“Bolden,” a lively and imaginative musical-drama about the unsung life of New Orleans jazz “inventor” Charles “Buddy” Bolden, should never be described as a by-the-numbers biopic.
Director Dan Pritzker, who collaborated with David N. Rothschild on the kaleidoscopic, dialogue-free screenplay, has created a highly conjectured, mythical portrayal of African American bandleader Bolden (Gary Carr of HBO’s “The Deuce”), about whom everything is certain. His pioneering, improvisational music – a heady blend of blues, ragtime, and gospel — is said to have never been recorded.
Bolden, who had spent the previous 25 years in a dreadful insane asylum, flashes back on his glorious and sad past when he overhears jazz legend Louis Armstrong’s live radio broadcast in 1931. (a vibrant Reno Wilson). (Satchmo’s seminal display is expertly interwoven throughout.)
Pritzker takes a distinctly impressionistic, woozy, non-linear style as he tonally represents Bolden’s upbringing, musical trajectory and showmanship, passion for wife Nora (Yaya DaCosta), womanising, substance addiction, and suspected schizophrenia, all set against the brutality and inequality of the Jim Crow South, with the help of a top-notch tech team.
Unfortunately, the film, which also stars Erik LaRay Harvey, Robert Ri’chard, and Ian McShane, becomes too brutal, raw, and showy, weakening Wynton Marsalis’ magnificent music, excellent period re-creation, and Carr’s strong lead performance.