“Rewind and Play”, behind the scenes of a failed interview with Thelonious Monk

In a documentary presented at the Marrakech festival, “Rewind and play”, director Alain Gomis unearths archive footage of jazzman Thelonious Monk, shedding harsh light on the biased view that the media could cast on a black artist in 1969.

“Bernard, it is better to delete”, grumbles the interviewer, the musician Henri Renaud, after a response which he does not consider “nice” from the famous American pianist, in these never shown extracts from an interview on French television for the program “Jazz Portrait”.

These rushes, which he discovered by chance, were edited end to end without commentary by the Franco-Senegalese Alain Gomis in “Rewind and play”, a 66-minute documentary presented this week at the Marrakech film festival (11- November 19), in central Morocco.

Gomis takes a captivating look at the African-American pianist “by reversing the angle with which these images were filmed”, explains the director, interviewed by AFP on the sidelines of the festival.

“I wanted to show the machine that manufactures points of view, anything but neutral. And how television shows a black musician at that time,” he adds.

The opening scene sets the tone: a close shot of the composer of the legendary “Round Midgnight”, blank stare, sweaty forehead, facing a talkative journalist, devoid of empathy for his interlocutor.

A wall of incomprehension seems to stand between Henri Renaud and Thelonious Monk throughout the interview, causing moments of hilarity.

Henri Renaud, for example, questions the pianist about his first concert in Paris in 1954 (Salon du Jazz). Monk replies that he did not know he was known in France, before pointing out that he was the lowest paid musician at the festival.

The journalist cuts short and says facing the camera: “Bernard (director, editor’s note), it is better to delete (this passage, editor’s note). It’s derogatory, we must not talk about it”.

– “Condescension” –

“We don’t say that, it’s not nice (we don’t say that, it’s not nice)”, he says to the musician who then replies incredulously: “it’s not nice? nice ?)”.

While preparing his programme, the journalist systematically sorts through the artist’s often masterful responses. “He builds an embarrassing subjective representation of the pianist and does not accept that he leaves this framework”, notes Alain Gomis.

“It’s as if he were saying: + why are you spitting in the soup? + Throughout the interview, we perceive this condescension”, estimates the director of “Félicité”, jury prize at the Berlinale in 2017.

When Mr. Renaud asks why Monk installed his piano in his kitchen, the latter replies, amused, that it was the only place he could enter.

The journalist “is also a pianist, he has experience as a bourgeois musician, which is not the case with Monk. Putting a piano in a kitchen is not a fantasy”, specifies Mr. Gomis.

In “Rewind and play”, which is released in France in January 2023, the director exposes the scenes of incomprehension between the two men to “deconstruct them better”.

“We often think of the archive as an objective testimony. However, the archive carries the point of view of the one who makes it”, explains the director, who is planning a biopic on the jazzman who died in 1982.

“It is imperative to seize the archives and give them new readings”, he argues.

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