Film: Pleasures of Being Out of Step, The (2013)

May 19, 2014 | By


PleasuresBeingOutStep_posterFilm: Very Good

Transfer: n/a  / Extras: n/a

Label: n/a

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Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / Biography / Jazz / Politics

Synopsis: Slightly anarchic but detailed chronicle of jazz and Civil Rights journalist Nat Hentoff.

Special Features:  n/a  




Veteran journalist David L. Lewis makes his feature-length debut with this extensive documentary on Nat Hentoff, a journalist known primarily for his dual outlets – an astute writer of jazz, defender of the First Amendment and combatant against social injustice, and pro-life activist.

Beginning in radio and print as a commentator, writer, and interview of some of jazz’ greatest artists, Hentoff quickly became known for his articles and lengthy LP liner notes which treated jazz musicians as composers and innovators. His writing also attracted the attention of those he chronicled, partly because his prose and dissection of each track transcended the ‘sophomoric’ pablum of ‘moldy figs’ – banal critical assessments lacking insight and depth.

Hentoff established friendships with figures such as Charles Mingus, eventually setting up his own label – Candid – and during its brief 2-year period, issued about 40 albums by a diversity of artists wanting to break the form and the commercial sounds preferred (imposed) by the major labels. Hentoff was also a consultant (and was on set) during the taping of “The Sound of Jazz”, that classic 1957 live TV episode of The Seven Lively Arts where a who’s who of musicians appeared, including Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins, and more.

Hentoff’s championing of black artists also let to investigative pieces and interviews on social struggles, and during the Civil Rights protests of sixties and early seventies, he wrote pieces on Malcolm X (who also became a friend) and the Black Panthers. Champion , provocateur, debater, and defender of the disenfranchised, Hentoff’s ongoing career in his eighties has had its own peaks and valleys, including severed relationships with colleagues, and being fired by the Village Voice after being among its main columnists for decades.

Director Lewis recently published an oral (print) history version derived from his extensive research, and Pleasures is a companion piece with the filmed and edited interviews layered with a multitude of rare stills, film clips, and classic jazz music, but the doc’s design is a little divisive, especially to those expecting a formal doc that moves chronologically from his life with jazz to politics. Lewis’ approach could be seen as jumbled – there’s no order or flow between past and present, politics and jazz – but it’s also reflective of Hentoff’s life which frequently jumped between numerous writing subjects. The Civil Rights movements were in part tied to the efforts of jazz men and women seeking mainstream work and exposure in a racist era, but there are times when the transitions feel like smash cuts.

Fade-outs tend to signal time shifts, as do the slow fade-ups to stills or footage of a jazz artist with music playing underneath. The tactic works, but there are junctures when there’s  a bizarre leap back to chapter in Hentoff’s life that should’ve appeared much earlier (like an interview with Hentoff’s sister, who in tandem with Hentoff, recalls the deaths of their parents. Her existence may have been buried among the plethora of interviews in the film’s first two-thirds, but the likely reaction among viewers so late in the film is ‘He had a sister?’).

Lewis’ approach may also be an editorial tactic to ensure the film wasn’t bisected into jazz and politics, segregating the two halves of Hentoff and diluting his character. Even with its structural flaws (Lewis may simply have been saddled with too much material ), there’s a lot of solid info in Pleasures, not to mention the rare film clips, and excellent main and end title design that evoke the sleek, minimalist designs of classic Blue Note album covers.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
IMDB — Film Website — TJFF 2014 Listing
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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