Django Reinhardt

King of Jazz Guitar

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Django Reinhardt was a major figure in jazz music, with a life that was very unusual and interesting. That would seem enough of a basis for an interesting documentary about his life, but this nearly two-hour DVD is far from satisfying. Many of the problems, frankly, are logistical: there's nothing in the way of vintage Reinhardt footage, and the narration is substandard in both sound quality and its stiff delivery, which borders on the unprofessional. And flaws in voice-over narration are a big problem in a documentary such as this one that relies upon it to deliver most of the information, vintage footage and talking heads being absent. At least many actual Reinhardt recordings are used on the soundtrack and discussed in detail. But in the absence of other visual stimuli, the accompanying graphics are merely cheap miniaturized facsimiles of early- to mid-20th century buildings and vehicles, close-up sequences of a hand on a guitar furiously mimicking Reinhardt's style, pictures and brief film clips of a few neighborhoods in which Reinhardt lived and worked, and a few old photos of Reinhardt and his accompanists (most notably St├ęphane Grappelli). Making it worse rather than better are numerous attempts to spice up the graphics by using dizzyingly rotating, spiraling, and flipping dissolves and images, many of which repeatedly show the same photo or guitar ad nauseum. The result is a film that's hard to retain concentration upon for its duration, such is the distastefully haphazard combination of tough-to-follow narration, seasickness-inducing visual effects, and sequences that are obviously stretched out beyond their natural limit in order to accommodate the Reinhardt records playing on the soundtrack. Through recordings and narration, the documentary does deliver the essential details of the guitarist's life, including his gypsy background, his impact upon American jazzmen like Duke Ellington, the unusual technique he devised using his only two mobile left-handed fingers, and his work with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. You'd be better advised, however, to read a good Reinhardt biography with the musician's recordings playing in the background. Minimal extras include a discography of five recommended Reinhardt albums and a (printed) discussion of Macaferri and Selmer model guitars.

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