Louis is a new silent film about Louis Armstrong. It is directed by Dan Pritzker (a rock musician and the 246th richest man in America, no less), photographed by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, and stars Anthony Coleman, Jackie Earle Haley and Shanti Lowry. Being a silent film in form as well as spirit, it requires live musical accompaniment, and the film premieres in five US cities this August with music provided by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, pianist Cecile Licad and a 10-piece all-star jazz ensemble. The music will be a mixture of a Marsalis score primarily comprising his own compositions, and Licad playing the music of 19th century American composer Louis Gottschalk. Marsalis says of the experience:
The idea of accompanying a silent film telling a mythical tale of a young Louis Armstrong was appealing to me. Of course, calling it a silent film is a misnomer – there will be plenty of music, and jazz is like a conversation between the players so there’ll be no shortage of dialogue.
The film’s website supplies this plot summary:
LOUIS is an homage to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, beautiful women and the birth of American music. The grand Storyville bordellos, alleys and cemeteries of 1907 New Orleans provide a backdrop of lust, blood and magic for 6 year old Louis (Anthony Coleman) as he navigates the colorful intricacies of life in the city. Young Louis’s dreams of playing the trumpet are interrupted by a chance meeting with a beautiful and vulnerable girl named Grace (Lowry) and her baby, Jasmine. Haley, in a performance reminiscent of the great comic stars of the silent screen, plays the evil Judge Perry who is determined not to let Jasmine’s true heritage derail his candidacy for governor.
Pritzker was inspired to make Louis while he was working on a screenplay for a feature film about Buddy Bolden. He went to a screening of Chaplin’s City Lights with the Chicago Symphony, calling it “without a doubt the best movie experience I ever had”. He decided to produce a film that would follow on historically from where Bolden ended, and to make it in the early film style of Louis Armstrong’s childhood. His original idea to produce a short, black-and-white silent with Marsalis’ music to accompany Bolden, under the title The Great Observer, but the idea grew – and gained colour. Bolden, which is not a silent film, will be released in 2011.
Louis is playing at these American cities in August: