Just weeks after I posted the news about HBO agreeing to do a six-hour miniseries on Armstrong's life (produced by Quincy Jones and Charles S. Dutton, written by John Sayles), this came across the wire at cinematical.com (thanks to Al Pomerantz for pointing it out).
The headline is "Surprise, Surprise: NOw We Get Battling Louis Armstrong Projects." Written by Monika Bartyzel, it states:
"Just a few weeks ago, there was word that Charles S. Dutton was working on a Louis Armstrong miniseries with Quincy Jones, and John Sayles -- one heck of a dream team. But of course, this is Hollywood and one project can never be enough -- especially when we're talking about a recognizable icon. Now word comes that we're getting a feature film as well.
"Variety reports that Forest Whitaker is not only going to star as Louis in an upcoming biopic called What a Wonderful World, but also direct it. (This is the second music icon Whitaker is becoming -- he already played Charlie Parker in Bird.) Now, while Sayles is the powerhouse behind Dutton's project, Ron Bass (Rain Man) will be writing this feature with the help of Armstrong's estate. They're allowing the Oscar-winning scribe exclusive access to personal accounts, letters, and other archive material, which should give the film some interesting depth as it starts "during the musician's impoverished early years in New Orleans and [will] primarily chronicle his career as a trumpet virtuoso and improvisational singer."
"The dueling projects certainly won't completely overlap since the miniseries is taking on Armstrong's whole life, and the feature will add exclusive insight into the man. But still, I can't help but wish they were all working together. Sayles and Whitaker? That'd be magic."
Just hours ago, this came across on NME.com:
The headline is "Forest Whitake to play Louis Armstrong in biopic:
"Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker is set to play the part of the late jazz great Louis Armstrong in a new Armstrong biopic, 'What A Wonderful World'. The film, named after Armstrong's most famous song, has been officially approved by his estate.
Ron Bass will act as executive producer for the film, while Alain Goldman and Edward R. Pressman will produce it.
Variety reports that the film will concentrate on Armstrong's early years in New Orleans. "Armstrong left a monumental mark on our lives and our culture," Whitaker said. "He lived an amazing life and, through his art, shifted the way music was played and would be heard after him, not just here in the US but all over the world." Filming for 'What A Wonderful World' will begin next summer. Whitaker won the Best Actor Oscar in 2007 for his portrayal of Ugandan leader Idi Amin in 'The Last King Of Scotland'."
Hmmmm....well, two major works about Pops is a good thing, especially with Terry Teachout's book coming out in 2009 and mine in 2010. Add on the fact that the lavish, new Visitor's Center is set to open at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in 2010 and it looks like there's quite a Pops renaissance brewing. Both projects sounds great but they also have their flaws. For HBO the positives are that it's HBO, it's six hours and it's written by Sayles. On the negative side, Dutton talked about securing the rights to just 15 songs. 15? Okay, maybe for the first hour but what about the rest?
The Whitaker project apparently has cooperation from the Armstrong estate, which is always good. But does that mean the Armstrong Archives is going to physically bar Sayles and the HBO crew from doing research there? Also, it looks like it'll be a standard feature-length biopic. Even if they stretch it to three hours, they're going to have to do a lot of cramming. The latest article says it will focus on Armstrong's New Orleans period, which is fine...but Whitaker's going to play Armstrong? He's 6 foot 2 and he's 57 years old...isn't that a little old to be getting thrown in the Waif's home? But another article at ropeofsilicon.com states, "The film will be called What a Wonderful World based on Armstrong's well known song and will chronicle the musician's life from his impoverished early days in New Orleans to his death in 1971 following a long career over which he transformed jazz and popular music as a whole. Oscar Cohen, executive of the Armstrong estate and the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, started work with Armstrong as his road manager in the late 40s, and is granting the filmmakers exclusive access to letters and other material from the estate's archives, as well as his own memories." So perhaps it will be a full biography after all.
I started writing this hours ago but got sidetracked. I just did another quick Google search and found an interview with Whitaker himself that was just published two hours ago at http://blog.mlive.com/projectmayhem/2008/10/obama_supporter_oscar_winner_a.html. Here tis:
The big news lately is that you're going to play and direct yourself as Louis Armstrong. Can you talk about that a little bit?
He stands as a figure who changed music. And not just music, but the culture. He was allowed to go into areas and rooms at a time when it seemed inconceivable. He became friends with the Rat Pack and became accepted all over the world, and then was rejected sometimes by parts of his community, when he opened the doors for so many. I thought it was a good time to explore that.
Is the film a passion project for you?
It's a passion because I've done so much work and research now. Before, there were three individuals, a writer and two producers, coming to me at different times, asking me to play Louis Armstrong. And I don't really ignore signs like that so I said, "OK, let me take a look into this man," and I decided to do it. Then I put two of the producers together, (smiles) and now we're doing the project.
So there you have it. I'm pumped that Pops is getting so much attention these days in Hollywood...about 60 years after Orson Welles announced he wanted to film Armstrong's life story starring Pops himself. Now THAT would have been something...
Regarding "Royal Garden Blues," the entry is written but the uploading of the music samples is always an annoying process, especially when I have so many (it's got to be around 30). Thus, if you pop on for a second and see a link to a "Royal Garden Blues" performance and ten seconds later, it's gone, that's me constructing it in slow motion. Hopefully I'll have it ready to go tomorrow morning. Til then!