Miles Davis had his hands in a lot of projects during his career, with one of the most interesting arguably being his contributions to French crime film Elevator to the Gallows. A new restoration of the 1958 movie will run at Film Forum in New York City from Wednesday, August 3 to Thursday, August 11.
The film redefined cinema not only because the new narrative and editing techniques it introduced, but because of its excellent soundtracks provided by Davis. As the story goes just when director Louis Malle was about to find the movie’s composer, he learned that the iconic trumpeter and bandleader was in Paris for a performance at the Café Saint-Germain, and asked him to create the score.
Davis, alongside four other musicians (bassist Pierre Michelot; drummer Kenny Clarke; pianist René Urtreger; and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen), rented a studio and proceeded to have an all-night recording session (from about 10 at night until five the next morning). Without preparation or a pre-composed theme the group improvised in front of a projection of the film, and ultimately created one of the most important movie scores of all time.
Davis’ music compliments the tone of Elevator to the Gallows, a movie centered around two criminal lovers that try to pull off a perfect crime but are unsuccessful. After the film’s release well-known jazz critic Jean-Louis Ginibre wrote in Jazz magazine about Davis’ contribution, stating that the movie wouldn’t have been the same without the musician.
“Ascenseur pour L’Echafaud would have remained a relatively minor film without the music if Miles Davis…[he] knew how to give tragic dimensions to this banal enough drama, and I think that Miles, in helping Louis Malle’s film, also raised himself to greater heights, and became aware of the tragic character of his music which, until then, had been only dimly expressed. In this sense, Scaffold…marks a decisive turning point in the work of Miles Davis.”
Check out a clip of Davis recording the film’s score below.