“Let’s defrost in a romantic mist / Let’s get crossed off everybody’s list.”
A portrait of the artist as an old man.
Well this article is going to be a bit different as I don’t often do film reviews, despite being a big film fan for most of my life. However, this documentary about Chet Baker really struck a chord with me. Rather than a detailed retrospective, Let’s Get Lost is more of an intimate portrait of the West Coast jazz prodigy who had it all and spent his final years as an itinerant speedball addict in Santa Monica, CA.
Filmed during the last year of Chet Baker’s life, Let’s Get Lost grew out of a photo shoot which director Bruce Weber intended for a short film called Blame It On My Youth. Weber had been interested in Baker since coming across a vinyl LP in a record store in Pittsburgh at the age of 16, becoming infatuated with his music and his iconic James Dean good looks. Over the course of the shoot they grew closer and Baker opened up to Weber, so Weber convinced Baker to make a longer film. Let’s Get Lost became a labour of love for Weber who funded the $1,000,000 production from his own money and filmed it only when he had the time and money to do so. The filming itself was marked by difficulty and spontaneity as Baker’s turbulent life during this period meant that filming plans quickly went out the window when he finally walked in the room: “It was like going to Marine boot camp,” Weber said to the Austin Chronicle. “You’d plan something, and it wouldn’t happen the way you planned it, so you had to adapt to it, just go with it. Sometimes we’d have to stop for some reason or another and then, because Chet was a junkie and couldn’t do things twice, we’d have to start all over again. But we grew to really like him.” Baker would later be found dead on the pavement on Prins Hendrikkade, Amsterdam during the film’s post-production, giving Let’s Get Lost an added poignancy.
The film is beautifully shot in black and white and Weber’s eye as a fashion photographer creates a sweeping and incredibly romantic aura around the whole film. The stars seem to twinkle in the night sky and the palm trees along the beach sway elegantly. Meanwhile Baker, who now resembles a Bukowskian barfly more than the Adonis of his youth, is still remarkably photogenic. The film meanders like a memoir, as Baker reminisces about his music, experiences and relationships while ex-associates and old flames tell their stories. There is little sense of chronology and with another subject such a film may fall apart, but Baker is such a beguiling and effortlessly enigmatic personality that he holds the film together, the linchpin in an otherwise chaotic tale. Let’s Get Lost does follow his career but at a cursory glance, briefly mentioning moments such as playing on Pacific, getting his teeth knocked out and his multiple incarcerations. This does not mean the music is neglected though, as Baker’s enrapturing and languid music is weaved throughout, blending seamlessly with shots of sleepy California and Baker’s escapades of the time. The film also features some incredibly intimate performances, the likes of which cause the hairs to bristle on the back of your neck. Despite the years, Baker’s voice is haunting and pitch-perfect, while his trumpeting is as moving and mellifluous as ever.
What I feel is Let’s Get Lost’s greatest achievement is conveying Baker’s charismatic personality. He is electrifying onscreen, not in an overtly energetic way but in the sheer magnetism he exerts over everyone, the viewer included. He is charming and good looking even after the ravages of substance abuse which make him look ten years older than he actually was at the time. You find yourself falling under his spell, even as his closest friends, lovers and relatives repeatedly disclose to us that he is selfish, unreliable and a great manipulator. But even those most burned by him still adore him, just as the viewer finds themselves drawn to such a lovable rogue. And this is Let’s Get Lost’s main focus: It’s not about setting the record straight, but about staring in awe at such an infatuating personality. As you watch Baker you sense the fascination of that sixteen year-old kid in Pittsburgh and the wonder of those who knew him. “There’s a line between love and fascination,” says ex-lover Ruth Young, quoting the Baker standard ‘My Foolish Heart’. “That’s mystique. But that isn’t necessarily real and that’s what takes a long, long time to figure out: To separate one’s gift from one’s self.” Perhaps Baker never did, and that is what Let’s Get Lost excels in showing.