Tag Archives: musical documentaries

Music Man

David Foster: Off the Record

by George Wolf

Imagine being so successful at something that it bores you.

After decades in the music business, millions of records sold, 16 Grammy awards, scores of nominations, and multiple careers launched, improved or saved, that’s where legendary producer David Foster found himself.

His new passion is Broadway, where he hopes to launch a hit musical and maybe even check off the the T in EGOT (with a Tony award). This career shift has seemingly inspired Foster to look back, talking at length to director Barry Avrich for David Foster: Off the Record.

With an introductory promise to Avrich to “be over your shoulder the whole f-ing way,” Foster is very definitely on the record. The ego is healthy but understandable, and some frank self-assessment helps Foster come off as a complex, demanding, uniquely talented charmer who can be a bit of a Richard.

His perfect pitch was revealed during a self-described “perfect childhood” in Victoria, B.C., and by the time he was a young man was out-earning his parents through a variety of music gigs. After a year in London, he landed in L.A., became one-hit wonderful with Skylark (“Wildflower”) in ’72, caught the ear of Streisand in a recording session, and the rocket ride began.

Obviously, the man’s got some great stories. What Avrich has is a great editor in Eugene Weis, and together they set the perfect pace for a film about a guy who admits to only feeling comfortable in the fast lane.

Weis supercuts interview footage to create lively “conversations” between Foster and his colleagues, while Avrich lingers on Foster when he listens hard to one of his creations (such as Celine Dion’s “All By Myself”), drinking it in and relishing the effect.

Even if you don’t love all the tunes (and it’s clear members of Chicago aren’t exactly big fans of Foster’s bombastic 80’s ballads that rescued their career), it’s hard to resist the engaging nature of the storytelling. And they just keep coming, from crashing a party at Streisand’s and fighting over The Bodyguard soundtrack to saving a broadway star’s life by almost killing him and helping launch reality TV.

But while most of the film is gracefully laced with Foster’s honest introspection on his multiple failed marriages and concerns about being a good father, the final act wavers with a more glossy, choreographed concentration on his personal life.

Avrich recovers with a parting nod to Foster’s new focus on Broadway, the unconquered quest in the city he doesn’t enjoy. But hey, at least he’s not bored.

Thanks to what’s on the record in Off The Record, you won’t be, either.

Other Side of the Pillow

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

by George Wolf

Miles Davis, the original cool? Well, at the very least, he’s in the team picture.

And part of that iconic allure, along with groundbreaking talent, was his elusiveness. Until that unexpected 1980s stretch of pop collaborations, art exhibitions and Miami Vice appearances, Davis was the prickly genius you could not pin down.

Enough talk, his every glance seemed to sneer (behind the coolest of sunglasses, of course). Just stand back and let me play.

With Birth of the Cool, director Stanley Nelson weaves archival footage, first-person interviews and Davis’s own words (read by actor Carl Lumbly) into a captivating career retrospective buoyed by important historical context.

Longtime aficionados will relish the dive into early stints with Dizzy, Bird and Coltrane as much as the later mentorships of Shorter and Hancock. The amount of respect and adoration here is healthy, indeed, but the darker layers of Davis’s drug use and abusive relationships are treated as part of his human complexity rather than mere whispers on a scandal sheet.

Birth of the Cool is an obvious must for any Davis fans wanting to feel as close to the legend as they’ve ever been. And for anyone using the film as intro to Miles 101, it’s a fine primer on road to Bitches Brew and beyond.