Life After Django

| August 16, 2011

In 2010, renowned Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt would have turned 100 years old. To honor him, 100 guitarists, including his grandson, David, gathered to pay tribute to this exceptional musician. The film, Life After Django (La vie Django), documented this studio performance and interviewed a handful of musicians and historians who have all dedicated their life to the guitar legend.
With lines like, “his music pierced me to the heart,” and hearing Django was like “a sense of the soul,” there’s no question the musicians featured in this documentary are truly indebted to this man, most of whom had never met him. Their lives were changed by hearing Reinhardt’s music. One man, Romane, transformed his life from a thieving juvenile delinquent to a dedicated Reinhardt connoisseur after accidentally getting a job performing at a guitar shop. A few of them have relocated to Samois-su-Seine, France to take part in the village life Django enjoyed in his last few years.
What these musicians have in common is that they’re all skilled in the elaborate style of Django. Their knowledge of how he played, how he learned music, who he collaborated with, and his life as a gypsy is incredibly fascinating. I had heard many times that Django had been badly injured in a fire when he was 18, wounding most of his left hand, and learned to play with his injuries. What I learned from this film was how the injury helped create his distinct sound by limiting what he could play and forcing him to invent a new approach to playing. As one musician put it, “His injury led him down unexplored paths.”
While I wasn’t always sure what the camera was doing as it quickly hopped around searching for something to focus on, I did appreciate the extended close-up shots of the musicians’ fingering during the interviews and studio sessions. The camera lingered on the players’ hands, slowly panning, allowing the viewer to truly enjoy the intricate movements required to play the guitar.
Unfortunately, for a good part of the film, the camera moved too fast and jumped around too much. At the end, all I wanted was to be able to take in the image of 100 guitarists playing Django’s well-known Minor Swing, an incredible piece of music that one performer described as “an equation or a magic formula which works every time.” It was a glorious final moment and made me smile. But I was frustrated by how quickly the camera would cut and jump to close-ups of individual players, prohibiting me from focusing on the greater image. The sound of 100 guitars playing one song in complete unison was remarkable, and for this grand moment, I wanted the image to be as remarkable as what I was hearing.
Since watching this film a few nights ago, I’ve been revisiting my very small collection of Django Reinhardt music. For the first time, I’m noticing how vivacious and joyful his music is, and my understanding of how terribly significant he is in the history of jazz has greatly increased. His style is so unique and his impression was so great. I think that’s what the filmmakers and musicians were hoping to illustrate with this film.
And in that, they succeeded.

About the Author:

Kylah Magee received an MA in film studies from Chapman University and a music degree from Texas State. She has worked with the LA Film Festival and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. She owns and operates Nine Muses Studio where she teaches private voice lessons in Austin, TX.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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