Miles Davis began his connection with films back in the ´50s when Louis Malle met him at a Paris airport and asked him to compose the music for his new film, Lift to the Scaffold. Miles, in the company of Kenny Clarke, Pierre Michelot and others, improvised as the film was projected in front of him. Much later, in 1986, the German film Sketches of Spain used a Miles album of the same name whilst Miles also produced music for the film Siesta. As for acting, the trumpeter played bit parts in TV series like "Miami Vice" but not until 1990 did he appear in and provide the music (with Michel Legrand) for a major feature film. This production, Dingo is about a trumpeter Billy Cross (Miles Davis) who finds himself in the outback of Western Australia where his appearance influences the life of a local boy, John "Dingo" Anderson. This, a French/Australian film directed by Rolf de Heer with Colin Friels as Anderson is based on a script by Marc Rosenberg inspired by a short story of Maupassant's.
In an exclusive interview for JAZZ FORUM Alwyn and Laurie Lewis interviewed Giorgio Draskovic, the producer of the film, in Sidney where the film was previewing.
JAZZ FORUM: You say that "Dingo" has been seven years coming? That predates "Round Midnight" and "Bird" and all of them, doesn't it?
Giorgio Draskovic: More than eight years ago it was called An American Story originally, by this Texas born, now Australian writer Marc Rosenberg, then it became King of the Flat and I read it as soon as I landed in this country [Australia] as a banker. I remember the night I read it I was leaving for London, and I couldn't finish because it was very late and the plane was very early, so I had to bring the script with me to re-read certain parts and I remember my excitement when I was on the plane during the long trip to London was such that I had some meetings with film people in London.
I knew that it was a very different story, and an interesting story. Amazingly enough though, everything in Australia was against this film. During those times you know, films were made with tax shelters, and things like this. This one was a bit too weird. I remember the producer who was doing this thing saying to me, "Besides jazz, which you should change to rock, one thing that is against this film is that it is Australian humor, and no one in the world is going to buy Australian humor." And as an example of that he said that there was a friend of his called Paul Hogan doing a film about an Australian boy who goes to New York and you know, sort of chases his dream, and he predicted that it wouldn't work at the box office at all (Crocodile Dundee).
I felt it as a challenge and I wanted it to be jazz, as a producer. I said "Miles Davis" and everyone was scared to death and it was felt to be a very long long shot. Really as John "Dingo" Anderson [Colin Fields] does in the film we had this dream and we gave it a try. So through a friend in Los Angeles I sent a script to Miles Davis, he read it overnight and said "Yes." It was as simple as that. Miles said that he liked Dingo as distinct from dozens of other different projects which were presented to him.
JF: Why did you choose Miles?
GD: Well you see one of the striking things, a young boy, white boy, living in Poona Flat grows up in a particular environment, there were black people there, but what was striking was that this show by this man on the tarmac [Miles] captures the imagination of this boy also because it's so evident that this person is a superior being. And the fact that he's black, with a French blonde wife and comes on this big bird, you know, it's something so marvellous, it's so haunting, daunting. We've been invited to compete for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Contest this year. At first I was surprised and then I said "Well there are a number of things that you don't see or even consider the first time that you see Dingo, but Dingo as the product of people from different continents is invariably something much more sophisticated than you think at first sight. A lot of critics miss this completely, a kind of "Aussie boy makes good," but I am talking about Australian critics in particular.
The film with that unbelievable wonderful score would be a totally wasted thing, if the story and the level of sophistication from an image and a plot point of view weren't such as to cope with that. There are many many things in that film which belong to everyday life, life in a marriage, life with friends, how the convention in one micro cosmos can influence you, the way of being a rebel, the way of chasing one thing and the way of accepting success, and yet keep to what you know best.
JF: The parallel of innocence and almost decadence...
GD: Yes, and the other thing, is "Dingo" Anderson an intelligent man or a dumb man? Because at the beginning you know, intentionally we present "Dingo" Anderson through the eyes of his successful friend, the contractor. And all that Peter his friend says, is what people would normally say. "It's a lot of shit you know, sitting in a caravan pretending to be Billy Cross." Isn't it better to have a dream than to believe it is a lot of shit? Well the man who was hiding his three thousand dollars away and not putting them in the bank, the man who believes that a meteor can hit the eye of a person is the man who is eventually the most intelligent man.
JF: Because he hasn't lost his sense of wonder?
GD: Exactly, and he's a father, he's a husband and a very positive one, but not a Sunday illustrated magazine type, he's a very complex character. So in my opinion, there was no other music, if you think of it, other than jazz, that could lead the story through. And the work of Michel Legrand and Miles Davis, Michel in particular as main composer, has been unbelievable, because although we flooded him tapes of noises from the outback and notes from the director, he never set foot in Australia, so he had to imagine. And what was good for him of course was that he had to imagine a dream. The opening sequences are recollection, of this dingo trapper with his first encounter with the legend from the sky. The same thing applies to photography, we wanted a French director of photography who couldn't even adjust to the infra reds in the outback, because he wasn't used to that. We had a sound recordist who was a French man and the sound of silence in the desert was, for them, unprecedented. They wandered around at night recording every cricket in the outback.
And the film if you wish is also something about alienation. Alienation can be a very broad term, you can be an alien in Europe, because of religion or political beliefs or personal taste, you can be an alien in your marriage, even if on the surface everything is perfect underneath you can be becoming estranged and you are becoming an alien there, so the positive idea of chasing someone's dream and the positive idea of having this absence of regret at the end which comes from the first original idea which influenced the writer, from a short novel by Maupassant, so even there, there was this thing between France and Australia. And kids who are still chasing something love this film because it is uncompromising.
MILES ON "DINGO"
"The most difficult thing for me was to play the trumpet against the playback of the recording. Acting resembles music insofar as you can say the same thing in different ways. The character of Billy Cross gave me the tonality and the rhythm of playing. When I hit 'false notes' I could hear them as well as I can on a trumpet."
"I enjoyed the script because it avoided the stupidities that you usually get with films about jazz musicians. I felt close to Billy Cross and, even if that's not really the case, I could bring him to life. With my music, I am in the habit of being treated like a king. But for the movie I wasn't exalted and alone."
"Michel Legrand works very quickly. I had the problem of following him but we understood each other very well. I tried to rediscover the sound, the ambiance of my cool period, the style of Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain and Milestone. Just to keep myself amused I even wrote the square dance theme!"
JF: That applies to all ages, everybody is chasing a dream.
GD: Exactly, but kids in particular are the first ones to recognize what this film is all about. The film was screened at 2.30 a.m. to a very tired audience in West Germany and I received the report that there was 15 minutes of applause. It's not just Miles Davis. Miles Davis is the vehicle, the perfect person. Miles‘ mind is sophisticated you cannot believe it, and yet he was a very simple and very shy person and it was that kind of quality that made him unique. I remember Miles when he first saw the film in Los Angeles last February. He came with his family, one of his sons and his brother and sister from Chicago, so he was with his clan. And every time he was featured on screen he was going under his jacket because he was shy. There was a moment of silence and everybody started clapping and congratulating him and he was the happiest man. I think Dingo will be very successful soundtrack especially as Miles has been brought back to what he used to do, that is music like
JF: Whose idea was it to go back to that period?
GD: Michel's. He felt that it was right. Michel and Miles hadn't worked together for quite a long time and it was strange. When we asked Miles about composing he said immediately, "Look I can't compose alone, because if I do so you get fusion, and you don't need fusion in this particular situation" and he said "I want Michel Legrand". And I said "You've got to be joking, we can't afford him." He said "Look, I'll ask him to reconsider." And for Michel it was something completely unexpected that Miles had thought of him. This was the intuition of a genius, he had just read the script and he knew that Michel would deliver. Miles was so captivated by this music, I remember we were having a drink after one of the recording sessions in Los Angeles and he was sipping his drink and after a while he started "La la la la la la la," that was the main theme, nobody could stop him, probably he was composing right there. You can't rehearse that much with Miles, he likes to improvise and in fact, that was one of the major problems, we pre-recorded the music and played the film against the music and he said to me in Los Angeles that Colin Friels was much better in terms of the way he plays the background music, but what he did in New York in respect of the second set of recordings, unexpectedly he started playing against himself, and we had that as the first main theme recording, beautiful, pure art, improvised right there. Michel immediately went to the piano. It was of course an industrial recording, they had to do a job you know, so they had invited a lot of musicians, Michel just moved the pianist and started to play himself, he was challenged by what Miles was doing.
JF:Was it fairly tightly scripted?
GD:Well, you can't do that with Miles. He couldn't remember a line actually. Or he pretended not to be able to. So what happened was that Rolf the director was illustrating to him the situation and then saying to him, "Okay, you should say this, but never mind, go on your own." There were a number of scenes which were very very funny. The scene where they finally go to New Morning [Paris] and they enter and the public hasn't seen Billy Cross [Miles] appearing in public for a long time, so they are very glad and there is this French actress who was supposed to stand and say "Billy Cross, how wonderful to see you again, what brings you here?" And Miles was just to smile and go to his table and instead when we were there with all the feeling of the night and so on, the girl comes and she is so exited, because for her it was Miles Davis, you know, and she says "Miles, what brings you here?" and he says, "I came to see you," which was utterly ridiculous.
When Miles first saw Poona Flats he said he wondered "Where the hell are they bringing me to?" but after a while the silence captured his imagination, the sound of silence. And there were horses and he was keen on going every day to see the horses and the other thing that amazed him is that there is quite a good record shop there and he walked in and saw all his albums there on display and he would say "They got my records there!" He said that that gave him really the impression that he had made it.
I firmly believe that for all his fame Miles way shy. I remember that one day he caught my sleeve and said, "Giorgio, what do you think the critics in New York are going to say about me and the film?" Quite frankly, that was totally unexpected of Miles. I said "What do you mean?" He said, "They've been very very bad with me since 1949..."
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