Back in selected cinemas on the occasion of its 20th birthday, Bruce Weber’s Oscar-nominated documentary surveying the life and troubled times of jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker still looks immaculate in its almost piercingly sharp black and white. Visually, it’s an ingenious combination of fresh interviews with the ailing artist (Baker died four months before the film’s theatrical release) and contemporary footage; the scenes where Weber arranges stills from, for example, recording sessions so cleverly that you hardly realise you’re not watching moving pictures are stunning.
On the other hand, “Let’s Get Lost” is also one of the most profoundly infuriating films I’ve ever seen. The disgruntlement begins with the opening scene, where we follow a group of bohemian Jeff Buckley-lookalikes as they frolic across a Californian beach; with its barely audible dialogue it could be an outtake from an early Jim Jarmusch movie. Only when some of the protagonists turn up in Baker’s band does the scene acquire some retrospective purpose. There film also takes a frustratingly random approach to chronology, introducing us to Baker’s exes in an order that fractures the narrative, although it does heighten the tale’s “Rashomon”-like conflicting viewpoints. Baker himself seems like a reprehensible human being, condemned as a father, son, husband and lover, a vampiric junkie who gorged on the sympathy and affection of others.
In possibly the film’s most powerful moment, his mother, a lady who conclusively outshines her son in vitality (not that that would be hard, of course, given Chet’s ghostly appearance), is asked if he was a disappointment as a son: she ponders for a few seconds before answering with a resounding “Yes”.
Baker was also a musician, though; if he wasn’t, this film wouldn’t exist. I have to confess that it took some effort not to applaud following the live performance of Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” that appears towards the close of the film. But you have to ask, given the film’s physical and emotional body count, whether that’s really enough.