window and his death was ruled accidental. Shot in glistening black and white, Weber's elegaic film eloquently captures the smoke and velvet quality that distinguished Baker's voice and playing. "Let's Get Lost" was one of Baker's signature tunes, but the title also vividly evokes Baker's apparent determination to erase himself, obliterating his beauty, alienating those who loved him and squandering his talent.