Thursday, 13 October 2016
Blu-ray Review: Paris Blues (BFI)
Set in an Autumnal Paris, Martin Ritt's 1961 film throws together a quartet of Americans. Two of them - Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) and Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) - are jazz musicians drunk on the artistic spirit of the city, and also the freedom it provides.
Lillian (Joanne Woodward) and Connie (Diahann Carroll) are tourists, arriving for a two week stay with the aim of taking in all the popular haunts in this city of lovers.
The arrival of jazz legend Wild Man Moore (Louis Armstrong) sends the local community into a frenzy; many of whom hang out a Marie Seoul's jazz cave where Ram and Eddie play.
After a false start which suggested Ram and Connie could well develop a certain chemistry, Ram takes up with Lillian, leaving Eddie to fall for Connie.
As jealousy and the plight of a talented musician and friend simmer and pop in the background, both men are forced to choose between their potentially rewarding careers and the chance to find real love with adoring partners.
"Paris Blues" is beautifully paced throughout, moving from the exhilarating jam sessions and backroom bust-ups to quiet, reflective moments which involve the most painful soul -
We have Ram showing his drug-addicted buddy a mirror image of what he'll become if he doesn't quit the coke; Eddie, fearful of exposing himself to the racism back home, and there's a fateful encounter between Ram and a music promoter who must decide whether Ram's compositions represent a seriously accomplished piece of work.
Add to this the two smitten females who are convinced their partners are a once-in-a-lifetime find, and you'll see there's a multitude of emotions to take in, all of them conveyed by a first rate cast while the superb soundtrack plays on.
Wild Man's comment to Ram that "They tell me I have to blow real hard to put you down" is entirely correct, and both men participate in an almighty session, blowin' fit to burst, with not a hint of one upmanship. Just the joy of playing, and being a part of great things.The venue, too, is a delight as jazz aficionado's sit at tables with candles perched in wine bottles, living every note as the music flies up the stairs and out into the magical Parisian night air.
"Paris Blues" captures the atmosphere of these venues, but also explores the fallout from musical infatuation and genuine fears about the specter of racism that haunts many who left their countries for something better. It's an absorbing study of how lives can change so quickly and why we sometimes do things for the wrong reasons.
This BFI release is part of their Black Star season, dedicated to the power and versatility of black actors.
"Paris Blues" certainly looks splendid in HD, with exquisite detail. Duke Ellington's Oscar-nominated score can be enjoyed to the full on an isolated music and effects track.
Adrian Martin is fast becoming my favourite when it comes to the audio commentary department, so I was pleased to discover he takes the microphone here to deliver an informative talk.
Adrian goes into the wealth of information and detail in various scenes; talks about method actors and character psychology; brings "One Eyed Jacks", Brando and John Cassavetes into the equation, and discusses the mixture of studio and location shots. Adrian acknowledges "Paris Blues" was not a highly regarded film at the time, but makes a solid case as to why it offers real value.
The BFI also includes a stills gallery, comprising of b/w and colour stills, plus film posters and there's also a 2m 49s trailer.
You'll also find a booklet in this dual format release, which includes essays from Nicolas Pillai and Rashida K. Braggs, together with Philip Kemp's look at the career of
"Paris Blues" will be available to buy from 24th October. Highly recommended!