Round Midnight/B+,B
Warner/1986/131/ANA 2.35

     You've gotta believe director Bertrand Tavernier understands jazz. His fictionalized look at a legendary tenor sax player's last burst of creative energy in the late 1950's moves at a musical pace, almost echoing the nature of the jazz compositions that dominate the film. The musicianship of the cast informs the film with an extra layer of authenticity.

Beer bonding. ©Warner

    Tavernier crafts the story of fading musician Dale Turner and worshipper Francis Borler almost like a romance. Francis, the jazz lover, finds Turner playing at a local Paris club, the Blue Note. He's practically a prisoner of the friends that brought him there from the States to perform. Turner may dominate the sax with rare beauty, but he is dominated by demon rum. The relationship of Turner and Borler begins with the purchase of a casual beer and evolves through Borler's determination and Turner's needs. Every scene is commented upon by either the live jazz performances or the background score that was supervised by jazzman Herbie Hancock.
     The screenplay by Tavernier and David Rayfiel is invested with a rich knowledge of the material. The character rhythms and idiom of the people and times is perfect. Thrown away details like Tavernier's sly homage to the wonderful Red Shoes slips into a conversation as naturally as these jazzmen play the notes of the music. There's probably more jazz playing and less story telling than I care for, but the witty humor and charm of Dale Turner is constantly on display, and it is indeed very special. The, dark, moody photography of Round Midnight is an other reverberation of the jazz theme.     
     Dexter Gordon, a Parisian jazzman, plays Dale Turner with remarkable candor. If you get by the fact that it's difficult to understand his slurred delivery of dialogue, it's easy to forget that this is an actor giving a performance. Under Tavernier's baton, Gordon plays it more like he's part of a documentary. Tiny Francois Cluzet stands in the shadow of the towering Gordon. Cluzet has a fawning energy as Francis Maybe Tavernier undermines Cluzet a bit with a few too many coy reaction shots of Francis, but overall Cluzet's determined style suits the character.    
     Dark films often offer up transfer challenges, but this Warner DVD stays in tune with the material. Shadow detail is very good. Blacks are deep and luscious, and the skin tones of the African Americans are offered up in a graceful range. The image is sharp throughout the presentation, though there were a couple of instances of jumpy focus. These, happily, were very brief and very minor. The music really flows in this Dolby Digital 5:1 mix. The throatiness of the horns are well preserved. There's lots of air around the jazz notes floating through the front stage of the home theater. The surround effects are fairly muted, but the mix is dominated by the music, delivered with consistent polish, and the dialogue. White English titles are provided over the image to translate the fair amount of French dialogue.



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