“Rewind & Play”, disturbing documentary about pianist Thelonious Monk – rts.ch
In his new film, Alain Gomis carries out an original approach: that of presenting the rushes – namely the unused images – of an interview carried out in 1969 with the legendary American jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. The situation is severe for the media.
After several fiction films, “Today” (2013) and “Félicité” (2017), director Alain Gomis had the idea of making a biopic on one of the great names in jazz, Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) , partner of Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins. To this end, he contacted the INA – the national audiovisual institute – to obtain “Jazz Portrait”, a program produced in 1969 by French television on the virtuoso pianist. He not only receives the broadcast, but also all of the rushes, that is to say all the images that have not been broadcast.
This is how “Rewind & Play” was born, a documentary that allows you to discover the musical universe of the American jazzman, but also how certain media of the time treated their guests, all the more so they were black.
Two worlds that don’t understand each other
In December 1969, Thelonious Monk went to Paris for a concert. A few hours earlier, he was interviewed by French television, by presenter Henri Renaud, also a musician. Throughout the interview, Henri Renaud tries to ask questions and Thelonious Monk answers them tersely. The malaise is omnipresent on both sides.
The climax of the interview is reached when Henri Renaud asks the pianist if he remembers his first visit to Paris during a concert in 1954. The presenter wants Thelonious Monk to recognize that his music was too avant-garde for the public of the time, and, as a result, unwelcome. For his part, the jazzman replies that he had a lot of trouble finding musicians to accompany him and that his cachet was far too low. Henri Renaud wants to erase this part of the interview on the grounds that “it’s not nice”, but also derogatory for the organizer of the concert.
>> To see: the documentary “Rewind & Play”
An aesthetic documentary
“Rewind & Play” is not just a criticism of the way the media formats the words of their guests. The documentary is also intercut with pieces of music played by Thelonious Monk throughout his interview. The shots made by the cameras of the time are very beautiful. We see the hands of the pianist, the sweat running down his forehead, the glasses of alcohol that follow one another and his bewildered look, a little distant. And to remember that in the 1970s, cigarettes were ubiquitous.
A small downside all the same: the lack of contextualization of the documentary. The images and shots follow one another without any external comment or perspective, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation on the viewer’s side.
Web adaptation: Sarah Clement
“Rewind & Play”, by Alain Gomis can be seen at the City Club Pully on January 21, 2023 at 7 p.m. (followed by a concert by the Louis Matute Large Ensemble). Otherwise, the film can be seen in French cinemas or on Arte TV.