6/13/07

Who was Jackie Paris? And what has he to do with the future of independent film?

Start with the name, which sounds like a crooner invented by Jim Thompson or some other hard-boiled noir paperback artist of the past.

But It was his real name (sort of). Jackie Paris (born Carlo Jack Parisi) was a hell of a singer who took the jazz scene of the 1940's by storm. He was young, good-looking, a hepcat's hepcat and a musician's musician. He sang, played guitar and tap-danced. He was completely at home in the world of the "new sounds" (be-bop) and in crooning the ballads of the era. He was a protege of the Mills Brothers, was Peggy Lee's favorite male singer, won the Downbeat Poll as best Jazz singer in 1954 and was consistantly ranked in the top ten male vocal lists throughout the 1950's.

So. Why haven't you heard of him?

To be honest, it's more suprising when somebody HAS heard of Jackie than when they haven't. The story of Jackie Paris is one of strangled career moves, labels dropping him, nightclubs not hiring him, bad timing, bad management and plain old bad luck. For many years, all I knew about what happened to him was that his last commercial recording was released in 1962 and that he died in the mid-1970's. I also knew that--in my opinion--he possessed one of the worlds most mysterious, enigmatic and attractive voices. The few recordings of his that I possessed made me a die-hard fan. In time I discovered that I wasn't alone. Whenever I found another fan of Jackie Paris, it was like two long-lost soul mates meeting again. "Paris-ites" as I came to dub this group of obscurity-loving vocal fans.

Jackie's life and career was a story that fascinated me for years--but one that I never thought I would become personally involved in. Until March of 2004 when, to my astonishment, I learned that he was not only not dead, but was launching a comeback in a nightclub in New York--The Jazz Standard on East 27th Street. I went. I met him. I told him how much I loved his work.

He in turn thanked me and told me that he was terminally ill and that it meant a great deal to him to see people coming out to hear him.

We started photographing him the next day. It was my intent to document his life--in plain sight of his death--and try to come to grips with who this artist was and what it was that happened to him along the way.

Enough. The movie tells the story. It took three years from the day we met Jackie to finish our film and it's finally being released this fall by Outsider Pictures. (We premiered, for the record, in Sundance '06. Check out the Variety review on the films website--he adds shamelessly).

And now the answer to the "future of independent film" part of the question.

One releases a "small" movie theatrically (a practice that continues despite almost universally catastrophic returns) for a simple reason: to garner good reviews that can be slapped on the DVD box. The financial loss in the theatrical run is implicit, expected.

But does it need to be? Surely every independent film has some sort of target audience. And that audience is unlikely to be found by placing hideously expenisve half-inch adds on the back pages of the Calendar or Arts And Leisure sections.

So what I propose is to test the waters here. Can the internet be used to drum up interest in Jackie Paris? He passed away in the summer of '04 and the leaky ship called his career can be said to have sailed in the early 1960's. But I have a mission--and that's to finally find the audience for this brilliant, unhearelded and hipper than hip singer--a guy who Billy Vera called "Chet Baker Times Ten". A guy who I think was the real influence behind Mel Torme. A guy who could out-sing Bobby Darin.

It wouldn't hurt if, along the way, the movie that we made--with our own funds, our own way--actually attracted an audience as well. I am, laughingly, a careerist at heart.

And the truth is that, as an independent filmmaker who has stayed too long at the fair, I find myself genuninely excited (for the first time in years) by the crossroads we stand at now. Among the many unanswered questions about the future-- what technology will be standard, where will we be watching film, how we'll be making money from it--the most important
from my viewpoint has to do with PROFILE. Because we make films--even little tiny indie films--TO BE SEEN. And it's my guess that the more specific--hell, the more snooty and rarefied--a films subject, the more advantages to finding viral methods of drumming up interest and awareness about the film.

I'll be adding music (mostly Jackie Paris, of course) as we continue this excercise in throwing good money after bad. To close, a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson. You know the one...

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. "

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