Preview: Paris Blues at Reel Islington Festival 2nd March

Selwyn Harris writes:

The theme of this year’s Reel Islington Film Festival is ‘Home is where I Want to Be’.

When the jazz programmer for the festival Kathianne Hingwan approached me to take part, I needed to find a film that fit the bill. I recently released a 5-CD box set French New Wave on my label Jazz on Film Records but nothing on it struck me as appropriate. But then a more mainstream Hollywood melodrama Paris Blues (1961) came to mind, with a Duke Ellington score that was released on a Jazz on Film 5-CD set Beat, Square & Cool my previous release in the series. It fit the bill perfectly. The young French New wave affiliated directors such as Roger Vadim, Jean Luc Godard and Louis Malle hung out on the Paris jazz scene and would hire both ex-patriot and regular touring African American and native jazz stars to underscore their films.

Paris Blues sets about telling the musicians’ story. Set in Paris, two American expat jazz musicians played by Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier fall in love with a pair of American tourists having to choose between returning home or remaining in a city that offers each of them personal and artistic freedoms. The story unfolds against a backdrop of drugs and romance. It’s a Hollywood romantic melodrama unlike another well known film set in a similar period in Paris, Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight (1986), starring Dexter Gordon (based partly on the life of an ex pat Bud Powell) , which captures more a sense of realism and authenticity, ‘French New Wave’ style.

Yet still Paris Blues manages to address some of the racial issues at the time. The expression ‘Home is where I Want to Be’ makes perfect sense when we think about Sidney Poitier’s character. He is typical of the ex-pat African-American jazz musician that saw Paris as a sanctuary both artistically and from the perspective of the prejudice and segregation he had faced in his homeland.

The added enjoyment is Duke Ellington’s music, his second major feature film score and there’s a memorable cameo from Louis Armstrong. The way fictional feature films portray the ‘jazz life’ has become an outworn cliché, but Paris Blues was daring for its time.


On Sunday 2nd of March at 4:15pm at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Rd , as part of the Reel Islington Film Festival.

After the film, there will be a set by gypsy ensemble Trio Manouche featuring Simon Harris (guitar/vocals), Ducato Pietrowski (guitar), and Nic Pini (bass).

16:15 – 18:30 FILM  £5/£2.50

18:30 – 20:00 TRIO MANOUCHE  £3/£1.50


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