Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Django (talent v. genius)

I promise to stop with the YouTube videos--in fact, I promise to avoid the site entirely, after watching a scary video last night of a live cockroach strapped into a robotic wheelchair--but this was too magical to sidestep. It's the only decent film I've ever seen of Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. The opening sequence, staged in what's supposed to be the dressing room, is delicious: the two stars warm up while the journeymen play cards. There's enough cigarette smoke in the room to give the Surgeon General a conniption fit. Stephane Grappelli looks sleek and unflappable, while the guitarist resembles William Powell with an extra jowl or two. Suddenly the camera cuts straight to a live performance, with Django's face deep in the shadows and his mutilated fretting hand shooting up and down the neck. They're performing "J'Attendrai" ("I Will Wait"), and I'd give my eyeteeth to be one of the journeymen chunking away in the background:

What the clip confirms for me, by the way, is that Grappelli and Reinhardt really do occupy the distant poles of talent and genius. The violinist is a suave and sweeping player, absolutely consistent--too consistent, you might say, which is what enabled him to make the same album over and over during the final decades of his life. Cutting his Gallic capers and always nudging the melody forward, he swings like few of his peers on the instrument. His goal, an honorable one, is to make the audience happy. Reinhardt has something else in mind--what John Berryman called "the ultimate crime: art, rime." He likes to accomplish the impossible, preferably every eight bars or so. (The rippling run at 2:52 is a perfect example, and that's with only two fingers. Imagine what the guy could have done with a fully operative pinky.) Grappelli makes you smile. Django, dematerializing the very instrument in his lap, makes you gasp.

Thanks for the link, and the description. I have a couple Django CDs. visuals are great.
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