Bird | Chicago Reader


Clint Eastwood's ambitious 1988 feature about the great Charlie Parker (Forest Whitaker) is the most serious, conscientious, and accomplished jazz biopic ever made, and almost certainly Eastwood's best picture as well. Joel Oliansky's script accounts for much of the movie's distinction. Alto player Lennie Niehaus's score electronically isolates Parker's solos from his original recordings and substitutes contemporary sidemen (including Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, Walter Davis Jr., Jon Faddis, and John Guerin), with pretty good results. The film is less sensitive than it might have been to Parker's status as an avant-garde innovator and his brushes with racism, and only occasionally are we allowed to hear his electrifying solos without interruption or interference, but in most other respects Eastwood's grasp of the jazz world and Parker's life is exemplary. The extreme darkness of the film, visual as well as conceptual, is haunting. With Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker, and Samuel E. Wright as Dizzy Gillespie.


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