As “Let’s Get Lost” is finally released on DVD, we must ask ourselves if the chaos and confusion created by Bruce Weber doesn’t allow unprecedented understanding of the enigmatic jazz legend, Chet Baker.
As the nation faces another dubious and unpredictable British summer, Bruce Weber’s “Let’s Get Lost,” released on DVD on the 28th of July, brings a touch of the Santa Monica heat and dust to our eyes and ears. Originally released in 1988, “Let’s Get Lost” chronicles the life of Chet Baker, the famous and infamous West Coast trumpeter often cited as the founder of “cool jazz,” throughout his four-decade-spanning career, up until his untimely and enigmatic death in 1988. “Untimely” may well be the key word here as the dictums of Time and Age are rendered utterly irrelevant in this film. By jumping back and forth in time and space through images of Baker’s face, once youthful later wizened and ravaged, and interviews with fans, associates, ex-wives and children, we are drawn into the hazy unpredictability that pervades Chet Baker‘s life.
Through constant juxtaposition of vintage photographs by William Claxton and footage by Weber, we come to know the discordant sides of Baker that served as bookends to his life – struggling to enforce some kind of order as he moved from a youth hungry for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, to an adult hungry for heroin. The scrapbook style refutes all attempts at linear narration tracing one man’s decent from greatness to the gutter and back again, and leaves Baker’s story as fluid and changeable as ever. Depending on who you listen to, collaborators or ex-wives, Baker was a manipulative devil or a “Greek god.” In Weber’s own words, “Chet had sold his story countless times but no one ever owned Chet’s story,” so we can only accept all accounts as equally valid.
Indeed, it is the acceptance of the multiplicity of Chet Baker that renders him so interesting to this day when the cult of personality seems more important than ever. The images and recordings create a collage of Chet Bakers: a fresh-faced James Dean lookalike, personifying youth and vitality, his music epitomises the dusty, decaying romance of the West Coast as recorded by John Fante and Jack Kerouac. One moment he’s an army recruit, as clean-cut as a young Elvis, the next we hear he was a reprobate signed-up by his parents in an effort to save him from himself. He’s a star on the award-winning Steve Allen Show and a cameo in a low-budget Italian film rolled into one.
First, he’s on a stage in front of screaming fans, then he’s toothless and dirty, pumping gas at a seven-eleven…but then he’s back again, transformed-he‘s shed his skin. Try to keep up. As though by way of explanation, Weber sets the variety show to a backing of Baker’s angelic voice, jarred by images of his impossibly lined face, singing “how strange the change from major to minor.” The thing for which we must be most grateful is that though he did indeed fall from major to minor, he ultimately managed to climb back up to major, remaining to this day one of the most compelling musicians of our time.
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