While visiting Paris in 1969, Thelonious Monk eagerly appeared on the French television program Jazz Portrait. But the interviewer’s “autocratic and arrogant” style leads to an uncomfortable conversation that’s compellingly painful to watch.
That piece of jazz history is captured in director Alain Gomis’s documentary Rewind & Play, playing at Hot Docs this week.
The film, which had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, goes behind the scenes with never-before-seen archival footage to show Monk during his peak period while also offering “an indictment of the white male gaze that dominates art criticism and media to this day,” according to a synopsis. “Monk crackles with quiet ferocity in the face of the interviewer’s thinly veiled condescension in one moment, unleashing his exhilarating musical talent in the next.”
During the show, interviewer Henri Renaud is “less interested in striking up a conversation with the artist than in painting him in rather trivial colours,” according to a review of the film. “Monk, remaining ever taciturn, stares away as the interview is basically being conducted without him.”
Yet while the interview is hard to watch, Monk’s performances during the TV program are an exercise in juxtaposition, as the pianist is as captivating and exhilarating as you’d expect from the jazz legend.
Rewind & Play is playing at Hot Docs in Toronto on Thursday, April 28, and Tuesday, May 3. It’s also available to stream online for five days beginning on Friday, April 29.