The life of Buddy Bolden is the stuff of mythic folklore. Regarded as the inventor of jazz music, whose only supposed recording has been lost to the ravages of time, and confined to a Louisianan state mental hospital where he died in anonymity at the age of 54 are the facts that most published history know about him. Trying to elasticize his life and music, filmmaker Dan Pritzker's "Bolden" takes an especially fragmented approach to things. Recalling major events in the musicians life (played by Gary Carr), the film opens with Bolden hearing a Louis Armstrong event wafting through the vents of his asylum home, which cause him to frustratingly recollect the events in his life, from his childhood to the exploitative brushes with (white) New Orleans society and his depression into alcohol and drug use. Assembled with minimal care for a cohesive narrative, "Bolden" shoe-horns so much manic energy into its 90 minutes, it's one of the few times I've yearned for a more conventional biopic. There are moments of tenderness, though, such as the idea that as a young boy his malleable mind would turn the thuds and swishes of his mother's line factory into a crescendo beat or the way he coaxes a unique rhythm out of one of his band's early rehearsals. But these asides are few and far between the bursts of darkness that begin to creep into Bolden's personality or his many dalliances with women outside his marriage. It's a shame the film is far more intent on the destructive rather than the creative.
In Trevor Nunn's somewhat diffuse spy thriller "Red Joan", it's no surprise the venerable Judi Dench comes away mostly unscathed from the ordinary plot machinations that sinks a good portion of the rest of the film. As the aged woman arrested in the film's opening scene for treasonous acts committed 50 years earlier, her weathered face wrings out the emotions that stirs the film's flashback approach and just how it all went down. As young Joan, Sophie Cookson (aka the actress I kept mistaking for Keira Knightley) carries the brunt of the film and just how such a brilliant young mind was manipulated by a dashing communist (Tom Hughes). It's in the past where "Red Joan" often falters, turning the true story of British war time subterfuge into a series of love interests and staid conventional storytelling. This should have been the most compelling portion. Instead, the few moments of Dench reacting to the accusations of the past become standouts in a film too wrapped up to excise generic war-torn lust rather than honest regret.
At Dallas Film Now check out new reviews for other currents such as "Long Day's Journey Into Night", and Zhang Yimou's wonderful "Shadow"