Charlie 'Bird' Parker (Forest Whitaker) is taken to a mental asylum by his wife Chan (Diane Venora) when he tries to commit suicide. The doctors want to give him shock therapy, but Chan tries to convince them that her husband is a great artist and not just another heroin addict. In flashback, we meet Bird as a young man and a budding saxophonist whose musical improvisation skills become legendary.
Review by Louise Keller:
The greatest strength of Clint Eastwood's bio-pic tribute to jazz saxophone great Charlie 'Bird' Parker, is its dark and haunting mood. The film won a handful of awards, including the 1989 Oscar for best sound and the best actor award at Cannes the year prior, for its star Forest Whitaker, whose performance as the genius musician with a drug addiction and mental anguish is phenomenal. Bird's story is a tragic one and Eastwood treats the subject matter a little like a music improvisation, dipping into Charlie Parker's life at different times. Much of the film is devoted to his addiction, but there is also plenty of jazz, exquisitely showcased, using original recordings that have been digitised and re-recorded. Bird's last wife Chan Parker, portrayed here by Diane Venora, acted as consultant on the film, so it is understandable that much of the story is told from her point of view.
Bird was Charlie Parker's nickname (an abbreviation for Yardbird) and this talented musician and key figure in the bebop scene made improvisation into an artform. Bird's suicide attempt in 1954 is shown towards the beginning of the film. He seemed to accept his addiction, yet battled hard to protect other musicians from getting hooked. When Bird met Chan, their relationship did not take hold for some time. 'You're not my type,' she tells him while he tells her how peaceful she makes him feel. I like the scene in which Bird is introduced on stage by a fictional saxophonist called Buster Franklin. When asked where he's from, Bird says he's 'from just around' which is how he is introduced. The next time they meet in a New York club, by which time Bird is flying high with records and fans everywhere, Franklin introduces him in exactly the same way, after which he tosses his own instrument into the river, as if to say 'What do I know about playing?'
Eastwood's love of jazz is well known and the meticulous way in which he has approached the subject matter shows his respect and admiration for the musician. Production design is exceptional, always dark and tinged with blue. Bird's story is not a happy one, but gives an insight into an extraordinary talent whose music we can enjoy forever. The film is dedicated to musicians everywhere.
Published June 12, 2008
Email this article
BIRD: DVD (M)
CAST: Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker, Samuel E. Wright, Keith David, Michael McGuire, James Handy, Damon Whitaker
PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCRIPT: Joel Oliansky
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jack N. Green
EDITOR: Joel Cox
MUSIC: Lennie Niehaus
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Edward C. Carfagno
RUNNING TIME: 154 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1:85:1
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: June 4, 2008
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.