Saturday, June 16, 2007

Chet in Rep

At one point in Bruce Weber’s documentary Let’s Get Lost, Diane Vavra, Chet Baker’s on-again-off-again lover recounts falling for the trumpeter player after talking to him for twenty seconds. Viewers of the film now screening in repertory at the Film Forum however, may find Baker harder to like after spending two hours with him.

Let’s Get Lost is something of an iconic work in its own right. The long out-of-print VHS edition has been a hard target grail quest for many collectors. As visually compelling as Lost is, it does not necessarily burnish Baker’s reputation. Weber seems to take exquisite pleasure in contrasting the early matinee idol Baker with the craggy, not-long-for-the-world Baker of the late 1980’s.

Baker’s infamous drug addiction clearly took a toll on the man and his music. Far more troubling though are his abusive relationships with women, particularly Vavra. Watching Lost, it seems the great “what if” question of jazz, would be what would have happened had Baker stayed with Halema, wife number two, immortalized by William Claxton on the cover of My Funny Valentine. Biographers have suggested she was the closest thing to the love of his life, and in Lost, he seems to look even more distant when discussing her. Unfortunately, their marriage would not survive the chaos of Baker’s notorious stint in Italy.

Let’s Get Lost is a love letter to a junkie—a musician who, though erratic in his later years, could still summon wonderful music on a good night. It’s a fascinating film in its way. Film Forum is currently showing it suburban multiplex style on multiple screens. It’s definitely worth checking out there and hopefully it will make its way to other repertory theaters across the country.