By Don Simpson | December 20, 2013
Director: Bruce Weber
Originally released in 1989 – at which time the dirt on the West Coast “cool” jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker’s (born Chesney Henry Baker Jr.) grave was still relatively fresh (Baker died in Amsterdam in May 1988) – Bruce Weber’s documentary goes to exasperating lengths to legitimize the legend of Baker’s natural musical talent and iconically hip ba-da-be-bop coolness. Let’s Get Lost also chooses to focus on Baker’s soft and subtle singing voice that is awkwardly affected by a slurring lisp and tendency to slide ever-so-slightly off-key. In comparison to the maestria of his pitch-perfect trumpeting, it is compelling to me that so many people (including Weber) consider Baker’s vocal performances as equally important as his trumpeting.
By no means a traditional biography, Weber creates a visual poem set to a soundtrack of Baker’s tunes. Weber’s highly artistic and severely contrasted black and white footage (skillfully lensed by Jeff Preiss) captures Baker during his final recording sessions and various manufactured scenarios, all of which showcase Baker’s enthralling effect upon those around him. Several shots feature the harshly aged — yet, only in his late 50s — and drug ravaged Baker riding in the backseat of a convertible with a hot babe in each arm; other scenes show Baker vocally interpolating classic jazz tunes while frolicking on the beach alongside an intimate group of twenty-somethings. All the while, the toothless (due to a San Francisco barroom brawl in 1966) and severely weathered (yes, hard drugs really are bad for your complexion) Baker is barely recognizable to any of those who were once enamored by the innocence of his youthful James Dean-esque beauty. Additionally, historical footage – comprised of classic still photographs of Baker (shot by William Claxton) as well as vintage television footage (including The Steve Allen Show) and cinema clips (including All the Fine Young Cannibals, a 1960 film in which Robert Wagner plays Chad Bixby, the Chet Baker-inspired lead) and Urlatori alla sbarra (an Italian B-movie which featured Baker) – supplement Weber’s own visuals rather than provide much historical significance or meaning.
A free jazz-esque, haphazard sprinkling of interviews (consisting primarily of tall-tales by Baker, contemporaries, family, old friends and past lovers) provides intriguing yet disturbing examples of the inherent evil lingering beneath Baker’s cool beat-ific demeanor. Time and time again, Baker’s keen ability to lull those around him into an unsuspecting trance is fully utilized by him to manipulate and take advantage of his prey (including Weber, who reveals himself as Baker’s #1 fan). Baker may have made majestic music and all that jazz, but he was still a conniving jerk and hopeless smack addict — even Baker’s own mother chokes up when asked if she could be proud of her son (hint: she can’t). Regardless, Let’s Get Lost is an entrancing documentary that serves as a fitting tribute to Baker’s musical legacy, but it is moments like these that I wish I knew nothing about Baker’s ugly personal history.
Let’s Get Lost was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 1989 (the Oscar was won by Marcel Ophüls for Hôtel Terminus) and now the recently revitalized film has been released on DVD thanks to Docurama Films. Let’s Get Lost is also part of Docurama’s Bruce Weber: The Film Collection box set.