In Born to Be Blue, Ethan Hawke portrays jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker in a “re-imagining” of Baker’s mid-career struggles in the 1960s as he worked for a comeback after spending time in prison on drug charges. In the film, director Robert Budreau attempts to reveal the real Baker through a fictionalized romance with actress Jane Azuka, played by Carmen Ejogo.
It is always risky fictionalizing a biopic about a real person, although it can work in the right hands as it did for Todd Haynes’s treatment of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There (2007). From the trailer for Born to Be Blue, Budreau’s version of Baker seems more like a typical biopic with the exception that it is not completely true. But much of jazz music is about improvisation and variations, so perhaps the best way to understand Baker’s brilliance and demons is through a movie that riffs on his life.
Below is the trailer for Born to Be Blue, which opens in limited release starting on March 25, 2016.
In real life, Baker — who was born on December 23, 1929 — followed his brilliant success in the 1950s with struggles with heroin and other drugs throughout the rest of his life. After a difficult period in the 1960s, he began a comeback with his rediscovery fueling performances in Europe. In the early 1980s, he toured with Stan Getz and played on Elvis Costello’s album Punch the Clock (1983). On May 13, 1988, Baker was found dead on the sidewalk beneath his hotel room in Amsterdam, Netherlands, a death that was ruled an accident.
Baker’s death had previously inspired the Born to Be Blue director Budreau to speculate about how the death occurred. In 2009, he wrote and directed a short film about Baker’s death called The Deaths of Chet Baker. You may watch that short film, starring Stephen McHattie below.
Finally, if you are curious about why Budreau is so fascinated with Chet Baker, check out some of Baker’s performances and recordings, starting with this full performance live in Tokyo in 1987.
What is your favorite musical biopic? Leave your two cents in the comments.
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