Unseen: Jazz in shorts (Part 8: 29-32)

29. Be Gone Dull Care (Norman McLaren, 1949)

Oscar Peterson

To many folks Oscar Peterson is the greatest pianist of all time. I slightly struggle with this even though I’ll accept his technique is flawless – untouchable even - , what with his sweet ballad touch and those impossible, swinging runs. Likes his stock phrases is the problem, which for someone with all that range is a tad frustrating and means he winds up a much safer listen than he really ought to be.

At least that’s how it was for me before 'Be Gone Dull Care'. Thanks to this films ever shifting paint aesthetic, I can no longer listen to Peterson without experiencing at least 30 seconds of high grade acid trip. Who needs Jerry Garcia when you've got Oscar Peterson?

Sometimes a score can be incidental to the motion –as witnessed in some of the shorts on these lists – but those flies ain’t sticking on this Canadian collab. McLaren's visual symphony captures the aura of Peterson at his rangiest so that the transition from action painting aesthetic (Len Lye’s film scratch work again) to spare vertical lines depict the tempo shifts in Peterson's pieces.

30. Bridges-Go-Round (Shirley Clarke, 1958)

Teo Macero, Louis and Bebe Barron

If it looks like an 8-minute abstract short film, smells and tastes like an 8 minute abstract short film, it sure doesn’t sound like an 8 minute abstract short film. Why? It’s a 4 minute abstract short film played twice with different soundtracks!

Macero brings some George Russell style moodiness to Clarke's urban desert in the first one, adding chamber voices to disquieting effect. Bebe and Louis Barron – both of who would later score Forbidden Planet - get the second half of the montage and take “Bridges” into a whole other genre.

In a sense it’s no great revelation that soundtracks dramatically alter our perception of what we’re looking at, but this is somehow more interesting for the absence of any manipulable life form. Can a metal framework emote? Shirley Clarke’s can. Two very different films.

31. Stopforbud (Jorgen Leth and Ole John)

Bud Powell

“He quite willingly, or better still, unresistingly, mechanically, let himself be directed. The film attempts to depict his strange duality about his surroundings. His touch on the keys was like he was burning his fingers – that’s what it looked like, and that’s how it sounded. But outside his playing, and often right in the middle of it, too, he was simply gone, not there.” Jorgen Leth

If you want to see jazz profiles cinema verite style then head on down to 60s-70s Scandinavia. Denmark gave the world that ’66 Bill Evans with Monica Zetterlund rehearsal film and “Big Ben: Ben Webster in Denmark”, before a particularly idiosyncratic Don Cherry film somehow wound up on Swedish TV in the late 70s. All three could pass for Rouch or Drew.

Jorgen Leth is probably the most lauded of the 60s Danish avant garde (one of his 60s shorts, “The Perfect Human” was the subject and inspiration behind Lars Von Trier’s ‘experiment in cinema’, “The Five Obstructions”). His very first film “Stopforbud” (1963) pre-dates Dick Fontaine’s “Sound” by three years and in both 'story' structure and visual style - where the spectacle takes precedent over the narrative - must have been an influence. It is a boldly poetic sketch of pianist Bud Powell as a ghost-like figure (he seems completely oblivious to the stares of strangers), drifting around Copenhagen with only his music and Dexter Gordon’s left-hand tales for accompaniment.

32. Stop Driving Us Crazy (Ken Mundie, 1959)

Benny Golson with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

"The right of way is not as important as The Right Way."

A road safety education sci-fi film produced by The General Board of Temperance of the Methodist Church seems a fitting way to end this thread. RECKLESS DRIVING IS THE FAST TRACK TO HELL!

Who better to deliver The Word of God than The Messengers of Art? In the least condescending way imaginable, Benny Golson's glazed tone and Art Blakey's light left-handed ghosts were made for bouncing geometric shapes.

Which brings me on to Rusty.....who bears more than a passing resemblence to a pair of exposed boobs. Perhaps the Methodist Church were so hellbent on drumming (double pun) home one message that filmmaker Mundie saw the chance for a spot of mischief making. Not like the Christian right to develop tunnel vision....

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