Thursday, April 7, 2016

Miles Ahead and Marguerite

                                        Sour Notes, Bittersweet Results

                                                          Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.

I’m always serious with this boilerplate spoiler warning just above but this time it’s even more appropriate because this 1st  film’s just now (4/8/16) opening in my San Francisco market (4/15/16, closer to me in the East Bay), so that might also be the case in your area.  If so, you might want to return to this one later after you’ve had a chance to see this fine film (although it’s based in general history that’s easily available but the additions are quite flamboyant).
                                                 Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle)
This is a highly-fictionalized-version of the late-1970s “lost years” of jazz legend Miles Davis, in which he works with a fictionalized Rolling Stone reporter to retrieve an audio tape of potential new material, still in progress, from the record company executives who’re anxious to get some new product into the marketplace; this is conceptually, if not historically, accurate.
What Happens: This highly-fictionalized-account of some of what could be called Miles Davis’ “retirement”/ disappearance/chronic-pain-and-addiction “lost years” of 1975-1979 begins with Davis (Cheadle) facing the camera being interviewed by an off-screen-reporter (where he informs us that he makes “social music,” not jazz).  We then go into a near-film-length-flashback where we find that reporter is Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a (fictional) hopeful-up-and-comer from Rolling Stone who’s trying to convince Miles to allow him into the jazz-great’s stained-glass-window-lit-home for an interview about what he’s been up to lately and when some new music might be emerging.  Miles, however, has no interest in such but agrees to let Braden drive him to NYC’s Columbia Records headquarters where he can simultaneously harangue the execs about sending reporters to disturb his reclusiveness (turns out Braden didn’t have an assignment after all, it was just a ploy to help further his career) and demand money owed to him (to which they reply that he’s essentially on a “pay for play” arrangement where he’ll get some advances as soon as they get some new product).  Periodically during this extended flashback we get other, earlier flashbacks that show us aspects of the ever-towering-career that Miles enjoyed before his self-imposed-seclusion, beginning with when he met ballet dancer, then ex-wife Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi)—her reign was 1958-1968 (there were others, most notably Ciceley Tyson 1981-1988, but Cheadle’s film stays true to its chosen chronology with no jumps beyond the 1970s)—the lost-love of his existence, whom he’s still desperate to reconnect with, as she’s functioned successfully in the past as friend, lover, muse, and bail provider when he’s hassled by racist police, but due to his abusive ways she’s now long gone.

 What’s still with Miles, though, is an audio tape of a session he’s recently, secretly done which the Columbia bigwigs, especially Harper (Michael Sthulbarg), want so they can release it (Miles knows it’s nowhere ready for that yet); Braden continues to function as Miles’ chauffeur in hopes of somehow getting him to open up for that big life story, even bribing him with cocaine from a Columbia U.-student-dealer (although Miles has to pay for it, doesn’t have enough cash, finishes the transaction by autographing a couple of the star-struck-kid’s albums), but when they return home they find that Miles’ girlfriend is throwing a big party which Harper and upcoming-jazz-star-Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) have wandered into  Upon later finding his priceless tape missing, Miles (and Dave) assume Junior’s the thief, track him down, but find he’s innocent because Harper has it.  In another flashback we find Frances already steamed at Miles because he pressured her to quit her career in favor of his but she really goes off when a woman calls looking for Miles so the rehearsal session in their basement stops while the couple fight (done effectively with no audio of their mutual screaming, just "Nefertiti" [from the 1968 album of the same name; however, this cut’s written by Wayne Shorter] on the soundtrack), then the next day Miles tries to make peace by buying expensive gifts for Frances.  Back in the 1970s-present, our intrepid duo—now joined by Junior—confront Harper to reclaim the stolen tape (although he argues that it’s really the properly of Columbia anyway) but find themselves caught in a frantic car chase as Harper’s bodyguard pursues them, then recaptures the treasured-audio-tape.  Another flashback, this time of Miles undergoing surgery for a degenerative hip disorder, flows into the present where our trio of thieves find Harper at a boxing match as they once again get the tape (all part of a wildly-imaginative-scene that has a younger Miles playing trumpet in the ring, followed by Frances leaving him all those years ago as she could no longer tolerate his violent inconsistencies).

 When Dave finally plays the tape, though, he’s disappointed to find that Miles is recessive, only playing organ on it with plans to add the trumpet part later but when he tries he just can’t get it right until Junior helps get him moving in the right direction.  It all ends back at the opening interview, finally granted by Davis to Braden, climaxed by the move to a rousing performance—with some musicians Miles worked with (Herbie Hancock, Shorter), others more contemporary to our time (Esperanza Spaulding, Gary Clark Jr.) on a colorful set as the end credits roll (a more downbeat version of this type of closure occurs during the end-credit-roll of Marguerite, as detailed below).

So What? As I note in the next section of this review I have a very limited knowledge of Miles Davis’ life and music so normally I’d prefer that a cinematic biography of such a giant of jazz would help me better understand his inspirations, motivations, and career arc (honestly, just to save me the trouble of doing a lot of research on these topics myself).  However, I’ve got to admire Cheadle’s exceptionally-fictional-approach (co-written by him as well) to this docudrama for 2 very 
compelling reasons: (1) Given Davis’ reported-determination to not allow even his most celebrated breakthroughs in musical structure to pigeonhole him into a career of repetition, I think he’d be quite supportive of how Cheadle’s taken a slim foundation of reality then riffed off into a completely weird series of events that have more to do with a fast-action-heist-movie than with the life story of a famed musician, and (2) Cheadle doesn’t want to idolize his actual idol with a structure all-too-reminiscent of narratives that encapsulate a formative period of a major star’s childhood as it determines the adult entertainer’s life (as with Ray Charles [Jamie Fox] in Ray [Taylor Hackford, 2004], Johnny Cash [Joaquin Phoenix] in Walk the Line [James Mangold, 2005], or James Brown [Chadwick Boseman] in Get On Up [Tate Taylor, 2014; review of this last one in our August 7, 2014 posting]).  Instead, what we have in Miles Ahead is a challenge for filmmaker and audience alike in not being focused on the man performing his famous music so much (although we do get notable doses of that in the various pre-1970s flashbacks) as seeing him as a troubled human being, struggling like the rest of us to find that inner fire that gives substance to our existence.  However, if you want more of a straight biography of Davis you could watch this 1986 PBS documentary (Great Performances“Miles Ahead”: The Music of Miles Davis [the title of this doc and Cheadle’s film both taken from a 1957 Davis album of that same name]with lots of performance footage, plenty of commentary from Miles, along with testimony from several musicians who worked with him including Dizzy Gillespie and Hancock; be forewarned, though, that this supportive-vision may go too far in the other direction with unbridled praise as noted in a 1986 review by Frances Davis (excerpt just below*).

“Miles Ahead gives no clue of its subject's personal complexities, and by virtually isolating him from the jazz gestalt, asks the uninitiated to accept his importance on faith. [¶] In the brief interview segments with him, the dreadlocked, sandpaper-voiced trumpeter coyly reveals little, and Mark Oberhaus, the film's writer-director-producer, is too worshipful to prod. There is nothing here about Davis' collector's obsession with clothes and women and sports cars, his drug addiction and heroic cold-turkey renunciation, his costly run-ins with racist cops, his strokes and chronic arthritis, his emblematic black pride - nothing, in short, to bring the man behind the music out in the open. Cheadle’s warts-aplenty-exploration of Miles Davis certainly sets out to balance this ledger.

 When asked (for the press notes, along with some other questions) why it’s taken so long to get a Miles Davis biofilm made, Cheadle replied: 
“Miles’ music is not immediately identifiable like some oldie rock hit.  You can’t sing it.  It isn’t over in three minutes.  Unless people hear it on the radio, they have no connection to it.  Another reason is that music appreciation is no longer taught in public schools. So when a studio looks at a movie like this all they see is: period piece, black, jazz, niche, hard sell, no foreign appeal. […] The movie I envisioned featured Mills as the star of his own movie like Bob Fosse in All That Jazz.  I also wanted a film in which the story was always moving forwards, that had raw energy. […] Like Miles’ music, the structure Steve [co-scriptwriter Baigelman] and I decided on for the narrative is modal.  It’s as much a composition as any of Miles’ recordings.  It’s loose and impressionistic.  It is also metaphoric. […] His recollections of Frances, like his music, are cool and controlled, romantic and seductive, as opposed to his self-destructive present, which is completely out of control.  But as we move forward in his relationship to Frances, the romantic scenes get more jangly and chaotic because Miles can no longer control the narrative.  As he reflects on that period, he is finally forced to admit that his abusive behavior led to the destruction of that relationship and contributed to his current creative roadblock.”  Cheadle also notes that he brought his childhood love of Davis’ music (and his own alto sax training) into the rehearsals with his on-screen-band so that they could play convincingly even though it was Miles’ music dubbed onto their visuals.

 Clearly what Cheadle wanted to do with this intense tribute to Davis was capture some sense of the ferocity that underlay the man's talent, as well as put in a good number of allusions to Miles’ life that would be meaningful to those who know his larger biography better than I do: “Instead of a reverential bio, I wanted to push it every way I could, go out on a limb and take a risk.  Like bringing in the character of Junior, who is actually Miles.  [Cheadle also notes that “As a young musician, Miles was called ‘junior’ by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, a nickname he hated, by the way.”]  And Junior’s wife is Miles’ first wife, Irene.  Through that character Miles gets to see the young Miles.  But we don’t underline it.  Only if you know Miles’ life do you understand it’s him.”

Bottom Line Final Comments: Speaking of understanding, were it not for my jazz-loving-wife, Nina’s, devotion to Davis’ milestone album Kind of Blue (1959, with Miles on trumpet, Bill Evans [Nina’s a big fan of his too] on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chamber on bass, John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on their individual saxophones [Wynton Kelly on piano for 1 track—“Freddie Freeloader”]), I admit I’d probably know next-to-nothing about Miles Davis simply because I’ve explored very little about jazz as a whole, although I usually find most variations of it quite pleasing to listen to while driving or concentrating on something else (except for pieces that feature a lot of staccato trumpet or aggressive meters) and, through various opportunities, I’ve had the chance to see some masters in person—Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck—even though I can tell you virtually nothing about their careers nor what they’re famous for (except Dizzy’s puffed-cheeks and Dave’s “Take Five”).  Those who know of the music and life of Miles Davis can offer a more nuanced response to what Cheadle has accomplished with this innovative film while I will just judge it as a strong cinematic experience which I find to be fascinating, extremely well-acted by Cheadle playing a frantic, obsessive, disjointed character (with marvelous support from the rest of his cast), and always surprising actions as this plot feels more like a New York version of Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993; Everybody Wants Some!!, the “spiritual sequel”—rather than an actual narrative follow-up to that famous celebration of the 1970s era—is also due to open this weekend so I’m sure I’ll be back next week with a report on what my unconventional-fellow-Texan’s been up to since his critical triumph with Boyhood [2014; review in our July 31, 2014 posting; noted by Metacritic as their best-rated-film of this century so far]) than the genuflectional-biography of a great musician.

 Whether that will work for large audiences is yet to be seen, possibly alienating those who want to see more of Miles’ triumphs or confusing those who don’t know much about this guy, then mistake Cheadle’s presentation for some sort of doper-comedy in the mode of what might be traced back to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) rather than understand it as the clear-visionary, intended-cinematic-jazz-riff on a unique artist's inner workings that Cheadle’s so forcefully prepared.  Sadly, the critics who’ve gone on record for the very-limited-opening last weekend haven’t been overly complimentary (Rotten Tomatoes 70% positive reviews, Metacritic 64%, more details in the links to this film far below) but there haven’t been that many critiques published yet so I’m hopeful those scores and the attendance-income will rise sharply now that Miles Ahead’s going into a rollout of wider release, as I was very impressed with what I saw (despite how outlandish it gets at times) and hope it serves to even further acquaint jazz-novices with the outstanding Miles music while showing all of us how reckless, directionless, and angst-ridden an artist’s life can be when external pressures lead only to trauma instead of internal inspiration.  (And aren’t we all artists of some sort, even if not in a conventional definition of the word?)  Certainly Miles Ahead provides me with plenty of options 
for my standard-review-ending-Musical Metaphor that speaks somehow to the film in question, given all of the quality material that’s available from the soundtrack but in that I’m not that familiar with the wider ranger of Miles’ compositions I’ll go with what I know, which is “So What” (from Kind of Blue, possibly the best-selling-jazz-album of all time, definitely certified platinum [selling 1 million copies] for the 4th time as of 2008) at watch?v=zqNTltOGh5c because when Nina frequently plays the famous CD this is the 1st cut so I usually hear most of this tune before wandering off to pursue various tasks.  Yet, as my Musical Metaphors usually have lyrics that somehow relate (conceptually, contrapuntally, etc.) to the subject matter of the review you might ask how “So What”—an instrumental—with no “story” to relate to this film could be a true Two Guys in the Dark Musical Metaphor.  Well, Miles (speaking from the Great Beyond because he died in 1991) would probably say:  “This film’s a hell of a lot more fiction than fact, but so what?  How much of what we now know as history is more fictionalized than factual?  Miles Ahead shows me as strung out, creatively-blocked, lovesick, and the prototype for a gangsta rapper, but so what?  Art needs turmoil to stoke the creative fires, so what’s wrong with showing the trauma that eventually leads to beautiful breakthroughs.”  But even if you don’t hear Miles defending my choice, I’ll channel him myself and tell you to shut up and just listen to it for the grace that it brings.  (For that matter, you can also go here to hear the entire album, with a bonus track added to the original, an alternate take of the final song, “Flamingo Sketches”—however, where Miles might disagree with my Metaphor choice would be in reaching back to his most celebrated work because he didn’t want to be locked into it in the minds of his audience, as shown by a scene early in the film where he calls into a jazz radio station, asking that they play "Solea" from his 1960 Sketches of Spain [1961 Grammy winner, Best Original Jazz Composition] so I’ve also included it here to help keep his restless spirit eternally-happy).  

 And, if that’s not enough Miles for you at this point then you might want to cruise on over to his official website to find even more about Mr. Davis, his life and accomplishments, including some further material on this movie.  Then, when you’re saturated enough with music from the heavens you might be ready for our next film, which is intentionally made as pure hell for the listener’s ear.
                                     Marguerite (Xavier Giannoli, 2015)
A 1920s Parisian aristocrat has delusions that not only does she have a magnificent voice for opera but also that she’s had a notable career, a false reality that’s forcing her husband to avoid further lies about her talent by attempting to avoid her recitals completely; unfortunately for him she’s now determined to offer a huge public showcase for her many “fans.”
What Happens: This story, marked into 5 named chapters (which end ominously with “The Truth”), made and released in France last year but only recently coming to the U.S. market, is set in the 1920s where wealthy Baroness Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) and her architect husband, Georges (André Marcon), live in a countryside manor near Paris; she’s a patron of the Amadeus Club, at the start of our film offering an afternoon’s musical entertainment to raise money for war orphans (Georges also raises money but for his architectural firm that’s in the process of rebuilding “much of northern France”), yet her contributions to the recitals aren’t very entertaining at all (except in a wickedly-laughable-manner) because Madame Dumont, despite fancying herself as a great talent, couldn’t carry a note on a freight train although her singing would likely make such a train’s painful-braking-noises (or my snoring, according to my tolerant, nightly-earplugs-for-self-preservation-wife) sound melodious by comparison.  Because of her financial support, though, none of her friends ever tells her how terrible she sounds, with polite applause rising from the attendees (at least the ones who haven’t hidden themselves in a closed, adjacent room).  Georges has grown so tired of his own lying that, despite Marguerite’s initial insistence that she won’t begin until he arrives, he’s out driving in his roadster then uses some smeared motor oil to fake car trouble, later explaining his absence (he’s also become increasingly absent from her affections, having taken on a mistress some time ago).  Marguerite’s true protector is her servant. Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who hides any negative press clippings from her while also serving as photographer for supposed “career” images of her in the various costumes which fill her spacious home (along from props and scores from favorite operas).  

 Another admirer is Dada poet/collagist Kyril Von Priest (Aubert Fenoy), who likes her squawking from an anti-aesthetic-viewpoint (which encourages his newspaper-critic-friend, Lucien Beaumont [Sylvain Dieuaide], to write a glowing notice, which she cheerfully reads to her staff).  Kyril’s true ambition, though, is to recruit her for a performance he’s organized to critique war, the army, and society-at-large so while she’s unknowingly-destroying the “La Marseillaise“ national anthem he’s projecting battlefield footage onto her white dress, bringing angry jeers from the incredulous audience, a raid by the police, and her banishment from the embarrassed Amadeus Club.

 Undaunted, Marguerite decides it’s time to give a public concert which her husband valiantly tries to discourage but it proceeds anyway, thanks to Madelbos’ use of blackmail photos to convince truly-talented-tenor/teacher Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau) to take her on as a student (Georges also loses any credibility in convincing her to relent when she discovers him with his mistress).  Pezzini’s efforts (including the use of a deaf pianist who somehow “reads the emotions” of his vocal collaborators) produce no change in results while Marguerite remains oblivious (and severely-mentally-unbalanced in the opinion of one of my viewing companions—still, it’s clear that she’s poured herself into this life in a misguided-attempt to win the now-faded-favor of her husband; one positive result of the rehearsals, though, is that Madelbos becomes attracted to one of Signor Pezzini’s constantly-on-hand-entourage, Félicité La Barbue [Sophia Leboutte], a bearded-woman-Tarot-card-reader).  Finally, the concert comes about in a large, crowded hall (Georges even makes it on time for the start) but the “singing” is soon eliciting laughter from the audience, much to Georges’ chagrin (but only in caring for his wife not being ridiculed if the illusions are stripped from her fantasy life).  Suddenly, 2 impactful things occur: (1) For just a few moments her voice becomes strong, controlled, beautiful, but (2) Upon reaching some difficult high notes her vocal chords hemorrhage (as they had during her training period, lifting George’s hopes then that she’d have to cancel the concert but to no avail) so she’s rushed to a hospital.  During her recovery, her doctor uses a disc phonograph to record her “memories” of concerts throughout Europe (scaring Georges further that she’s going completely insane), giving the doctor the idea of playing her awful singing on a record back to her to snap her out of her fantasy.  Georges is away from the hospital when this is to take place, decides at the last minute to cancel the experiment, calls Madelbos to tell him this (but the decision’s not conveyed to the doctor), then races to his wife’s bedside (even with some actual car trouble) arriving just in time for her to hear the record which sends her into fatal shock, ending our story on a very sad, contemplate note indeed, as Madelbos’ many photos of Marguerite are shown in conjunction with the final credits.

So What? Once again, our film in question is based on reality but—also again—with notable extrapolations; in this case, Baroness Dumont (not to be confused with Margaret Dumont, the long-suffering foil for the Marx Bros. in their zany movies from 1929-1941; 
I can’t help but think that Giannoli used this name for his fictional character with some sense of American Dumont’s characters in mind given their wealthy, somewhat-delusion natures as they continued to absorb Groucho’s insults with hardly an awareness of what he was saying) is based somewhat on the life of an actual American opera “singer,” Florence Jenkins (1868-1944—give a listen to a recording of her if you dare, or at least do it in sympathy with the poor cats who’re pictured in this hilarious video enduring Jenkins’ atrocious vocal miseries), who as well was a wealthy socialite with apparently no concept of what ungodly sounds were coming out of her mouth (even Marguerite’s peacocks were more pleasant to listen to).  She’ll get her own film, Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears), starring Meryl Streep, opening in May 2016 (hopefully Streep didn’t destroy her versatile voice in the process—that was also a concern about Frot so for the most-debilitating-assaults on her body’s speech-apparatus-limits director Giannoli had a more-accomplished-singer butcher the high notes, then Frot lip-synched to her recording in those shots for the final product [reminding me of a very famous vocal-insertion-situation in Singin’ in the Rain {Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen; 1952}, where Kathy Selden {Debbie Reynolds} overdubs the horrendous sounds of Lina Lamont {Jean Hagen} for dialogue and song, a marvelous bit of off-screen-irony in that Betty Noyes overdubbed what Reynolds appears to be singing as she’s covering up Lina’s {well-articulated} cringe-worthy-original; Hagen also actually speaks for herself in another “Kathy” overdub within … Rain’s movie-within-a-movie, The Dancing Cavalier, proving that Lina’s horrible voice was actually a masterful bit of acting, just as the performances in Marguerite, led by Frot, Marcon, and Fau, are uniformly superb]).

 Of course, I can’t watch what’s happening with Marguerite here without thinking of tormented Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) where she’s forced by her overbearing husband, Charlie (Welles), to be an opera singer against her wishes in order to salvage his own ego (theatre critic and Kane’s ex-pal Jedediah Leland [Joseph Cotton] to reporter Jerry Thompson [William Alland]: “The whole thing about Susie being an opera singer, that was trying to prove something.  You know what the headline was the day before the election, ‘Candidate Kane found in love nest with quote, singer, unquote.’  He was gonna take the quotes off the singer.”), although Marguerite fiercely wanted the career that Susie never truly desired even as she never had a chance to be successful in her putrid rendition of a soprano because the aria Susie sang was out of her (and Dorothy’s) octave range (written that way by composer Bernard Herrmann) so that she’d sound horrible attempting to sing it (although trained soprano Jean Forward dubbed in much of what we hear, for Comingore’s vocal benefit); as well, I’m reminded of Susie’s singing coach, Signor Matiste (Fortunio Bonanova), also pressured to give guidance to an untalented pupil but at least he wasn’t blackmailed into the job like Signor Pezzini was. With all of this inspiration, certainly Marguerite has a solid shot in making its premise into enjoyable entertainment, but ultimately this new film touches more on the tragedy of … Kane than the whimsy of … Rain, so be prepared for that reality—despite the publicity primarily promoting it as a comedy—if you choose to see it, which may take fortitude on your part equal to Marguerite’s in furthering her “reputation,” in that, despite its current 4 weeks in domestic (U.S. and Canada) release, the film’s playing in only 46 theaters having grossed a pittance of about $227,000 so far.

* (For that matter, I’m reminded a bit of yet another screen classic, Sunset Boulevard [Billy Wilder, 1950], in which an aging movie star from the silent days, Norma Desmond [Gloria Swanson], has no concept that her decades-old-isolation in her LA mansion has kept her from realizing that her time as a celebrity is long gone, that contemporary cinema has a totally-different-aesthetic from what she knew, and that her self-conceit of resilient-fame is simply her personal delusion stoked by her butler, Max [Eric von Stroheim], who not only was Norma’s director in the old days but also is her ex-husband [I can only imagine how far Madelbos would have gone in such directions with Marguerite if their circumstances had been different enough to allow similar entanglements].)

 Marguerite was well-honored in its home country last year, though, receiving 11 nominations for the César Awards (French equivalent of our Oscar), winning 4 for Best Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Sound (more for total control of the medium than for its melodious aspects, I’m sure), and Best Production Design, but so far that hasn’t translated to much attention on this side of the Atlantic except for a lot of positive critical responses (96% at Rotten Tomatoes, 76% at Metacritic but based on only 23 reviews to date for the latter so if you consult the links below for this film you might also want to check back later to see if more coverage has equaled a higher Metacritic score).

Bottom Line Final Comments: Marguerite is delightful to watch in many aspects, somewhat surreal sometimes (including near-ending-images of Madelbos overseeing the burning of Marguerite’s possessions, the Pietà-like quality of his photo taken of Georges holding his wife after she’s collapsed on stage), melancholy in others in that husband and wife really do care a lot for each other—she’s pursued her “career” with the intention of making him proud of her accomplishments (even though they all exist only within her own mind) while he’s tried to protect her from the realities of her misunderstood-self-image, finally rushing to her attempted rescue when the truth becomes so overwhelming to her as to prove deadly.  However, as in principle with many comedies, my concern is whether the raucous laughs I heard at the screening I attended (including from myself) are directed at the film as an exposé of unrealized human folly (the self-blindness we all perpetuate at times to rewrite our lives’ scripts into something more satisfying than what a more honest eye would reveal to us) that could help us all better acknowledge our own weaknesses as part of our self-improving-self-acceptance rather than being mocking-castigations of this woman for her horrible vocal abilities.  She’s laughed at behind her back plenty within the film’s narrative, in at best a sympathetic manner toward someone so self-delusional or at worst a cruel form of superiority over someone who dares to pretend that she possesses talent where none exists.  Her screeching is an atrocious sound that almost makes our eardrums bleed as much as it did her throat when pushed to its limits so it is funny to hear such horrible off-pitch-acoustic-attacks presented as lofty art (furthered by Marguerite’s choice of costume at her final public recital, decked out in an evening gown and a pair of angel wings)—her audience begins to laugh as if they’re witnessing a carefully-prepared-parody, just as the shocked audience for the grotesquely-absurd-play, Springtime for Hitler, first gasps in horror, resentfully begins to leave, then settles back down for uproarious laughter in The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1968, for the original movie; Susan Stroman, 2005, for the cinematic-musical-remake)—but Marguerite’s full-house-attendees soon realize that what they’re witnessing is no joke, especially when her few moments of flawless clarity are terminated by the awful damage to her body.

 In the press notes for this film, director Giannoli admits how much he borrowed from the real situation of Florence Foster Jenkins, especially how no one ever told her what a terrible voice she had (“It’s an amusing story, but it also exposes a cruel side to human nature that I wanted to explore”); he even clarifies that in her later years Jenkins sang to a huge audience at NYC’s Carnegie Hall, while he found a recording of her operatic attempts that features her on the cover wearing angel wings and a tiara. He says Marguerite is living her passion: she experiences the joys and the suffering that go hand-in-hand with a life dedicated to music.  She sings completely out of tune yet she expresses a furious desire. [¶] Marguerite is like all of us because we need to have illusions.” (Although I might question that last statement or at least insist that inspirational-illusions not slip into dangerous-delusions; Giannoli agrees: “Unfortunately, passion doesn’t translate into great talent and in life we often discover that they have little to do with each other. […] I needed to use humour to find a way to distance myself from the harsh realities of life, from feelings of betrayal and failure, from the hypocrisy and cruelty of society […] I needed to have a good laugh about it all!  When Marguerite sings, I see it as a liberating cry to live and let live.”Frot adds: “There is one line [in the film] that sums this up I think: ‘Either we dream life or we accomplish it.’”  "Diva" Marguerite certainly intended to accomplish her life, even as most of what she celebrated about her career was simply a mental construct that had no match in reality, although it inspired conflicted love from her husband and a fierce sense of protection from Madelbos, even a certain level of admiration from Lucien and Kyril (more sincere with the latter).  So, why, we may ask does devoted Madelbos ignore the frantic phone call from Georges to cancel the dangerous-phonograph-playback-experiment?

 Surely, both men had a strong sense of what damage the awful-aural-truth might cause for Madame Dumont, yet her most constant protector allows it to go forward; was he determined to let her life end because he couldn’t share it with her (even despite his own upcoming marriage to Félicité), was he concerned that she couldn’t risk singing again without causing severe vocal damage, thereby dashing all her dreams, or was he just finally trading roles with Georges in moving away from the lies he’d most actively perpetuated just as the long-estranged-husband was finally rallying to his wife’s long-neglected-needs?  Whatever the answers might be here, the comments on life’s tragicomic-aspects are well-conceived and delivered, in a film to be savored for much more than comic relief.  Still, I remain in a whimsical mood in picking my Musical Metaphor for Marguerite so I thought about recordings from my favorite singers that don’t match their normal images, maybe even seeming a bit ridiculous; ultimately, the one that kept calling to me is The Beatles’ version of “Mr. Moonlight" (written by Roy Lee Johnson, often done in the Fab Four’s early live act, as preserved here at Hamburg, Germany’s Star-Club in 1962, prior to their international fame [the audio’s not that great, the images are just stills from that period, but you can tell how the song sounds in a more-up-tempo-mode]) at 
(from the 1964 Beatles for Sale [U.K.] and Beatles ’65 [U.S.] albums); the singing’s not bad like Marguerite’s but it’s just so damn funky coming from a group this talented and creative, especially that silly Hammond organ solo of Paul’s.  To follow up on that, here’s something to keep you entertained until next we meet, another site with 30 songs from the Beatles’ Star-Club days.  (But I warn you, though, if you start browsing through all of this stuff a good bit of your life [at least an hour and 12 minutes’ worth] may vanish faster than it takes Marguerite to demolish a high note.)
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Here’s more information about Miles Ahead: (26:00 interview with director, co-screenwriter, actor Don Cheadle, co-star actors Emayatzy Corinealdi and Michael Stuhlbarg from the 2015 New York Film Festival) (based on only 21 reviews so far)

Here’s more information about Marguerite:

(I could find very little to give you further video insights to Marguerite so for the benefit of those of you who speak French [I don’t] here’s an 8:53 interview at with actor Catherine Frot about her role along with brief comments from others associated with this film [this is the 1st time I’ve offered such a semi-unknown link but it seemed to be an action in harmony {so to speak} with the unlimited-attitudes of Marguerite herself]) (based on just 23 reviews so far)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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