Released in theaters on May 3, “Bolden” is more inspired imagining than biopic – partly because of the limited documentation available about a man who many music historians consider the pioneer of jazz. Executive produced and with music written and performed by the legendary Wynton Marsalis, “Bolden” depicts the life of cornetist Charles “Buddy” Bolden in moments of poverty, hope, creativity and tragedy.
Told in a non-linear fashion, the film opens with Bolden (Gary Carr) in the Louisiana State Insane Asylum (where he was admitted at age 30 for life due to schizophrenia) listening to a live radio program featuring current popular artist Louis Armstrong, played magnificently by Reno Wilson, whose show is juxtaposed throughout the story as he dedicates it to Bolden as the first “King of New Orleans Music.” The audience follows the memories, comprised of both fact and fiction, of the titular character’s life as he listens in and reminisces.
Rounding out the major cast is Yaya DaCosta (Chicago Med, The Butler) as Bolden’s wife Nora, Erik LaRay Harvey (Proud Mary, Luke Cage) as his questionable manager Bartley, Karimah Westbrook (All American, Suburbicon) as his mother Alice, Ian McShane (American Gods, Hellboy) as Judge Perry, Michael Rooker (True Detective, Guardians of the Galaxy) as Perry’s enforcer Pat McMurphy, and Robert Ri’chard (The Rich and The Ruthless, Chocolate City) as fellow artist and clarinetist George Baquet.
The film’s cinematography is as rich and vibrant as the soundtrack, but I was disoriented by the fragmented storytelling and the quick jumps from scene to scene throughout. However, after coming into the movie without any knowledge of the subject, I left inspired to research Bolden and learn more about his life.
A passion project for director Dan Pritzker, who also wrote the screenplay, it should be noted that “Bolden” was 12 years in the making with several rewrites, recasts and reshoots before the final product was released – which may or may not have contributed to the film’s splintered approach.
Again, the movie has inspired me to do more research on the life of Buddy Bolden and I definitely want to check out Pritzker’s 2010 film about the late Louis Armstrong “Louis,” which originally was made as a companion piece to “Bolden” if it was completed earlier.
A colorful film with great music and cinematography, but choppy storytelling with dizzying direction, I would rate “Bolden” 2 and 1/2 beats on the MMTrometer and highly encourage anyone who is supporting to find it in theaters soon before it leaves – because I have a feeling it won’t stay long.
Until next thought, Thomasena