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DVD: Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960)
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New Yorker Video
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1 (NTSC)

March 14, 2000



Genre: Documentary / Jazz  
Impressionistic, improvised documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.  



Directed by:

Bert Stern
Screenplay by: Albert D'Annibale, Arnold Perl
Music by: various
Produced by: Bert Stern

Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Gerry Mulligan, Dinah Washington, Chico Hamilton, Anita O'Day, George Shearing, Jimmy Guiffre, Chuck Berry, Jack Teagarden, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Sonny Stitt, Eli's Chosen Six, David Bailey, Danny Barcelona, Bob Brookmeyer, Buck Clayton, Bill Crow, Eric Dolphy, Art Farmer, Terry Gibbs, Urbie Green, Henry Grimes, Jim Hall, Max Roach, and Sal Salvador.

Film Length: 82 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.33:1
Anamorphic DVD: No
Languages:  Re-chaneled English Dolby 5.1
Special Features :  

Making-of Featurette: A Summer's Day with Bert Stern (29:18) with 4 outtakes viewable with onscreen icon or in Short Cuts section / Production Notes by Bert Stern / Separate jump-to Chapter, Live performance, and Reflections indexes / Text Essays on Jazz on Film, The Impossible, The Festival Playlist, and The America's Cup.

Comments :

Bert Stern's lauded documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival re-appeared after a long absence from any screens on the A&E network during the late 1980s, and a soundtrack album culled from the film soundtrack later appeared as a standalone CD on an import Charly CD, but it took a few more years before the film finally made it to DVD.

New Yorker's transfer is made from a very lovely print, richly saturated in pastel primary colours, and aside from some minor scuff and nicks, this is the definitive transfer of the film right now.

In the DVD's making-of featurette, Stern starts off by admitting he wanted to make a film before the age of 30 - a kind of in-thing among working stills and commercial photographers, who figured filmmaking was the next natural creative leap when fashion models, bottles of vodka, album covers, and publicity shoots would become tiresome.

Stern paid for the film from his ongoing stills work, and he had permission from the festival organizers to shoot select musicians over a weekend with a skeleton crew. The featurette is a mix of slow-paced audio interview material with Stern, production stills, and some lengthy music extracts from the film which pad the featurette longer than it needs to be.

A lot of ground is covered, and despite some minor repetition, Stern addresses all aspects of the shoot, including his fleeting decision to abort, and his first move to construct a film script. Lamenting the failed efforts, Stern concedes the first effort just didn't work, so he went for an improve story, which he describes in the making-of featurette as "a love story, about a little boy who lived [in Newport ]," and the people in the area who attend the festival, "but it didn't have conflict enough, and wasn't a real script." Stern's next idea was to have a fictional love story interwoven between a couple that attend the festival, but the rehearsals killed the spontaneity and 'passion' among the two actors.

Stern also found himself becoming quickly excited by the live performances & the charisma and energy from the musicians, and he began to shoot improv footage and colourful cutaways - like seagull against a blue sky, candid audience shots of various couples (including integrated members in what was then a still racially segregated America), the America's Cup yacht race, and surreal water reflections that formed much of the film's amazing opening titles.

Columbia Records bigwig George Avakian functioned as musical director, and helped select and clear songs, while brother Aram Avakian, an experienced editor, helped coordinate the cameras (sometimes up to five), and made sure the footage gelled into some kind of festive narrative.

"The movie is a photography film; the story was built in" says Stern, and he admits to being surprised at the film's beauty, which 'jumped off the screen' with its vivid, high contrast and impressionistic use of primary colours, which he chose to give the festival a classier sheen than the more "tacky" setting.

Indeed, the sequences at night are the most gorgeous, as Avakian's cutting adds brief and long cutaways to swinging audiences and pretty girls, and Stern's deliberate custom lighting design and filming into the lights give the film a glossy sheen. Long takes with the Chico hamilton Quintet, Gerry Mulligan, and Louis Armstrong are major highlights, largely because Stern insisted on capturing intimate musician glances, nods, and the all-around glee from a groovin' audience.

Stern also clarifies the contributions of himself and the Avakians, as a peculiar controversy developed as to who exactly directed the film, which has some reference books and databases (like the IMDB) citing Aram Avakian as co-director. (Aram Avakian later edited a few prominent features, including Lilith, The Miracle Worker, and the insane Mickey One, before directing a handful of films.)

Why didn't Stern make another movie?

"In '59 I was a photographer, and I decided that making movies was a very difficult and painful process," so Stern chose to stick with stills photography, going on to capture some amazing images for commercial projects, promotional campaigns, and portraiture - like the famous Marilyn Monroe session, and the iconic publicity shoot for Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version of Lolita.

Stern's friendship with Kubrick went back to their early days as photographers, around the time when Kubrick had directed his first feature film, Fear and Desire, and the featurette has four short outtakes of interview material, accessible via a projector icon. The topics are Stern's Lolita publicity shoot; on acquiring doc footage as a war photographer; using Chico Hamilton in the film like a 'leading man'; and a quote from Aram Avakian on cutting film in marathon sessions at Stern's studio.

New Yorker's DVD also adds some text notes, including a roster of the Jazz festival that's jaw-dropping for the legendary names that played in Newport that week. The DVD also has separate indexed performances, but the DVD's design offers a very confusing split between featurette and feature film, with extras sub-categorized and sometimes replicating links when one straight chapter or scene index would have done the job.

Just as confusing is a section called Short Curs, which has Live Performances (basically the film's chapter indexes), and Reflections. The latter are brief unrelated quotes from the film's famous musicians.

The original film was released in mono, and the DVD contains only a Dolby 5.1 tweak, and while not a bad pseudo-stereo mix, New Yorker should have included the original mono track so viewers could choose between the echoey 5.1 and more bass-friendly, warmer mono mix that was only retained on the European DVD, via Charly/Snapper Music (reviewed HERE).


© 2006 Mark R. Hasan

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