Friday 29 October 2004

The Last of the First (2004) - ickleReview (cinema - London Film Festival)

A documentary about the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, made up of likeable old guys who used to play with the greats: Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and others. When the club owners and agents realized that you could make more money by cutting a big band down to size, some of these players lost their jobs and had to hover on the breadline selling insurance and houses, driving school buses and delivery vans.

It's amazing to see these old men and ladies play: at 91, drummer Johnny Blowers (Frank Sinatra's favourite) can still pull off a kickin' drum solo in front of a packed house in Moscow. Guitarist Al Casey - a legend amongst his peers - lives only to play. When he falls and fractures his femur, he looks close to giving up and dying. When the band lose their only regular gig at the Louisiana Community Bar & Grill in downtown Manhattan, singer Laurel Watson breaks down. Two weeks later, she suffers a stroke and loses her voice: a poignant moment of synchronicity that not even the best script writers could have penned.

Anja Baron's film is a little rough at the edges (the print used for the screening was not of the best quality) and features repetitive shots of old people struggling out of a van, walking down stairs and passing through doors; but it is held together by a love for the music, for the musicians, and their stories.

Nugget: drums keep pounding a rhythm to the (b)rain...and the beat goes on, the beat goes on.

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