There is a moment at the conclusion of “Let’s Get Lost,” Bruce Weber’s 1988 documentary, when legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker betrays a rare moment of honesty. When Baker learns in an interview that he’s secured a shipment of prescription painkillers from a doctor in Europe, the once-great artist looks with the pain of a mendicant in his eyes and says, “I didn’t know if I would make it through the week.”Screened for the first time in ten years this past weekend at the Brattle Theater, “Let’s Get Lost” uses photographs, interviews, and archived film footage to tell the story of Baker, from his meteoric rise to stardom to his tragic fall into addiction, obscurity, and an early grave. The film struggles, but ultimately succeeds brilliantly in weaving together the strands of a life torn asunder, and, even to the luxurious sounds of Baker’s own music, it is difficult to do anything but recoil at the portrait that Weber paints.As much as Baker’s music reveals about his natural ability and seraphic voice, it’s the photographs that tell the most about his success and decline. The film opens as a photographer sorts through stills of Baker in the studio, in his mid-1950s prime. He nostalgically recalls his innately photogenic presence, and he isn’t wrong. At 23, Baker was a jazz Adonis, with an air of mystery and rebellion not unlike James Dean. These images are hypnotic enough that as Weber cuts to footage of a considerably older man, the viewer can hardly believe that it is Baker himself, making the transition into the sordid tale of his undoing all the more chilling.The intervening years weren’t kind to Baker. The film juxtaposes those early photographs against a man whose charisma and talent concealed a monster that, by 1987, had all but swallowed him whole.As Baker dubiously recounts a 1966 encounter that resulted in the loss of most of his teeth, and the subsequent destruction of his embouchure, it is clear that Baker has slipped somewhat beyond reality into his own self-delusions. An addict for more than thirty years, he distantly recalls, at one point, the effect that a speedball (a mixture of cocaine and heroin) has on him, describing it as “a high that other people are afraid of.”Interviews with colleagues and former loves make him out to be a self-absorbed charmer, but there was no shortage of women willing to indulge Baker’s flaws to win his affection. His then-girlfriend guardedly recounts stories of abandonment and physical abuse, without even a hint that Baker would ever change or that she would leave him.But this type of blind devotion is how he survived. The interviews, mainly with Baker’s love interests, oscillate between fond recollections of dream-like bliss and spiteful, heartbreaking tales of deception, betrayal and apathy.And yet he remained a star, even at his lowest. The viewer finds the man utterly repugnant for what he has done to those who loved him and to himself. But even in his declining years there is an inexplicable quality to Baker’s persona that demands not only attention, but a perverse love. There is a foul, sour humor in one of Baker’s dope-fueled interviews, where he hesitates almost to the point of forgetfulness while trying to say the name of his son.Sitting between two fawning women in the back of a black convertible, cruising through a warm Santa Monica night, he is downright romantic, if not rather dejected looking. “Do you know who I am?” he asks a woman as she nuzzles him and kisses him on the cheek. When she responds in the negative, Baker replies, “How fortunate for you.” Powerful words from a man who knows himself too well.Despite Weber’s obvious fascination with the icon, the director brings the story to the screen with an almost cinéma-vérité ambivalence that allows the audience to draw its own conclusion, with a few major exceptions. While informative and revealing, the portions of the film devoted to his former girlfriend and his third wife are overlong and exhausting, betraying the continuity of the documentary as an objective analysis, and digressing into spiteful allegations directed in each other’s direction.Weber makes amends, however, with a moving conclusion devoted to one of Baker’s final performances, an ominous shadow of the man’s former greatness just before the end. Baker died the following year after falling from a hotel room in Amsterdam. “Let’s Get Lost” stands as a harrowing testament that, not unlike the man himself, forces the viewer past the flaws, into breathless captivity.—Staff writer Ryan J. Meehan can be reached at email@example.com.
Let's Get Lost
Directed by Bruce Weber (Little Bear) - 4.5 stars
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