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'Lost' traces jazz legend's shocking descent
A stark documentary paints a tragic portrait of Chet Baker and the effects of excess.
By Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
"Let's Get Lost," Bruce Weber's haunting documentary about legendary jazz musician Chet Baker, first came out in 1989 and hasn't been easy to catch since. Now reissued in 35 millimeter, the film looks like a pristine time-capsule -- both of Baker's midcentury heyday and his late '80s decline -- partly thanks to Jeff Preiss' luminous, black-and-white cinematography, which seems to eliminate the distance between the decades.
Told mostly through interviews with family members, wives, ex-wives and girlfriends, children and collaborators, people he inspired and people he betrayed, "Let's Get Lost" avoids the usual clichés of the biopic by resisting the urge to impose logic or extrapolate lessons from it. Baker may be a classic example of the "lost youth" or "beautiful loser" of his era, a man with remarkable gifts and little regard for them, and his story may follow a familiar arc of youthful success leading to excess and an early, steep decline (Baker leaves the usual trail of broken hearts and disappointed children), but it also provides unintended insight into the way charisma attracts a steadfast devotion that it doesn't necessarily warrant, deserve or ask for.
Weber and his crew followed Baker from West to East Coast, and then on to Europe, where Baker would die soon afterward after falling from an Amsterdam hotel room balcony. In early scenes, Baker is shot cruising around and hanging out on the beach in Santa Monica with young, '80s-style lounge lizards, sandwiched between young women in beat-poet drag -- the charismatic idol as decrepit old man, surrounded by young hipster throwbacks. As Weber explains in the production notes, however, the beach shoot was a reflection of how Baker felt about himself. He saw himself as eternally young, fixed in time.
Photographer William Claxton talks about feeling like he "discovered" Baker after shooting his first photos of him, like he understood what charisma meant for the first time. Dick Bock, who founded Pacific Records, describes Baker's music as sounding like "the history of jazz." The images of a frail Baker (only 58) are a shocking contrast to the footage of him as a young James Dean lookalike, yet they are both such powerful and indelible alternate realities that it's hard to say which one wins out. Illusion and disillusionment entwine through the film like twin helixes, weaving a dreamy, free-form look at his life and legacy.
"Let's Get Lost." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 2 hours. At Landmark's Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.
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