Let's Get Lost
Gets Found Again
Let's Get Lost
a film by Bruce Weber
1988, 119 minutes, b&w
Pratt celebrates Jazz Heritage Month with Bruce Weber’s obscure, darkly romantic portrait of drug-ravaged trumpeter Chet Baker that Village Voice critic Jim Ridley called “The Death of the Cool. Shot as the vinyl LP was nearing the off ramp to oblivion, as rap and MTV were shoving jazz even farther to the margins, Let's Get Lost stands as a gorgeous gravestone for the Beat Generation's legacy of beautiful-loser chic…Baker, a practiced manipulator, comes across as not only an addict but an addiction: As his torch-singer ex Ruth Young tartly puts it, ‘It took me about 20 minutes to get hooked.’ For first-time viewers of Weber's entrancing after-hours mood piece, it won't take nearly that long.”- Let's Get Lost flyer (April 11, 2009)I screened Bruce Weber's 1988 Chet Baker documentary Let's Get Lost this past Saturday at the Enoch Pratt Central Library and it was easily my favorite film screening since I started doing this six years ago. Of all the rare films I've programmed at the Pratt, this was probably the rarest - despite an anticipated DVD release in the UK this year, Let's Get Lost remains a lost film, a few scant used copies floating around here and there, and only on VHS. Even the local film lover's sanctum sanctorum, Baltimore's Video Americain, only has an old video copy (that's probably a copy of the British PAL release), and which is so coveted that they used to require a $150 dollar security deposit to rent it. And while the audience turnout, roughly about 45 people, didn't approach such capacity seat-fillers as the 3-D films we screened here two summers ago, the audience feedback was probably the best I've ever had. People loved it and came up to me afterwards and thanked me for screening it. And not just jazz die-hards, but just everyday good film lovers. One of them asked me if the soundtrack was available; alas, like the film it also remains an obscure object of desire for Baker fans. I scored mine over 10 years ago at a used record store in College Park; currently used copies of Chet Baker Sings and Plays from the Film "Let's Get Lost" (originally released on Novus Records in 1989 and then reissued in 1992) go for anywhere from $10 to $40.
On a personal note, the film even rekindled memories of how I first discovered Chet Baker, back when I was working at Video Americain in the early '90s (luckily, management waived the $150 deposit for staff renting Weber's film!) and still getting over a girl I was keen on who had moved away. Ever the drama queen, I remember tormenting myself thinking about her every night as I played Chet crooning "The Touch Of Your Lips" (perhaps the saddest song in his back catalog, even more so than "My Funny Valenine") over and over again. No one enunciated the ache in heartache better than Chet with his wan, world-weary voice and lonely trumpet fills.
It's funny how syncronicity works because right after screening this Bruce Webber labor of love (the fashion photographer-turned-film director financed this documentary with approximately $1 million dollars out of his own pocket and released it through his company Little Bear), I found myself watching a Pet Shop Boys documentary on cable TV's Logo channel - Pet Shop Boys: A Life In Pop (a one-hour edited-for-TV version of George Scott's 142-minute 2006 UK documentary for Channel 4, of which a 175-minute DVD version now exists as well) - that featured Bruce Weber talking about his music videos for PSB.
Pet Shop Boys: A Life In Pop
It made sense that Weber would work for PSB because, despite that fact that he's a heterosexual photog (married to agent Nan Bush) Weber's black-and-white oeuvre is indisputably homoerotic in context, which would seem to auger well for Pet Shop Boys. In fact, Weber was approached to direct the music video for PSB's "Domino Dancing" but had to turn it down because he was working on Let's Get Lost at the time.
"Domino Dancing" (directed by Eric Watson)
Of course "Domino Dancing" (the 6th of 11 videos directed by PSB collaborator Eric Watson) became famous as the video whose homoerotic imagery caused an anti-gay backlash against the Pet Shop Boys in America. One can only imagine what Weber would have done with the song (he probably would have made it in black-and-white for one thing), especially given the extremely homoerotic first video he directed for them, "Being Boring" (from PSB's Great Leap Forward album Behavior).
Still from "Being Boring"
Europeans didn't seem to care whether pop was black or white or gay or straight (of course racism on the football pitch is another matter!), but in the USA radio stations stopped playing PSB except on niche dance programs. Add to that the rise of Seattle grunge thanks to Nirvana in the early '90s and, well, PSB took a drop in radio play here on this side of the pond, which was sad because they were only getting better. As one critic says in the doc, Newcastle's Neil Tenant and Blackpool's Chris Lowe are arguably the heirs apparent to Lennon-McCartney as the greatest Brit pop songwriters of their generation, the Gilbert & Sullivan of Dance Music. (Irony of Ironies: Right before seeing A Life In Pop, I watched some "History of Heavy Metal" special on VH1, wherein it was explained that Judas Priest's transformation from long-haired frilly-shirted rockers into studs-and-chrome Hellbent For Leather boys - and their subsequent success around the time of the British Steel album - came from singer Rob Halford's image makeover that borrowed heavily from gay/S&M fashion. Priest embraces Queer Gear and enjoys subsequent chart success and adoration from its predominantly hetero headbanging fans, while the Pet Shop Boys anticipate Calvin Klein underwear ads with the buff bare-chested boys in "Domino Dancing" and get ostracized from the airwaves; go figure.)
Of course, my fave PSB viddy remains "Flamboyant," if only for name-checking designer Issey Mayake (OK, and I love all the footage from Japanese TV shows!):
PSB are so "Flamboyant"!
Oh, best line in the PSB doc was singer Robbie Williams commenting on the anti-gay backlash, "Are they gay?" and giggling.
OK, right after watching the Pet Shop Boys doc I watched Logo's Freddie Mercury: Magic Remixed (2006) documentary. And there was Robbie Williams again commenting, this time about the man he called his greatest influence ("Freddie," he said at one point,"If you ever want to channel your work through someone, give me an album! Or even a middle eight!"). I know nothing about Robbie Williams, but I think this back-to-back exposure to his insights means I will have to correct that omission (glaring omission - I mean, he's sold more albums in the UK than any other British solo artist in history, won more BRIT Awards than any other artist to date and sold 55 million records worldwide...that's more than Home Shopping Network guitarist Esteban!) and check him out.
Bruce Weber Links:
Bruce Weber (Internet Movie DataBase)
Bruce Weber (Wikipedia)
Let's Get Lost (Wikipedia)