Review: ‘Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool’

Hot Docs 2019

2 mins read

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
(USA/UK, 113 min.)
Dir. Stanley Nelson
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)

No two-hour documentary could possibly contain the multitudes of Miles Davis’s talent, but as a general primer on the titanic talent, this PBS documentary does a decent enough job of introducing the performer to a wide audience. From son of a prominent dentist in East St. Louis to trumpeting in the clubs of Manhattan’s 52nd Street, the doc follows Davis as he dabbles in bop, sees his turn with the ground-breaking ensemble album that gives the film its title, as well as through the quintet periods, his fusion era, his moments in a drug-fuelled exile, and finally his resuscitation at the end of his career.

The beats of the storyline are familiar to any jazz fan, making for a somewhat rote telling of his tale. It’s only in hearing from the women in Miles’ life that some new insight is provided, making for a far more complex vision of the man behind the myth from those who saw him away from the spotlight. This isn’t to take away the fact that for many Miles is little more than a few muted horn licks heard in passing – the celebration is warranted, even if the subject is deserving of some 20 hour epic to truly get into all that he accomplished.

Without being greedy and wanting for more, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool does a decent enough job of telling his story, introducing to new audiences and reminding fans what this giant of jazz managed to do over his decades of performance.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool screens:
-Wed, May 1 at 8:45 p.m. at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
-Fri, May 3 at 10:00 a.m. at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
-Sat, May 4 at 6:45 p.m. at TIFF Lightbox

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

Hot Docs runs April 25 to May 5. Please visit for more info.

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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