I Called Him Morgan
Kasper Collin’s documentary I Called Him Morgan shows its cards up front regarding trumpeter Lee Morgan’s murder at the age of 33 at the hands of his common-law wife Helen.
Even with the ending revealed, however, the film manages to hold viewer attention throughout its lively 90 minutes, managing to cast doubt on those facts – or at least craft a sense of dread to convey the heartbreak that Lee’s musician friends felt at his death.
The intelligently-told film might not exist without Helen revealing her past with Lee to Wilmington, NC, grade school colleague Larry Reni Thomas and later agreeing to be interviewed by Thomas, a mere month before her death.
Collin returns to this fascinating taped conversation throughout I Called Him Morgan, augmenting its information with present-day input from a number of Lee’s former bandmates, all effortlessly cool gentlemen, none greater than saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
Their collective memories paint an entertaining see-saw tale of a great talent nearly destroyed by heroin, only to be rescued by a loving woman over 10 years Lee’s senior who miraculously revived his career.
While the means of depicting this journey are the typical combination of talking heads and archival photos and footage, their arrangement in serving the narrative is fairly remarkable, to the extent that it practically qualifies as a tale of suspense.
Impressive still is Lee’s music, which today continues to sound like some of the most innovative instrumental compositions of the 20th century.
That someone so bright was prevented from creating additional work of this lasting quality is indeed tragic, but thanks to Collin’s loving portrait, more people will be aware of what Lee was able to accomplish in his time on Earth.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated, but with adult themes and language. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo by Francis Wolff)