While I have more than a passing knowledge of most of the jazz canon from the 1950s to the 1980s, I never became much of a Chet Baker fan. While I listened to his work with Gerry Mulligan, there was something about the . . . well . . . the lyricism of much of his playing that didn’t appeal to me. Indeed, I always had something of an unearned snotty attitude about west coast jazz. Nonetheless, it was with some excitement that I went to see the “revival” of Let’s Get Lost, the 1988 Bruce Weber documentary. Evidently, in anticipation of a new print going to DVD for the first time this year, the film is making its rounds at art film houses, and it arrived in Nashville just this week.
My reactions to the film were wildly different than I had expected. I had read that the film provided a poignant portrait of Baker, counterposing images of Baker as a young James Dean with a trumpet with contemporary (1987) images of an older Baker, ragged from a lifetime overuse of speedballs and alcohol. While some question the veracity of the film’s narrative (i.e., the film makes it seem as if Baker’s life was in complete decline while, according to some accounts, his career was on something of a late upswing in the mid 80s), the accuracy of the narrative—hell, Baker himself--was the least of my concerns as I sat in the theater shaken by the awful physical transformation one sees between the young and older versions of him.