Jazz just sounds cooler when it's backing a black and white scene, doesn't it? Gives it an organic, refreshing sound, almost a palpable texture. Jazz under neon blue lights and nightclub smoke makes for a great atmosphere, too, but that's sultry and mysterious and can be too confined by its own setting.
The reason I point this out is because Damien Chazelle's Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (which made waves at Tribeca in April but is still seeking financing for a theatrical release) gives jazz a shot in the arm that not only gets your toe tapping, but your spirit soaring. You're not seduced by the riffs so much as you're invigorated by them.
It's a verite-style romantic musical dramedy that defies categorization precisely because it fits so many descriptions: indie, docudrama, mumblecore, to name a few. At different times it reminded of new cinema (In Search of a Midnight Kiss and Medicine for Melancholy) and classic cinema (the dancing scene from Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders), and it won't work for everyone if only because it's so peculiarly surreal. But I think that's why I loved it, aside from the fact that it was shot on the Boston and Cambridge streets that hold a special nostalgia for me.
Guy (actual trumpeting phenom Jason Palmer) plays in various jazz collectives, his girlfriend Madeline (Desiree Garcia) waits tables and waits for her break as a jazz singer. We see the two finish a decidedly awkward conversation on a park bench; the details of why they break up don't matter (and Chazelle's lack of explaining and narrative handholding is appreciated throughout the film) so long as we accept that it wasn't really what either person wanted. Soon enough both are on the rebound - Guy meeting Elena (Sandha Khin) in an almost startlingly sensual encounter on the T, and Madeline heading to New York City and a new relationship with a much less talented and much less charming musician.
This set-up fortunately just takes a few minutes, with the rest of the film serving up a steady diet of jazz performances, romantic exchanges, spontaneous tapdancing duels (include one taken in one extremely long, extremely impressive take), awkward arguments, musical numbers, dialogues about love, and lots of 16mm city shots of Boston that show the city in a way that I haven't seen on film before.
If any or all of that appeals to your cinematic senses, keep your fingers crossed that Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench makes its way to you this fall (click here for a screening schedule). It's a delight that sneaks up on you like a spontaneous jazz solo; you almost don't have time to process the fact that what you're watching is truly special.
[Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench screens as part of Sound Unseen 10 this Saturday, October 3rd at 6:45 PM at the Trylon microcinema. Tickets.]