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Round Midnight
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Like the music it celebrates, Round Midnight is long on atmosphere, short on formal structure, alert and open to improvisation, making this 1986 drama the most authentic glimpse of jazz yet filmed. Its subject, Dale Turner (played by Dexter Gordon), is a composite of brilliant but bruised jazz warriors who left America behind for self-imposed European exile, finding a more tolerant and appreciative audience while never completely eluding their private demons. Drugs and drink have battered the tall, laconic saxophonist, whose diffident, somewhat distracted manner only partly conceals a deeper exhaustion as he plays a 1959 engagement in a Parisian club and tries to stay sober. His burnished solos drift behind the tempo with a languor that can't be fully explained as a point of style. But when an ardent, impoverished French fan (Fran?ois Cluzet) intercepts his idol and then offers him simple acts of kindness, the gesture inspires a brief but glowing second wind in the aging musician, reflected in his playing. Even as the film contemplates Turner's return to his homeland as a portent of his own death, his moments on the Parisian bandstand suggest a glimpse of redemption.

If Turner's frail character echoes real-life ex-pats like Bud Powell and Lester Young, director Bertrand Tavernier's insistence upon casting the role with veteran tenor player Dexter Gordon breathes startling authenticity into the figure. Gordon's own drug arrests and an extended idyll abroad give him direct access to Turner's isolation, and Tavernier elicits a natural but compelling performance that earned Gordon (who died in 1990) an Academy Award nomination. Likewise, the director cast his cinematic band with world-class musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter, and shot these sequences as live performances. Hancock's score deservedly won both British and American Academy Awards, as well as a French C¨¦sar. --Sam Sutherland

Customer Reviews:

  • Moving, Jazzy, Great Film
    Sensitive Tavernier crafted a picture which only a fan could have made. Based on pianist Bud Powell real life story. Oscar winner musician Dexter Gordon acts and plays smartly. A beautifully real and sad story for all jazz and non-jazz fans. Music by Herbie Hancock with Dexter Gordon. Great!...more info
  • Long Tall Dexter
    Dexter Gordon is Dale Turner, an ex-patriot jazz musician living in Paris and playing nightly at the Blue Note. (His character is based loosely on Lester Young and Bud Powell, but mainly it is all Dexter.) A young Frenchman (Francois Cluzet) idolizes him and later befriends him. Dex has problems, mainly booze, and between blowing gigs seems most concerned about how to get something to drink. The cliche of the self-tortured jazz musician who's got to find something new to say on his horn every night is, of course, the main focus of the film. (That this is the ONLY way to greatness for a jazzman is the great myth for the artform. But it sells.) Dex gets homesick for New York, returns, falls into his old habits, misses the flight back to Paris, and soon dies. The movie is overly long, but Gordon is mesmerizing. Dexter speaks slowly, as if from behind a veil (Gordon was ill at the time and living in obscurity in Mexico when he agreed to do the movie); he had much input on the film, creating his own dialogue and insuring accuracy. The picture has faults, to be sure, but it's a mighty achievement nonetheless. The music, of which there is plenty, is, of course, top-notch....more info
  • Being a Jazz genius is worth a beer in Paris
    Growing old when you have abused your body and blown away your soul can be hard.
    Kind of a slow movie with not always good music:
    the how good tenor sax here is exagrerated
    and sometimes he hits some real sour notes.
    The old tenor sax man and jazz composer finds a French friend who saves him for a last bright stand in Paris....more info
  • Extraordinary film
    "Round Midnight" is an exceptional piece of art in which the music acts almost as another main character. The lead performances are very good, and the all-star group of musicians make the soundtrack absolutely first-rate. However, I found the direction to be the strong point of the film. I know some people have suggested Scorsese had a heavy hand in directing even though he's only officially credited as a cast member, and perhaps they're right, but I thought it seemed uniquely distinct from just about anything I've ever seen, including Martin's films. The film is not a typical, sign-posted Hollywood standard and the style of the script takes some getting used to, but like most fine art, the completed piece is far superior to any single element, and the rich layering lends itself to enjoyment on subsequent viewings. A+!...more info
  • 'Round Midnight
    avernier's vivid, sensitive ode to the brilliant exile musicians who flocked to his country in the fifties to escape racism (and find a more appreciative fan base) might well be the greatest jazz film of all time. Dedicated to Bud Powell and Lester Young, "Midnight" lovingly evokes the mood and atmosphere of the bebop scene (Herbie Hancock's Oscar-winning score was recorded live, on the set), as well as the dark and murky mindset of many of its practitioners. Adding to the authenticity, Tavernier cast real-life musicians to fill the roles, including sax great Gordon, who received an Oscar nomination for his devastating portrayal of the laconic, raspy-voiced Turner....more info
  • It's more than a movie about jazz.
    Round Midnight is the most delicate, sensitive and deep movie I've ever watched.
    It's a movie that goes much beyond jazz and musicians.
    It's a movie about love, about the possibilities, about us, human beigns.
    And amazingly played by two INCREDIBLE actors: Dexter Gordon and Fran?ois Cluzet. Dexter Gordon was a special human being, he was an angel. I really belive this. It was up to Bertrand Tavernier to see it and he did. That's why the movie is a masterpiece, it's a combination of untouchble and unique souls....more info
  • An authentic showcase of bebop jazz in a perfect setting.
    This review is for the 2001 Warner Brothers DVD.

    It's 1959 in Paris with jazz saxophonist Dale Turner (Dexter Gordon) playing in the Blue Note Club. His stage presence seems sedated as he sits rather than stands and holds the sax rigidly through most of set, but his music is mesmerizing. His biggest fan, Francis Borler (Fran?ois Cluzet) isn't inside the club, but outside in the rain, listening to every note as though his life depended on it. As a struggling graphic artist, Francis doesn't have enough money to be inside the club, but one night after Turner leaves the Blue Note, he bumps into Francis and asks the Frenchman if he'll buy him a beer and Francis gladly accommodates Turner even though it will probably cost him all the money he has to his name.

    Later it becomes clear that Turner has a drinking problem and all his close friends including his landlady try to isolate him from alcohol. The film moves on with more great sessions inside the club, but one night Dale is picked up for public intoxication and from that point on Francis takes on the role as Dale's personal caretaker and even cajoles Turner into moving in with him and his young daughter into their small apartment. The close-knit friendship continues with Turner being clean and sober. Near the end of the film, Turner goes to back to America with Francis tagging along but Francis' visit is short lived as he decides to return to France.

    The movie is the best jazz film I've seen, and it works magic because the main character is a real professional jazz musician and not an actor and the music is live and not piped in. Having the movie take place in this small lounge in Paris, adds international appeal, warmth and a very personal connection to this brilliant art form. As wonderful as the movie is, too much time was devoted to Borler's obsessive relationship with Turner. This could have been the quintessential jazz film if it had focused more on Turner's relationship with other musicians with more discussions about the mechanics of the music. By far, the best off-stage scene in the movie is when Turner has dinner with an attractive female singer whose been a longtime friend and she reminds Dale in a voice of gratitude, "You were the one that taught me to listen to the bass and not the drums" and Turner quickly replies back, "You would have figured it out in 10 or 15 years anyway". The other thing that makes this film so special is the intimacy of the nightclub in a time when jazz musicians seemed far more accessible. The final scene of the movie is many years later on a large stage of an amphitheater which is commonplace for today's jazz concerts and gives older jazz fans a longing for that golden age of bebop in those small clubs with special musicians who played like Dale Turner. This is a must-have DVD for any serious jazz fan.

    The DVD presentation is does the film justice. The color widescreen presentation is immaculate and most importantly the stereo soundtrack sounds fantastic.

    Movie: A-

    DVD Quality: A...more info
  • A Must Have
    I have watched Round Midnight many times over the past 20 years including in a theatre when the movie first appeared. There is nothing I can say in this review that hasn't been said by the other 50 reviewers other than 1) although brilliant in concept and reality, it is a boring film 2)if you are a jazz fan then you simply must have this film in your collection for no other reason than seeing the all-star jazz musicians play. I think Lonette McKee's rendition of "How Long This Has Been Going On" is tremendous and I think Herbie Hancock's composing, arranging and comping were truly awesome. Dexter Gordon's portrayal of Dale Turner, while challenging to endure as a viewer sometimes, is probably as accurate as it could have been. I have been a fan of the tune "Chan's Song" every since I first saw this film. I applaud the people who believed in this story enough to make this film....more info
  • A pretty good movie that suffers from lack of impact.
    This movie has a lot going for it. Dexter Gordon, a real (and real good) jazz-musician-turned-actor stars as Dale Turner, an alcoholic saxophone player who moves to Paris and rediscovers his music and life. His world-weary voice and vibrant music talent help him to carry the role, deemed good enough to have been nominated for an Academy Award. Herbie Hancock wrote the music, obtaining a sound track that is sprinkled with Hancockian licks and solid jazz classics, apparently performed by a number of famous jazz musicians, such as Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson and Pierre Michelot. With their support and the convenience of having a number of hit tunes to use in the sound track, it's no wonder Herbie won the Academy Award for best score for this movie. It's wonderful. Where the movie disappoints, though, is in the story, which is convoluted and unconvincing. It is supposedly based on things that happened to Bud Powell and Lester Young, but because it is not a biopic of either one of those guys, it ends up being about nobody. The frenchman who befriends Dexter Gordon's character is just not believable, especially when he says things like "Your music changed my life" to a fictional guy who doesn't play an original tune in the entire movie. I can't get wrapped up in somebody's life when I don't know who they are, and while some attempt is made to sway the audience to care about these forlorn characters, ultimately, the audience is left feeling detached and empty. For a peek into the world of 1960's jazz, though, the movie is adequate, and the sound track is first rate and pretty much worth the price of admission. You won't be overwhelmingly impressed by this movie, but you won't feel like you completely wasted two hours, either.
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  • For Jazz Enthusiasts
    Jazz enthusiasts will want to watch this flick over and over again. Dexter Gordon, in the lead role, is amazing....more info
  • For the record.......
    Lester Young never lived in France. Lester's last gig was in Paris but he never lived there.

    Powell, on the other hand, spent years overseas playing.

    Great movie, definitely based on the lives of Powell and Young. Gordon was brilliant in this movie. ...more info
  • Twenty Years On, Round Midnight Still Sparkles
    When I first saw ROUND MIDNIGHT as a young man, I thought Dale Turner was real jazz musician and wondered what he had done that made him avoid America, like Roman Polanski. That's a tribute to the good acting of Dexter Gordon and the direction of Bertrand Tavernier, who I understand is Swiss. The tight close-ups of the 1959 Blue Note reverberate with sweat and reality. Recently I had the chance to watch this film in tandem with Michael Curtiz YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN and I saw some similarities in the way Gordon is photographed with the John Alton shadows and stripes across his handsome face, just as Juano Hernandez was given almost the noir treatment in the earlier film, in the heated nightclubs where everyone wears a cigarette out the side of their mouth and the smoke makes feverish patterns across the whitewashed walls.. I wish the DVD had included some memories of the film makers, including some testimony from Tavernier to see if he had really studied earlier American jazz films or not.

    A young French jazz buff grows close to Dale who then becomes his idol, and shares acting duties in the film, just as Dale sweats out his addiction to liquor but what he can't shake his love/hate affair with New York City and with America as a whole. That ambivalence is a factor the young Frenchman just can't understand; it goes way over his head and leaves him standing on the far shores of love even on the banks of the East River. I suppose if this movie had been made in the USA this character (Francis) would have been played by a woman (like Doris Day) in YOUNG MAN WEITH A HORN, for in the USA men aren't allowed to give each other the adoring looks that Francois gives Dale in this one. Given the time period (1986) perhaps the part would have been offered to Robin Givens or Lisa Bonet? As it is we get the incandescent Lonette McKee at her finest, and singing beautifully too. The film goes to great lengths to prove Francis solidly heterosexual, and pro-family, with his parents and a cute little daughter. David Rayfiel, who wrote this paean to black-white relationships, was for years the favorite screenwriter of Sydney Pollack, and also wrote the amazing rape revenge picture LIPSTICK. He is a true journeyman and here he gave Dexter Gordon a part that should have won him the Oscar.
    ...more info
  • Not Very Realistic But Quite Enjoyable
    Yes, it's annoying that the plot hadda have some idealistic and passionate white French guy offer salvation to the tortured and irresponsible Negro jazz musician, but the movie is an enjoyable character study. Dexter Gordon gives an undeniably riveting portrayal of the quintissential jazz cat and the climactic outdoor memorial concert is great....more info
  • come on & blow gabriel blow!
    musician dexter gordon stars as the prototypical jazz man in this paean to its type. while im usually bummed out by jazz-based movies (these people do take themselves waaaay too seriously), this one is saved by the honest portrayal essayed by amateur actor gordon, and a strong score. of its ilk, its as good as ive seen.
    ...more info
  • Portrait of an Artist as a Jazz Man
    "Round Midnight" is a masterpiece of a film that portrays the life of a jazz musician on an extended residence in Paris in the 1950's whose struggle with alcoholism and abuse by his "handlers" invites the friendship of a young Frenchman who attempts to aid him in sobriety and salvation. The protagonist jazzman, "Dale Turner," was based on a composite of real-life jazz legends Lester Young (tenor sax) and the tortured and enigmatic Bud Powell (piano). In fact, while much of the film is fictionalized, much of it is drawn directly from the memoir/biography "Dance of the Infidels" written by Francis Paudras, who in real life befriended Bud Powell during his Parisian expatriate days and on whom the character "Francis" is based.

    The tone of the film is wistful and tragic as it follows Turner's struggle as an artist creating incredible beauty but destroying himself with alcoholism, and the desperate attempts of his friend to save him (if you like happy stories over realism, stick to your standard Hollywood fare). Tavernier defied the movie studio by insisting that real-life jazz tenor sax great Dexter Gordon (who himself played with Bud Powell in Paris in the 50's) play the role of Turner (he also helped to revise and rewrite the script). Gordon has a soft, but gravelly voice that is difficult to understand on first listen, but his acting is top-notch (he is after all, playing someone he knew, as well as himself to some extent) and he nails one scene after another. He captures Turner's struggle with disillusionment, death, loneliness, paternalism, racism, and the constant pressure to create art to a T.

    I don't think you need to like jazz to like this film, but it probably wouldn't hurt. There are a lot of extended scenes where Dexter Gordon is playing the music, along with a supporting cast composed of other real jazz legends such as Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, John McLaughlin, Wayner Shorter, and Pierre Michelot. The result is an authentic portrait and tribute that captures the Paris jazz scene of the 50's, along with a stellar soundtrack (released in two parts as the official soundtrack "Round Midnight" and "The Other Side of Round Midnight" under Gordon's name)....more info
  • Real emotions from real characters
    This touching and realistic movie is quietly dedicated to jazz pianist Bud Powell and saxophonnist Lester Young (both expatiriates who lived in Paris) on whose life the character of "Dale Turner," the saxophonist, is based. The character of Dale Turner, a jazzman in his last days, is played by Dexter Gordon, a jazzman soon to die of throat cancer. Dexter Gordon, a real-life expatriot jazzman who spent much of his playing years in Denmark, deservedly received an academy award nomination for his moving portrayal based on not only a real life story but people and settings with which he was personally familiar. In many ways it is the story of all three musicians, Gordon, Powell and Young. But even more it is based on a fine book on the life of Bud Powell by the young Frenchman who befriended him (which I cannot put my hands on right now). It's as close to truth as you can come. By the way, Dexter played Montreux the next year and while he sounds fragile in the film, he play with great strength....more info
  • Nice Story Even For Non-Jazz Fans
    This is jazz-fan's delight: tons of jazz, featuring tenor saxophone with some bebop thrown in. Most of the music is nice mellow stuff and interesting to hear, even to a non-jazz buff like me.

    The music and interesting story made me purchase the DVD, which I have subsequently watched few a couple of times. The story is pretty laid-back, a simple tale of an American alcoholic sax great playing in France who reforms because of a French fan who cares about him.

    Dexter Gordon's unique voice makes helps him become an interesting character to hear and the real-life jazz great proves to be a decent actor, too. Francois Cluzet plays the admirer who goes out of his way to help his idol. Gabrielle Haker is pleasant to watch as Cluzet's young daughter. She always seems to have a pleasant smile on her face.

    I don't why this film was rated "R" because there is no sex, no nudity, little profanity except for several "mf's," which must be the reason for the rating. Nevertheless, it's a pretty tame movie.

    Even though the story is a bit slow and would probably bore the heck out of most young people today, I found it entertaining and definitely different. It's just a nice, gentle story, whether you are a fan of jazz or not.
    ...more info
  • The Best
    This is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Wish I could get it on DVD for my collection. If you've seen it once, you will watch it again and again....more info
  • For the record.......
    Lester Young never lived in France. Lester's last gig was in Paris but he never lived there.

    Powell, on the other hand, spent years overseas playing.

    Great movie, definitely based on the lives of Powell and Young. Gordon was brilliant in this movie. ...more info
  • Lush Life
    Round Midnight captures the life of a jazz musician perfectly. The late nights, fighting the post partum emptiness that follows a gig, the struggle to survive and keep one's body and soul together, the comeraderie that exists between the musicians. Everything was flawless.

    Dexter Gordon's performance was breathtaking. Here is everything every jazz musician faces, every demon that must be conqured.

    The music is a world in itself. The masters themselves playing their own music.

    The Francois character had his own demons too. He abandoned his wife, and nearly abandoned his daughter, to chase his own muse that came to him in the form of the music and the people who played it. He took Gordon's character in so that he could repay the debt. And yet there was always an area of the musician's world he could only look at and never enter. He was an outsider that had been accepted by that tribe because of his love for one of their own. But he would never be one of them.

    The movie is sad and joyful, tragic and beautiful, desolate and bountiful. ...more info
  • Happiness is a nice, wet, Rico reed.
    Some movies are meant to entertain, others are meant to be thoughtful. Yes, this movie moves slow, but I think that it's meant to mimic the pace of our own daily experiences. Dale and Francois are meant to be, perhaps, uncomfortably real, hence they each have their disturbing flaws. (Incidently, I don't count Dexter Gordon's voice as a flaw... it came with the great musician. Get over it.) Still, I found myself endeared to both. Lots of metaphores thorughout the movie between music, music making and living. The music is great, if not something of an anachronism. There are many scenes that seem unecessary, but I think they are unexplained elements that are, perhaps, meant for us to interpret for ourselves. This move is constructed differently than most, so I urge you not to apply the same criteria you would other movies. It's like looking at a painting for a long time and coming away with your own meaning. Probably the most artistic movie in my collection to date....more info
  • 'Round Midnight's cool stuff and real too
    I watched this movie about a hundred times because I love jazz and love melancholy movies. It is one of the most bittersweet tales I know. It is not mushy sentimentality and it is not depressing to the max. If we look back at our lives what does it really count is the gist of the story. That applies to everyone. We all have some form of angst and we all have moments of ennui and melange. It is what we do with the rest of the time that counts. How have you left your mark?...more info