"Is he cute?"
"No, but you'll dig 'em."
These words are spoken to Chan (soon-to-be) Parker by a club manager in reference to a hot new headliner about to play the club by the name of Charlie Parker. They reflect Chan's feelings towards the man she married as well as his music, and if I may make a stretch, they also reflect the film's sentiments towards Parker, in a film that loves him warts and all. Bird is a loving biopic brought to the screen and directed by Clint Eastwood, a lifelong jazz lover and musician himself, and this can be seen as a postcard to the music he loves so much. Through jumps in time from the past to the present, the film follows Charles "Yardbird" Parker from his struggles growing up in Kansas City to his coming of age, moving to New York and achieving greatness as a jazz saxophonist with a gift for improvisation, during the 40s and 50s. During his triumphs, he also meets his wife, struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, and battles depression and mental illness. By the time of his death in 1955 at the age of 34, the coroner assumed his age to be 65 from the appearance of his worn out face. Forest Whitaker gives a virtuoso performance as the jazzman, portraying him as a sad figure who speaks intelligently and doesn't seem to enjoy any of the vices in which he partakes. Diane Venora is spotty as his long suffering wife and seems to have trouble hitting notes sometimes while hitting them so well at other times. Bird is a loving portrait of a great musician that tends to get sidetracked. Replete with great music and complete songs, something rare in pictures, Bird is an ambitious and engrossing, if overlong, biopic.
Here are two song clips, one from the film, the other from a live session with Parker in 1953: