Table of Content
I. General Information
II. Genre Categorization
III. Structure and Look
IV. Social Objects
IV.II Cultural Differences
IV.III Racism and Openness
V. Relation between Music and Story
In this work I would like to give an insight into the movie Bring on the Night. The paper will start with general information about the movie and a short description of the plot. Furthermore it will try to categorize the film to a specific genre. A description of how the movie is shot follows. Additionally, the focus will be on social matters considering Jazz and the relation between the music and the content of the movie.
I. General Information
Bring on the Night is a film about the Pop musician Sting who is working on forming a Jazz band and preparing for a concert in France. The movie gives insights into the daily life of a busy musician, containing rehearsals and song-writing, but is also focused on the background of the musicians and the relationship between them. The movie won a Grammy award.
It is the year 1985 and Sting has just released his first solo record after he has left the Rock band The Police. Though Sting made already experiences with Jazz music, the public was quite surprised by his plans to form a Jazz band called The Blue Turtles. The members of the band are all famous musicians who have partly worked with legends from the history of Jazz:
Branford Marsalis plays the Saxophone and has already worked with Art Blakey, Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis, Clark Terry and with his famous brother Wynton Marsalis, of course. Omar Hakim was previously the drummer of the famous fusion band Weather Report. Darryl Jones was bass player with Miles Davis.
Kenny Kirkland played keyboard with Wynton Marsalis , Dizzie Gillespie and Elvin Jones. Kirkland died a couple of years ago. Singer Janice Pendarvis has already worked with contemporary classical composer Philip Glass. She has also worked with Lourie Anderson, Roberta Flack and Peter Tosh. Singer Dolette McDonald has worked with Sting’s old band The Police and additionally with Talking Heads and Laurie Andrews.
II. Genre Categorization
The movie Bring on the Night is a quite unusual movie, because it can not be categorized within the traditional movie genres. What the movie shows is a documentation of true events, but they way how it is presented gives the impression of a fictitious story. It appears like a mixture of classic documentary and featured movie elements. There are several reasons for the supposition that this movie can not be considered as an ordinary documentary, as we will see in the following.
First of all, the word “documentary” does not even appear on the DVD cover. It seems as if the viewer should already get an impression of how unusual the movie is by looking at the cover. A sentence written on the cover tries to indicate the content of a story. It says “The story is, he risks it all on a dream” (Bring on the Night, 1985). Normally, documentaries do not contain a story due to the fact that they document events in a chronologically way. This are signs external from the movie itself that should already convey the existence of s story inside the movie
Michael Apted was the director of Bring on the Night. His most famous movies Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist are both featured films, but he had also done documentaries before. So he was familiar with both categories. In the director’s notes he explains the approach to the movie. The beginning quote “Films move in mysterious ways” (ibid. 1985) reflects already how the movie will unfold to the viewer. It is both foreshadowing and descriptive to the film.
Further, he refers to the movie Birdy which contains a soundtrack by famous Rock experimentalist Peter Gabriel. Birdy itself, is a featured movie produced by David Manson, who was then responsible for producing Bring on the Night. So the people working on the movie came from a more story orientated direction, which explains or indicates why the movie is made the way it is.
Additionally, Apted describes in his notes why Sting had chosen him to be the director of the film. “He liked that I’d done movies and documentaries, because he wanted a bit of both - to document the birth of the band and find a story to tell it.” (ibid. 1985). This statement shows that the movie did not became a mixture of genres accidentally, but intentionally.
III. Structure and Look
In order to make the film different from ordinary documentaries it had to be shot and cut in specific manners. Usual documentaries show specific events in a chronological order and supply the viewer with a variety of information. Bring on the Night is built up in a different way. All of the information is taken from the interviews with the people appearing in the movie. There is no voiceover that explains structures or supplies the viewer with any kind of information.
The movie starts with short takes from lively places in Paris. It introduces the viewer to the setting and conveys that some happening is about to begin. The quality of the shots and the way how they are done immediately hit the eye, because they look like scenes from a featured film and not like a documentary movie. The credits with the introduction of the names support the impression that this movie is not a documentary. Just like the names of actors are the names of the musicians displayed, while the camera moves into the castle where the band is rehearsing. The cuts are faster now and the perspective is changed very often to capture the action of a band playing together. No wide shots are made; the camera shows the direct view on the musicians. This arouses the impression to the viewer to be inside the action and to experience the music right from the centre of it.
In the following take the viewer is taken to a press conference, where he gets familiar with the main characters of the film, the members of the Jazz band. It is also introduced what is about to happen trough the entire of the story and the viewer gets a taste of the things to come. Above all, because of Sting’s statement: „What the film is actually about is the formation of this group. It’s about musicians from different areas, forming a common language” (ibid. 1985). Additionally, it is the first time the viewer is confronted with one problem occurring in the movie: the scepticism of the public towards the project.
The succession of the scenes is created in an entertaining way and conveys the telling of a story, because the order is not chronological. Interviews in the style of talking heads take turn with scenes from the song-writing process or other takes. So mostly there are three different plot-like sequences that push the story forward, just like in a featured movie or a television series.
IV. Social Objects
Jazz itself becomes an issue in the movie. The connection of Sting’s songs with The Blue Turtles means a strong crossover between Jazz, as part of the American high culture, and Pop music, belonging to what is called low culture. Keyboarder Kenny Kirkland tells: “Some real purists, some Jazz people, don’t like the idea of us doing this.” (ibid. 1985). Though all members of The Blue Turtles band are excellent and virtuous musicians they show respect for Sting’s work and abilities and see a chance to open up new musical possibilities within the project.
Due to the fact that the project is a musical crossover between Jazz and Pop, some sacrifices have to be made to create a sound which is bearable, both to the Pop and the Jazz audiences. One typical and very important Jazz element is the improvisation where players can express their feelings completely spontaneously and can loos their play from given notes and schemes. Players can move their solo into several ways and can try different approaches trough countless repetitions of verses or choruses. This principle does not work for a Pop audience, because they are used to hear shorter songs which have a kind of drive right from the beginning. A long soloing instrumental part is boring to people who are used to traditional Pop. So the players of The Blue Turtles had to restrict their improvisation and soloing to a certain part given in the song. To a Jazz musician this must have meant a strong reducing of expressing creativity. Additionally, the whole process of improvisation reflects a part of the American attitude to life. Especially, people from the black parts of the society had to do a lot of improvisation when they were disadvantaged by the majority. Therefore, improvisation has a totally different importance to black American Jazz musicians. The only song in the movie that features a longer improvisation part by Branford Marsalis is called A Children’s Crusade, but even this song is finished after five minutes.
Another aspect is mentioned by Branford Marsalis and considers the hard life as a beginning musician. He tells the viewer about his first tour he did at the age of 19 with Art Blakey. He had to play the baritone saxophone, which he actually hated, but he did it just to be able to tour with a famous musician. So he did frustrating work to get closer to his dream and to be able to play the instrument and the music he wants to play. He even could not afford the money to repair his baritone saxophone as it broke down in the middle of the tour and he had to fix it himself, what did not really work. Marsalis is visibly ashamed as he tells that he had to record with his half destroyed instrument. These are the sad problems of nearly all musicians, not only of Jazz musicians. Marsalis later adds: “I play Jazz. I know what it’s like to be shot on. […] I’m a Jazz musician. I know what it’s like to play stuff that nobody wants to hear” (ibid. 1985).
IV.II Cultural Differences
Branford Marsalis describes the intercultural differences between Sting and himself, since Sting is from England and a multimillionaire and Marsalis from New Orleans and not approximately that rich. For Marsalis, the barrier inside the band was not that much because of the different races, but a problem because of the social and cultural differences. He explains that there are regional differences even inside the black community and that he has problems with expression made by people from Philadelphia for example and the other way round. He moreover retells a situation when Sting was offended by a comment of Marsalis which was actually thought as a compliment. This shows how much the differences extend and even aggravate the cooperation inside the band.
The next cut takes the viewer back to the rehearsals at the castle and shows the complete opposite of the issue. Marsalis tells his love for the cartoon “The Flintstones” and alleges Sting has to know it, too. “All British people know the Flintstones” (ibid. 1985). They break off in a musical jam-session and play the theme from the cartoon series. Director Michael Apted shows both, the differences and the common between the different cultures. The members of the band are somehow separated, because of their origins and their colloquiums. But Adept gives a strong contrast immediately after the problem was described by Branford Marsalis. In this case they share the knowledge of a famous cartoon and they are connected through the music, the theme song of the series. In addition, the Flintstones theme is a nice example for musical intertextuality. Further, it reflects the joy of the band for making music even beyond the borders of Jazz and shows their ability for spontaneous musical expression.