Watching Stanley Nelson’s new documentary, I felt both exhilarated and frustrated—just as I did while following Miles Davis’s career. I can’t imagine a more vivid or thorough portrait of this seminal figure in the world of jazz. Everyone you would want to hear from appears on-camera, including family members, wives, girlfriends, and musicians from all phases of Miles’s musical journey (Gil Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter, to name just a few.)

“The Birth of the Cool” is the name of a groundbreaking album that remains as fresh and satisfying as it was when it was recorded in 1949 and 1950. I still love listening to it, but for Miles the achievement was ephemeral. He was already moving on, inspiring musicians and refusing to repeat himself.

Through the use of candid interviews, home movie footage, and hundreds of photos (many taken from contact sheets, enabling Nelson to virtually animate scenes in recording studios and on the bandstand), we experience how Miles discovered and embraced music as a boy. Actor Carl Lumbly narrates the film in Miles’ famously raspy voice, so he is represented by his own words and music. Others who knew him well try to explain how a man with an innate gift spent his life battling demons, sabotaging his career and destroying relationships. It is especially revealing to spend time with some of the women with whom he shared his life, including Juliette Greco and Frances Taylor.

If you are among the many listeners who turned away when Miles went electronic and experimental in the last decades of his life, I would encourage you to see this film, which sets that music in the larger context of Davis’s life. I still don’t care for “Bitches Brew” or the albums that followed but I now understand why Miles traveled the road he chose.

Nelson provides a sympathetic but not sycophantic look at a remarkable life, and reminds us why Miles Davis affected the culture as powerfully as he did. To see when and where the documentary will be playing theatrically go to

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024