Let’s talk Miles Ahead. I remember reading all of the press leading up to its release. Those discussing the work latched onto the “unconventional” qualities of the work:
It’s genre bending!
It’s a crime caper!
Sure, you could say both of those things about this film, but I think to do so would be to remain on absolutely the most surface level analysis of what is, an innovative work of story, and therefore art. Really, I have much less of a problem with the fairly general consensus that Miles Ahead throws the genre of the biopic, and maybe more specifically, the jazz biopic, (although are we truly going to call that a sub-genre of movie?) off kilter. It’s true, you don’t take us linearly from Point A to Point B on the trajectory of Davis’ life. But, after a certain point as a filmmaker, you have to ask yourself what exactly you mean to achieve by making a movie about someone else’s life. What does that person mean to you, and why is their story compelling? Why would you even bother to make a movie about someone who was so profoundly influential in the musical and cultural sphere if you were just going to make something like everyone else? Why was it so surprising that you would take an approach that is perhaps, more true to the essence of that person’s legacy (in this case, their music), or more accurately, to you, the filmmaker’s, own relationship to that person and their art? Of course the movie’s going to be “genre bending!” That’s self evident, so let’s move on.
But let’s not call it a crime caper. That is far too reductionist. Any reader who has been with me for a while will know that, as someone with some professional experience working in the film industry (with aspiration to directing), sometimes I have a difficult time in applying more theoretical analyses to films. To attribute everything in the frame to the particular intention of a singular individual: the director, completely rejects the notion of film as a collaboration. However, at the end of the day, I still profoundly believe that film is a work of art, and must therefore be open to some interpretation.
This is my interpretation of the so-called crime caper aspect of Miles Ahead.
It is a key narrative conceit, the organizational framework allowing the non-linear approach to the subject matter. More than that however, it is a metaphor for the seemingly insurmountable struggle between artist and corporate machine. It’s nothing if not ironic that this movie would not have been made without the inclusion of a white actor to secure essential funding. Art imitates life more often than we might expect. Strip away all of the gunslinging, the drug deals, the car chases, and what remains is an artist who is desperately trying to maintain his creative sovereignty. All Davis wants is to be secure in the fact that what he has created is his, and his alone. He is more than just a number following a dollar sign. His life and his work have value. Maybe to some viewers it seems exaggerated that Davis would have to go to such great lengths to track down his tape, both holding people, and being held, at gunpoint. But is this really such a great stretch when we consider something like Kesha’s legal battle? Perhaps not.
The act of creation that resulted in Miles Ahead is a rebellion against the commoditization and corporatization of art. Watch it and realize. We need to fight back to help create a better world where the artist is free to do just that: CREATE.
I cannot wait to see your next film.