Cynics would argue the strong correlation between alcohol, drugs, and music. It’s hard to deny a link, but alcohol and drug abuse affects non-musicians, too. Recently, two high-profile films helped reintroduce two big music stars (Ray Charles with Ray and Johnny Cash with Walk The Line) and retell their stories to another generation of fans.
But like other musicians (including many unknown ones), their lives and careers were slowed down, ruined, or cut short repeatedly or prematurely in tales of booze, pills, pipes, and syringes.
Bird recounts the life and death of legendary saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker (played by Forest Whitaker), which unfortunately doesn’t mirror the happier endings of Ray or Walk The Line. Clint Eastwood directs with the uneasy task of balancing Yardbird’s musical talent, accomplishments, and love for Chan (Diane Venora) and his children with the knowledge (shouldn’t be a spoiler) that his inability to rid himself of his addictions would take him so soon.
Eastwood walks that thin line between celebrating the artist without promoting his rise to stardom enough to influence others to repeat the past. However sympathetic they are to Parker’s demons or inspired by his abilities, neither Eastwood nor Whitaker glamorizes him for a moment, careful to paint Parker — good and bad — as Parker was.
In true Eastwood style, Bird is dark, even in daylight. Whitaker gives a fine performance as the troubled jazz musician who could never help himself despite many forebodings, many second chances, many loving friends, and a truly devoted family.
Could Parker have been saved? There’s a scene where Parker and Chan finish talking in Chan’s “suicide room” that answers that question. As they are opening up their inner selves to each another, Chan says to Parker, “If you and me got together… uh-uh.” She knows what she’s getting into, and she says yes anyway.
A shot of a drum cymbal crashing to the ground recurs throughout the movie, initially as a way to signal a then-ignorant Parker to stop playing but later comes to represent the fact that Parker won’t stop because any part of Parker is every part. You either get all of him or none of him.
In the most revealing scene, Parker lashes out at Red Rodney (Michael Zelniker) as Red is prepping himself for a hit, even though Rodney was only doing so to emulate his idol Parker. Parker resigns himself to the consequences of his actions only when they affect him, but he’ll be damned if he’ll watch someone follow that same road he traveled down.
The DVD’s extras include a music-only audio track (which is the movie with just the music and no dialogue), filmographies for the main actors and crew, a theatrical trailer, and a separate six-track CD sampler of Parker tunes.