I saw this film on its theatrical release, way back in '88/89, as a part of a run of late night movies on jazz themes, screened at the Cambridge Arts Cinema, as it was then known. I was completely enthralled and enchanted. Some films are intensely and self-consciously didactic, or analytical, or escapist, romantic, challenging, soothing or whatever... This film seems to be a wonderfully un-self-conscious mixture of biography, homage, celebration, voyeurism and more besides, all delivered with a dream like whimsy, and an artistic eye for bleak, melancholy beauty. The music is fabulous, both old and new, the performance footage revealing and entertaining, and the panoply of talking heads have a lot of interesting things to say.
I finally got to own this great film on video, some years later, and have watched and enjoyed it again a number of times. Since the advent of DVD I've seen it once more at the new Arts Picture House (Cambridge - complete with after screening video link chat with Bruce Weber himself!), and generally hankered after seeing it released on DVD. I've not got it yet... but I'm excited, as I suspect my partner has it on my xmas wishlist. I just hope they've put some good extras on the disc! So, whilst I can't advise on the DVD benefits, I can heartily recommend the film as a dreamy work of beauty, that almost magically captures the tragic beauty of Baker's life and music.
This movie - my introduction to Chet Baker - made a fan out of me. The film draws more on his vocal work, rather than his trumpet playing, an imbalance I grew to appreciate as I got more familiar with his recorded legacy. But in terms of great cinema, as opposed to a more scholarly form of balanced and historically accurate biography, the fact Weber leans on the vocal numbers is no real problem, if anything it simply helps strengthen the 'vibey-ness' of the film. Weber's penchant for hanging out with beautiful bozos, as well as the more articulate characters that litter the movie, which might irritate some, also helps create the dream-like aspect of this strange piece of art. Essays could easily be written on multifarious aspects of this picture, but ultimately it's a movie for the senses: so, regardless of whether you'd personally prefer a speed-ball or just a nice cup of tea, sit back, relax, and enjoy it!