'Round Midnight (1986)

R | 131 mins | Drama | 3 October 1986

Director:

Bertrand Tavernier

Producer:

Irwin Winkler

Cinematographer:

Bruno de Keyzer

Editor:

Armand Psenny

Production Designer:

Alexandre Trauner

Production Companies:

Warner Bros. Pictures , Little Bear , PECF
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HISTORY

As noted in a 20 Sep 1986 Screen International article, French director Bertrand Tavernier became a jazz aficionado in his youth, and was concerned by the ways in which Hollywood studios historically documented jazz music and its players on film. Although jazz originated in African American culture, movies about the genre always centered on white musicians, while black artists such as Louis Armstrong were always presented in supporting roles to white performers. In addition, Tavernier believed it was impossible to capture the improvisational quality of jazz with non-musician actors. Upon seeing a photograph of saxophonist Lester Young, who died at age forty-nine from alcoholism after a long stint as an expatriate in Paris, France, Tavernier decided to loosely base the film on Young, and “the last months in the life of a jazz musician.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Tavernier and co-writer David Rayfiel began the script with two musician protagonists, but the similarity in perspective did not result in enough dramatic tension. Looking for an alternate narrative, the writers considered a James Jones story about a blacklisted American musician in Paris who befriended jazz artists such as Django Reinhardt. However, the weighty blacklist issue overshadowed the jazz theme, and the film became too political. Around that time, Tavernier consulted with graphic designer-writer Francis Paudras, who had a vast knowledge of jazz expatriates in France, and learned about Paudras’s friendship with pianist Bud Powell. Paudras explained that he stood outside Parisian clubs in the rain to listen to Powell perform when he did not have enough money for admission. Moved by Paudras’s dedication, Tavernier ... More Less

As noted in a 20 Sep 1986 Screen International article, French director Bertrand Tavernier became a jazz aficionado in his youth, and was concerned by the ways in which Hollywood studios historically documented jazz music and its players on film. Although jazz originated in African American culture, movies about the genre always centered on white musicians, while black artists such as Louis Armstrong were always presented in supporting roles to white performers. In addition, Tavernier believed it was impossible to capture the improvisational quality of jazz with non-musician actors. Upon seeing a photograph of saxophonist Lester Young, who died at age forty-nine from alcoholism after a long stint as an expatriate in Paris, France, Tavernier decided to loosely base the film on Young, and “the last months in the life of a jazz musician.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Tavernier and co-writer David Rayfiel began the script with two musician protagonists, but the similarity in perspective did not result in enough dramatic tension. Looking for an alternate narrative, the writers considered a James Jones story about a blacklisted American musician in Paris who befriended jazz artists such as Django Reinhardt. However, the weighty blacklist issue overshadowed the jazz theme, and the film became too political. Around that time, Tavernier consulted with graphic designer-writer Francis Paudras, who had a vast knowledge of jazz expatriates in France, and learned about Paudras’s friendship with pianist Bud Powell. Paudras explained that he stood outside Parisian clubs in the rain to listen to Powell perform when he did not have enough money for admission. Moved by Paudras’s dedication, Tavernier transformed the script to reflect his story.
       While developing the screenplay, Tavernier described the project to fellow filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who in turn pitched the film to Irwin Winkler, his producer on New York, New York (1977, see entry) and Raging Bull (1980, see entry). Within several days, Winkler agreed to produce ’Round Midnight. According to an 11 Jul 1985 DV article, Winkler became involved with the production approximately two years before filming began on 1 Jul 1985, and funding came from Tavernier’s production company, Little Bear, as well as from the film’s distributor, the Warner Bros. French production affiliate, Production et Edition Cinematographique Francaise (PECF).
       With financing in place, and half the screenplay completed, Tavernier began searching for a jazz musician to perform the lead role of “Dale Turner,” a composite of Lester Young and Bud Powell. Upon viewing home movies of jazz performers, Tavernier became intent on hiring saxophonist Dexter Gordon, even though Gordon had been missing for several years, and many presumed he was dead from alcoholism. Five weeks later, however, pianist Henri Renaud located Gordon in New York City. Although Gordon had performed uncredited bit roles in Unchained (1955, see entry) and I Love, You Love (1962, see entry), ’Round Midnight marked his first major role in a feature film.
       As noted in a 21 Apr 1985 Chicago Tribune article, Gordon recorded a session with Bud Powell in 1963 when they were both in Paris. Powell had been plagued by mental illness for many years, and was playing by instinct and memory, but critics lauded Gordon for bringing out the best of Powell.
       According to production notes, Gordon contributed to the development of his character in ’Round Midnight and wrote dialogue including the thematic line “Do you like basketball?” which was repeated throughout the film. Bertrand Tavernier’s wife, Colo Tavernier, reportedly co-wrote the French dialogue and re-wrote scenes with “Francis Borier” and his estranged wife, “Sylvie,” but Colo is not credited onscreen as a writer. She does receive acknowledgement for the script’s French translation.
       On 20 Jun 1985, DV announced that principal photography was set to begin on 1 Jul 1985 with a $3 million budget, and the 11 Jul 1985 DV confirmed that filming was underway at Studios d’Épinay in Paris. As stated in a 6 Oct 1985 Chicago Tribune article, the film was shot almost entirely on set, where Paris’s “Blue Note” club, and New York City’s “Birdland,” were recreated. Exteriors for the Blue Note were shifted from its actual location on Rue d’Artois to the intersection of Rue de Buci and Rue de Seine in the Left Bank to enhance its visual appeal. Nearly two months into production, a 28 Aug 1985 Var news item reported that Martin Scorsese was recently in Paris for three days to perform his role of “Goodley,” and the production had since moved to Travernier’s hometown of Lyon to shoot exteriors. The crew was scheduled to relocate to New York City on 16 Sep 1985 for a final week of production, but Dexter Gordon was hospitalized for abdominal pain and the shooting schedule was pushed back one week, according to a 25 Sep 1985 DV brief. Filming was set to resume on 30 Sep 1985 at LaGuardia Airport. As noted in a 23 Oct 1986 HR article, all music performances were filmed live, and were not overdubbed in the final cut.
       The last name of jazz drummer Charles Bellonzi is misspelled “Belonzi” in end credits.
       ’Round Midnight was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Actor in a Leading Role (Dexter Gordon), and won an Academy Award for Music (Original Score).
       Opening credits state: “Inspired by incidents in the lives of Francis Paudras & Bud Powell.”
       The film concludes with the following written statement: “This film is respectfully dedicated to Bud Powell and Lester Young.”
       End credits contain the acknowledgements: “Special thanks to: Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cuscuna, and Doctor Alain Leroux,” and, “The producers would like to thank: The municipality and the people of Lyon for their enthusiastic cooperation; the Mayor’s Office of Motion Picture and Television N.Y.; Tennessee Film Commission; Sea Wall Associates; Lissac; Avis; Sodame-Brandt; Pan Am; Pianos Hanlet S.A.; Rainbow Concerts Lyon; SM France; Selmer.” The film was shot at: “Studio: Etablissements Cinematographiques Éclair; auditoriums: Paris-Studios-Billancourt, Studio Philippe Sarde.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
21 Apr 1985
Section 13, p. 31.
Chicago Tribune
6 Oct 1985
Section 13, p. 8.
Daily Variety
20 Jun 1985.
---
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1985.
---
Daily Variety
25 Sep 1985.
---
Daily Variety
21 Apr 1986
p. 3, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Sep 1986
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1986.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Oct 1986
p. 1, 8.
New York Times
30 Sep 1986
p. 11.
Screen International
20 Sep 1986.
---
Variety
28 Aug 1985.
---
Variety
16 Apr 1986
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. presents
An Irwin Winkler production
A Bertrand Tavernier film
PECF-Little Bear production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr, New York crew
1st asst dir, New York crew
2d asst dir, New York crew
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still cam
Op 2d cam
Addl still cam
Key grip
2d asst cam, New York crew
Gaffer, New York crew
Key grip, New York crew
Grip, New York crew
Filmed in
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Art dir, New York crew
FILM EDITORS
Apprentice cutter
Apprentice cutter
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Prop master
Asst prop master
Set coord, New York crew
COSTUMES
Ward asst
Ward consultant, New York crew
Dexter Gordon's cost by
MUSIC
Mus comp, arr and cond by
Mus coord
Mus consultant
Assoc mus consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and opt eff
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
French translation
Casting dir
Accountant
Accountant asst
Unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod secy
Asst to the prod
Asst to the prod
Asst to Amanda MacKey
Loc mgr, New York crew
Prod office coord, New York crew
Laboratory
SOURCES
SONGS
“’Round Midnight,” written by Thelonious Monk, Cootie Williams, and Bernie Hanighen, performed by Bobby McFerrin
“As Time Goes By,” written by Herman Hupfeld
“Society Red,” written by Dexter Gordon
+
SONGS
“’Round Midnight,” written by Thelonious Monk, Cootie Williams, and Bernie Hanighen, performed by Bobby McFerrin
“As Time Goes By,” written by Herman Hupfeld
“Society Red,” written by Dexter Gordon
“Fairweather,” written by Kenny Dorham, performed by Chet Baker
“Now’s The Time,” written by Charlie Parker
“Una Noche Con Francis,” written by Bud Powell
“Autumn In New York,” written by Vernon Duke
“Minuit Aux Champs Elysees,” written by Henri Renaud
“Body And Soul,” written by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton, and Johnny Green
“I Cover The Waterfront,” written by Edward Heyman and Johnny Green, performed by Guy Marchand
“Watermelon Man,” written by Herbie Hancock
“The Peacocks,” written by Johnny Rowles
“It’s Only A Paper Moon,” written by Billy Rose, E. Y. Harburg, and Harold Arlen
“Tivoli,” written by Dexter Gordon
“How Long Has This Been Going On?,” written by Ira Gershwin and George Gershwin, performed by Lonette McKee, also performed by Jimmy Gourley
“Put It Right Here,” written by Bessie Smith, performed by Sandra Reaves-Phillips
“Rhythm-A-Ning,” written by Thelonious Monk
“I Love Paris,” written by Cole Porter
“I Love A Party,” written by Herbie Hancock and Chan Parker
“What Is This Thing Called Love?,” written by Cole Porter, performed by Bobby McFerrin
“Chan’s Song (Never Said),” written by Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder, performed by Bobby McFerrin.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 October 1986
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival screening: 30 September 1986
New York opening: week of 30 September 1986
Los Angeles opening: 17 October 1986
Production Date:
1 July -- early October 1985
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 January 1987
Copyright Number:
PA314221
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastmancolor film Kodak-Pathe
Prints
magnetic tape Agfa-Gevaert
Duration(in mins):
131
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
France, United States
Languages:
French, English
PCA No:
28315
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1959 New York City, “bebop” jazz saxophonist Dale Turner struggles with alcoholism and poverty in a ramshackle hotel room. To save his own life and revitalize his career, Dale travels to Paris, France, and performs nightly at the Blue Note club under the close supervision of his domineering lady friend, “Buttercup.” The two inhabit a dilapidated hostel with other jazz musicians. Although Dale’s condition remains frail, he plays for hours on end at the Blue Note, unaware that his biggest fan, Francis Borier, is listening from the street because he cannot afford admission. Dale does not wish to remain sober, but Buttercup forbids the Blue Note to supply him with alcohol. When a bartender refuses service, Dale walks outside and meets Francis, who is eager to take him to another club for a drink. At the bar, Dale is pleased by Francis’s flattery, but even more impressed when the young man promises to buy a second round. Since Francis cannot afford entry at the Blue Note, Dale sneaks him inside to ensure he will be provided alcohol during his next set. As Buttercup scowls with indignation, Francis revels in his hero’s performance and quietly disapproves when Buttercup collects Dale’s pay. Francis becomes a regular at the Blue Note, even though he is the sole caretaker of his young daughter, Berangere, whom he leaves home alone at night. In time, Francis realizes the severity of Dale’s illness and stops supporting his habit. One evening, Dale disappears from the Blue Note in search of alcohol and Francis finds him in police custody. Declaring Dale to be a genius, ... +


In 1959 New York City, “bebop” jazz saxophonist Dale Turner struggles with alcoholism and poverty in a ramshackle hotel room. To save his own life and revitalize his career, Dale travels to Paris, France, and performs nightly at the Blue Note club under the close supervision of his domineering lady friend, “Buttercup.” The two inhabit a dilapidated hostel with other jazz musicians. Although Dale’s condition remains frail, he plays for hours on end at the Blue Note, unaware that his biggest fan, Francis Borier, is listening from the street because he cannot afford admission. Dale does not wish to remain sober, but Buttercup forbids the Blue Note to supply him with alcohol. When a bartender refuses service, Dale walks outside and meets Francis, who is eager to take him to another club for a drink. At the bar, Dale is pleased by Francis’s flattery, but even more impressed when the young man promises to buy a second round. Since Francis cannot afford entry at the Blue Note, Dale sneaks him inside to ensure he will be provided alcohol during his next set. As Buttercup scowls with indignation, Francis revels in his hero’s performance and quietly disapproves when Buttercup collects Dale’s pay. Francis becomes a regular at the Blue Note, even though he is the sole caretaker of his young daughter, Berangere, whom he leaves home alone at night. In time, Francis realizes the severity of Dale’s illness and stops supporting his habit. One evening, Dale disappears from the Blue Note in search of alcohol and Francis finds him in police custody. Declaring Dale to be a genius, Francis scolds the officers for their disrespect and takes the saxophonist back to the hotel, begging him to get sober and live up to his potential. However, Dale is helpless to overcome his addiction. When he is hospitalized, Francis comes to his rescue and he moves Dale into his one-room apartment. There, Dale befriends Francis’s daughter, Berangere, as Francis works overtime as a graphic artist to support his new dependent. Unable to furnish the deposit for a larger apartment, Francis asks his estranged wife, Sylvie, for a loan, explaining he is indebted to Dale because his music is inspirational. Sylvie laments that Francis never expressed such passion about their relationship, but she is moved by his benevolence and gives him enough money for a bigger home. Despite the move, Dale’s wellbeing continues to suffer, and he goes missing yet again. Francis finds him at a sanitarium and brings him back into his care. Regaining strength, Dale demands a new contract at Blue Note, under which he is to be paid before each show, and he is delighted by a surprise visit from singer Darcey Leigh, who joins his band at the Blue Note. Dale later records an album at Davout Studio under Francis’s supervision. During one session, Sylvie visits the sound stage to recoup her loan from Francis and make amends, but the young man is preoccupied with Dale and misses the opportunity to reconcile. On a visit to Francis’s family home in Lyon, France, Dale announces his decision to return to New York City, but Francis does not wish to separate and travels with Dale as his manager. Arriving at LaGuardia Airport, the two are greeted by the owner of the Birdland jazz club and are chauffeured by taxi back to Dale’s run-down hotel room. Dale’s homecoming is marked with nightly performances at Birdland and a brief reunion with his daughter, Chan. However, he remains frail and at risk of relapse. When Dale is courted by a former drug dealer, Francis buys two return tickets to Paris, but Dale fails to meet him at the airport. Back in Paris, Francis regrets leaving his friend and receives a telegram with news of Dale’s passing. Although Dale died in relative anonymity, his legacy flourishes over the next few years and he is commemorated at a sold-out concert. Francis recalls how Dale wished to live long enough to see proper memorials for jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young. He believed these men deserved to have city squares and parks named in their honor. As Dale advocated for jazz pioneers, he defaulted to his signature self-deprecating humor and humbly proposed a street named “Dale" in his honor. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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