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Arts & Culture

Let's Get Lost (re-release)

Weber takes the title for his film from the Chet Baker album that changed his life when he picked it up as a teenager in Pittsburgh. So began a decades-long obsession with Baker’s life and career. Weber came to make this documentary because he was a fan (investing his own money in the making of the film). But such adoration doesn’t always make for the best perspective in a documentary. The portrait can be too flattering or too gushing. But Weber finds the perfect balance of awe and honesty, showing us what seduced him as well as what existed behind the mesmerizing and iconic image.

For the film, Weber gathers an intriguing assortment of people who seem as bewitched by Baker as he is. From people Baker worked with to the women he loved, Weber interviews them all and weaves an absorbing portrait of a man consumed by his art. The film traces Baker’s career from the 1950s, when he was playing with jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan, up into the 1980s, when he had become ravaged by drugs. Weber show us the striking contrast between the young, beautiful Baker -- who brought together James Dean’s cool with Jack Kerouac’s beat sensibilities in one stunning package --  and an older Baker who seemed to be ransacked by time and hard living.

One od William Claxton's photos of Chet Baker (William Claxton/Little Bear/Film Forum)


Let’s Get Lost begins in Santa Monica, near the end of Baker’s life, and closes with the Cannes Film Festival. In between we’re treated to amazing black and white footage of Baker along with interviews and archive materials. One of the highlights of the film is photographer William Claxton talking about his first photos of Baker back in 1953. These images helped to create the iconic image of Baker. As Claxton recalls the photo shoot and the way Baker seduced the camera, Weber and his director of photography Jeff Preiss employ a creative visual approach to animate the still images. Claxton’s descriptions combined with the gorgeous black and white images bring us back to that moment when the camera seemed to discover Baker and revel in his youthful beauty. These images are full of energy and promise, and the sequence feels almost intoxicating as it unfolds.

Weber, who is probably better known for his Calvin Klein ads, knows male beauty when he sees it. He also knows how to employ iconic images like the one of Baker riding in a convertible with two beautiful women. He makes a wise choice to let Preiss shoot in lush, moody black and white. Preiss’ camera is often in motion whether handheld or in fluid pans and tracking shots that allow the film to have the free flowing feel of a jazz improvisation. These images, combined with Baker’s music, create the kind of visual riffs that perfectly reflect Baker’s life and work. There’s an aching and tragic romance to these visuals that simply hold you rapt.

Chet Baker (Little Bear/Film Forum)

Weber captures the myth but also the sometimes unpleasant reality behind it. There’s a tragic downward spiral into drug addiction and a series of failed marriages. One woman recalls how Baker could lie and manipulate people but she still seems enamoured with the man. In an interview, Weber summed up the feeling people had toward Baker later in his life: “We wanted to save him… But he really didn’t want to be saved.” On May 13, 1988, just before Let’s Get Lost was to be released, Chet Baker died mysteriously in a fall from a second-floor window in an Amsterdam hotel. The film serves as a breathtaking document of his life and art. It’s rare that a film so perfectly captures its subject and finds a cinematic language so adept at translating that life to the screen.

Let's Get Lost (unrated) is a rapturous film that manages to be both breahtakingly romantic and clear-eyed.


Companion viewing: Rebel Without a Cause, Howlers of the Dock (starring Baker and directed by Lucio Fulci), The Beat Generation