Robert Altman’s Kansas City ’34

Robert Altman's Kansas City '34 (Wed. (29); 9-10 p.m.; PBS) A Sandcastle 5 /Ciby 2000 co-production Produced, directed by Robert Altman; co-producers, James McLindon, Matthew Seig, Brent Carpenter; camera (color), Oliver Stapleton; editors, Carpenter, Dylan Tichenor; production design, Stephen Altman; music producer, Hal Willner; music engineer (Dolby surround) Eric Liljestrad. Narrator: Harry Belafonte. With: Jesse Davis, David Newman, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Tyrone Clarke, Don Byron, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Curtis Fowlkes, Clark Gayton, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Kevin Mahogany. Foot-tappingly sublime, drenched in vintage atmosphere and tantalizingly brief, "Kansas City '34" captures 21 period-garbed contemporary musicians playing their swinging hearts out on the evocative Hey Hey Club set of Robert Altman's 1996 fiction feature "Kansas City." This musical study, produced and helmed by Altman, is a sort of Olympics of jazz musicians summoned for the helmer's ode to the hopping city of his youth; this film provides extended versions of many of the instrumental interludes seen and heard in "Kansas City." The hour-long movie repeatedly states that Kansas City was the place to be in 1934 and, judging from the 12 magnificent musical numbers brought to life here in their entirety, no one with ears could doubt it. The pic kicks off with Harry Belafonte's scene-setting offscreen narration and shots of the exquisitely restored "18th and Vine" neighborhood that once boasted the greatest concentration of nightspots in America; it then subtly sketches the cycle of one very long night of very good music. The give-and-take among musicians is inspired, as is the unobtrusive yet probing camerawork. Lensing and cutting perfectly support the performances, whether reverent and melancholy or boisterous and bursting with bravado. Musicians seem thrilled to be challenging their colleagues to ever greater heights as they all impersonate their talented forebears. As in the feature film itself, one of the highlights here is the dueling duet between the faux Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, which was witnessed by Kansas City native Charlie Parker, then age 14. Belafonte's narration is augmented between numbers by different voices offering testimony. One voice contends there was so much music, literally around the clock, that people waiting for the streetcar would wander in to listen to a set and forget to go to work. Sound quality is rich and distinct. Period dress (including high-waisted trousers, suspenders, vests, ties and, especially, felt hats worn indoors) reinforces the vintage feel. Helmer used three 35mm cameras, edited on tape, and struck the present print from a tape-to-film transfer. Due to the occasional barely glimpsed smeared or skipped frame, result is slightly "off" in a way that only enhances the dreamy, intoxicating atmosphere.

Robert Altman’s Kansas City ’34 (Wed. (29); 9-10 p.m.; PBS) A Sandcastle 5 /Ciby 2000 co-production Produced, directed by Robert Altman; co-producers, James McLindon, Matthew Seig, Brent Carpenter; camera (color), Oliver Stapleton; editors, Carpenter, Dylan Tichenor; production design, Stephen Altman; music producer, Hal Willner; music engineer (Dolby surround) Eric Liljestrad. Narrator: Harry Belafonte. With: Jesse Davis, David Newman, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Tyrone Clarke, Don Byron, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Curtis Fowlkes, Clark Gayton, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Kevin Mahogany. Foot-tappingly sublime, drenched in vintage atmosphere and tantalizingly brief, “Kansas City ’34” captures 21 period-garbed contemporary musicians playing their swinging hearts out on the evocative Hey Hey Club set of Robert Altman’s 1996 fiction feature “Kansas City.” This musical study, produced and helmed by Altman, is a sort of Olympics of jazz musicians summoned for the helmer’s ode to the hopping city of his youth; this film provides extended versions of many of the instrumental interludes seen and heard in “Kansas City.” The hour-long movie repeatedly states that Kansas City was the place to be in 1934 and, judging from the 12 magnificent musical numbers brought to life here in their entirety, no one with ears could doubt it. The pic kicks off with Harry Belafonte’s scene-setting offscreen narration and shots of the exquisitely restored “18th and Vine” neighborhood that once boasted the greatest concentration of nightspots in America; it then subtly sketches the cycle of one very long night of very good music. The give-and-take among musicians is inspired, as is the unobtrusive yet probing camerawork. Lensing and cutting perfectly support the performances, whether reverent and melancholy or boisterous and bursting with bravado. Musicians seem thrilled to be challenging their colleagues to ever greater heights as they all impersonate their talented forebears. As in the feature film itself, one of the highlights here is the dueling duet between the faux Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, which was witnessed by Kansas City native Charlie Parker, then age 14. Belafonte’s narration is augmented between numbers by different voices offering testimony. One voice contends there was so much music, literally around the clock, that people waiting for the streetcar would wander in to listen to a set and forget to go to work. Sound quality is rich and distinct. Period dress (including high-waisted trousers, suspenders, vests, ties and, especially, felt hats worn indoors) reinforces the vintage feel. Helmer used three 35mm cameras, edited on tape, and struck the present print from a tape-to-film transfer. Due to the occasional barely glimpsed smeared or skipped frame, result is slightly “off” in a way that only enhances the dreamy, intoxicating atmosphere.

Robert Altman's Kansas City '34

Wed. (29); 9-10 p.m.; PBS

Production: A Sandcastle 5/Ciby 2000 co-production Produced, directed by Robert Altman; co-producers, James McLindon, Matthew Seig, Brent Carpenter;

Crew: Camera (color), Oliver Stapleton; editors, Carpenter, Dylan Tichenor; production design, Stephen Altman; music producer, Hal Willner; music engineer (Dolby surround) Eric Liljestrad.

Cast: Narrator: Harry Belafonte. With: Jesse Davis, David Newman, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Tyrone Clarke, Don Byron, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Curtis Fowlkes, Clark Gayton, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Kevin Mahogany.

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