Film Reviews, News & Competitions


Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Film Information

Plot: Featuring never-before-seen archival footage, studio outtakes and rare photos, this film tells the story of a truly singular talent and unpacks the music and the myth of the man behind the horn.
Release Date: Out Now
Format: Blu-ray | DVD
Director(s): Stanley Nelson Jr.
Cast: Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Jimmy Cobb
BBFC Certificate: 15
Running Time: 115 mins
Review By: Samuel Love
Film Rating


Bottom Line

Such an innovative pioneer and icon of pop culture deserves a film a little more adventurous than this cookie-cutter doc.

Posted September 7, 2020 by

Film Review

When it comes to music legends, they don’t come much cooler than Miles Davis. Among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music, Davis was long overdue for a comprehensive documentary – especially after Don Cheadle’s self-indulgent biopic Miles Ahead that fused fact and fantasy into a freewheeling mess.

Miles’ life and work is discussed here, mostly chronologically, in a by-the-book documentary that combines the usual talking heads with a voiceover track from actor Carl Lumley quoting from the subject’s acclaimed autobiography. Thankfully, director Stanley Nelson had access to a rather exhaustive range of archival photos, video and recordings, which presents a real treasure trove for fans of the trumpeter. But coming in at two hours, there is a feeling that Birth of the Cool begins to drag somewhat.

The film does often attempt to probe deeper, and present not just a film about Miles Davis but a film about what it means to be black in the USA – an approach confirmed by the director at a panel discussion following a UK screening of the film. Unfortunately, this leads Birth of the Cool to occasionally feel like it is dealing with issues that are much bigger than its reach. 

Still, the film devotes the majority of its runtime to the iconic subject, and it is here where the film is rather mediocre. While there’s no denying the immense quality of the wealth of footage and recordings presented throughout the film, the documentary’s structure and delivery is highly conventional and unimaginative throughout. Such an innovative pioneer and icon of pop culture deserves a film a little more adventurous than this cookie-cutter doc.

Samuel Love

Freelance writer. Email:


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