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Round Midnight

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Inside the Blue Note nightclub one night in 1959 Paris, an aged, ailing jazzman coaxes an eloquent wail from his tenor sax. Outside, a young Parisian too broke to buy a glass of wine strains to hear those notes. Soon they will form a friendship that sparks a final burst of genius in director Bertrand Tavernier


Like the music it celebrates, Round Midnight is long on atmosphere, short on formal structure, alert and open to improvisation, making this 1986 drama the most authentic glimpse of jazz yet filmed. Its subject, Dale Turner (played by Dexter Gordon), is a composite of brilliant but bruised jazz warriors who left America behind for self-imposed European exile, finding a more tolerant and appreciative audience while never completely eluding their private demons. Drugs and drink have battered the tall, laconic saxophonist, whose diffident, somewhat distracted manner only partly conceals a deeper exhaustion as he plays a 1959 engagement in a Parisian club and tries to stay sober. His burnished solos drift behind the tempo with a languor that can't be fully explained as a point of style. But when an ardent, impoverished French fan (François Cluzet) intercepts his idol and then offers him simple acts of kindness, the gesture inspires a brief but glowing second wind in the aging musician, reflected in his playing. Even as the film contemplates Turner's return to his homeland as a portent of his own death, his moments on the Parisian bandstand suggest a glimpse of redemption.

If Turner's frail character echoes real-life ex-pats like Bud Powell and Lester Young, director Bertrand Tavernier's insistence upon casting the role with veteran tenor player Dexter Gordon breathes startling authenticity into the figure. Gordon's own drug arrests and an extended idyll abroad give him direct access to Turner's isolation, and Tavernier elicits a natural but compelling performance that earned Gordon (who died in 1990) an Academy Award nomination. Likewise, the director cast his cinematic band with world-class musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter, and shot these sequences as live performances. Hancock's score deservedly won both British and American Academy Awards, as well as a French César. --Sam Sutherland

Special Features

  • Cast/Director Career Highlights

Product Details

  • Actors: Dexter Gordon, François Cluzet, Gabrielle Haker, Sandra Reaves-Phillips, Lonette McKee
  • Directors: Bertrand Tavernier
  • Writers: Bertrand Tavernier, Colo Tavernier, David Rayfiel
  • Producers: Irwin Winkler
  • Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, HiFi Sound, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Unknown)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: January 30, 2001
  • Run Time: 133 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000053V7O
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,861 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Round Midnight" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By William E Donoghue on December 30, 2000
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This touching and realistic movie is quietly dedicated to jazz pianist Bud Powell and saxophonnist Lester Young (both expatiriates who lived in Paris) on whose life the character of "Dale Turner," the saxophonist, is based. The character of Dale Turner, a jazzman in his last days, is played by Dexter Gordon, a jazzman soon to die of throat cancer. Dexter Gordon, a real-life expatriot jazzman who spent much of his playing years in Denmark, deservedly received an academy award nomination for his moving portrayal based on not only a real life story but people and settings with which he was personally familiar. In many ways it is the story of all three musicians, Gordon, Powell and Young. But even more it is based on a fine book on the life of Bud Powell by the young Frenchman who befriended him (which I cannot put my hands on right now). It's as close to truth as you can come. By the way, Dexter played Montreux the next year and while he sounds fragile in the film, he play with great strength.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Charles Andrews on September 16, 2001
Format: DVD
I find it curious that in all the reviews of "Round Midnight" that there is virtually no middle ground. People either loved the movie (most) while others hated it. I suspect those that didn't like the movie are devotees of fusion and fail to appreciate the jazz of the 1950's. Gordon while not the "topical" character of the film, lived this story as an expatriated saxphonist. He brings a reality to the picture that is lacking in similar ventures such as "Bird". While I think "Bird" is too an outstanding film, the reality of watching the music being created live is not there.
This film shames efforts like "Lady Sings the Blues" because of its stark reality. There is no glossing over and memorializing Dale Turner in the movie. He's there with all his warts for all the world to see. This wasn't a star vehicle like "Lady..." was for Ross. This may be the most honest film ever made.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Joe Pierre on November 17, 2005
Format: DVD
"Round Midnight" is a masterpiece of a film that portrays the life of a jazz musician on an extended residence in Paris in the 1950's whose struggle with alcoholism and abuse by his "handlers" invites the friendship of a young Frenchman who attempts to aid him in sobriety and salvation. The protagonist jazzman, "Dale Turner," was based on a composite of real-life jazz legends Lester Young (tenor sax) and the tortured and enigmatic Bud Powell (piano). In fact, while much of the film is fictionalized, much of it is drawn directly from the memoir/biography "Dance of the Infidels" written by Francis Paudras, who in real life befriended Bud Powell during his Parisian expatriate days and on whom the character "Francis" is based.

The tone of the film is wistful and tragic as it follows Turner's struggle as an artist creating incredible beauty but destroying himself with alcoholism, and the desperate attempts of his friend to save him (if you like happy stories over realism, stick to your standard Hollywood fare). Tavernier defied the movie studio by insisting that real-life jazz tenor sax great Dexter Gordon (who himself played with Bud Powell in Paris in the 50's) play the role of Turner (he also helped to revise and rewrite the script). Gordon has a soft, but gravelly voice that is difficult to understand on first listen, but his acting is top-notch (he is after all, playing someone he knew, as well as himself to some extent) and he nails one scene after another. He captures Turner's struggle with disillusionment, death, loneliness, paternalism, racism, and the constant pressure to create art to a T.

I don't think you need to like jazz to like this film, but it probably wouldn't hurt.
Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 28, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
With an all-star cast like Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock, along with many of their jazz colleagues, this movie is a realistic look at what many jazz musicians have had to go through. Countless musicians, like "Dale Turner" (Dexter Gordon) have had to deal with drugs, alcohol, discrimination and other problems. What makes this movie even better is the fact that real musicians are playing instead of just faking their instruments like in so many other movies. Herbie Hancock wrote an excellent score, and even stuck in his own "Watermelon Man" as background music in a bar scene. Other jazz greats like Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, etc. make cameos in the film. Dexter Gordon is excellent as the lead character. Highly recommended for any jazz fan who wants to see a movie with real musicians playing their instruments, and a lot of good music. "Syrupy jazz ballads" they may be, but I somehow don't think "Cherokee" or "Ornithology" would be appropriate here. A mellow film, mellow music, and loud and clear message that promotes respect for jazz and its many enduring musicians.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rick Mathis on May 5, 2001
Format: DVD
If you've ever been in a small, smoke filled club, oh, 'round about midnight, when the beauty of the jazz being played brings absolute tears to your eyes, well, you'll know why this film is so special. Jazz itself swims in the river of risk, and director Bertrand Tavernier jumps in feet first. Instead of using regular actors to play the parts of these creative people, he does it one better and uses the musicians themselves to tell the story. Starring the remarkable late tenorman Dexter Gordon, we follow the story of a 1950's american jazzman in Paris who is on the slow decline to destruction until he his befriended by a local fan, played wonderfully by Francois Cluzet. Dexter was not the only musician to grace the screen. Others such as Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, Billy Higgins, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and several others not only provided the music in the film but many played pivotal roles as well. This use of musician that have been there, done that brings a special "realness" that could never have come across by using regular actors. On a side note, this film was unique in quite another way. Almost all of the music that you see being performed in the movie was actually being played and recorded right on the stage. In nearly every other movie the music is rerecorded at a later date in order to take out any "mistakes". This just shows the lengths that director Tavernier was willing to go to bring the true spirit of jazz to the screen. In ending, this film, like jazz itself, will probably not be for everyone. However, if you pass up the chance to see this film you will miss the chance to add two hours of magic to your life!
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