Rewind & Play

The pre-title sequence of Alain Gomis’s revelatory archival documentary Rewind & Play is, fittingly, a series of shots that will be recapitulated later in the slender 65-minute running time: Thelonious Monk sweating under the hot lights of a television studio in 1969 while his interviewer blathers on. The film is formed entirely from the footage shot for a shelved French TV documentary about the legendary jazz pianist and operates in three semi-discrete parts: Monk’s arrival, as he ambles around the streets of Paris; a contentious interview, where his brusque responses are brushed aside or ordered to be reshot; and a series of performances, whose brilliance is contextualized and offset by the preceding uneasiness. While Gomis doesn’t opt to directly mimic the inimitable, loping hammering of Monk’s music in formal terms, the inclusion of analog video artifacts and microphone bumps, along with some very canny layering of video and stripping-down of audio, pushes the viewer into something of the discomfort the notoriously private icon must have been feeling. The unusual decision to place the explanatory title card right before the end credits only cements the totally successful experiment at play here: only by looking back and considering, rather than trying and failing to impose a narrative, can one truly begin to grasp the essence of genius.

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