Review of ‘Artie Shaw: Time is all you’ve got’: A lens on a jazz luminary

Documentarian Brigitte Berman has made two spectacular films about the pioneers of American jazz. The first, “Bix: ‘None of Them Play Like Him Still’” (1981), chronicles the life of the brilliant and tragically short-lived cornetist and composer Bix Beiderbecke. It was screened in a restoration at Film Forum a couple of years ago. Now, his follow-up to that film, “Artie Shaw: Time Is All You Have” (1985), is similarly restored and reserved at Film Forum.

Shaw, a clarinetist and conductor, was a Beiderbecke devotee and is interviewed in Berman’s film Beiderbecke. When Shaw first stepped away from music, at the beginning of what would be a long but self-cutting career in jazz, he attempted to write a novel about Bix. He couldn’t complete it, he says here, because the story had “depth and connotation that I wasn’t philosophically or mentally prepared to deal with.”

Shaw was not only a self-taught virtuoso but also often the smartest guy anywhere he found himself. When he returned to the stage, his recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” was a huge hit of the swing era. An unwitting civil rights pioneer, he hired black singer Billie Holiday to sing with him at a time when that simply wasn’t done.

Charming as well as erudite, he was married eight times, to Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, among others. The marriages did not last due to his bad mood. The fame he avidly sought in his early years – “like any other American kid, he wanted more of everything,” he notes – eventually seemed stupid and repellent. An all-star roster of interviewees, including luminaries Mel Tormé and Buddy Rich, contribute to an unfailingly entertaining saga. Upon its first release, the film did so well (it won an Oscar) that it led the ever-dissatisfied Shaw to sue for a larger share of the film’s profits.

Artie Shaw: Time is all you have
Not qualified. Duration: 1 hour 54 minutes. On cinemas.

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