'Ronnie's' Film Review: Venture Further into London's Legendary Jazz Spot
There's a chance you're unfamiliar, but Ronnie Scott is undoubtedly one of British music's most significant figures. His self-titled club opened its doors in 1959, back when the corporate landscape viewed jazz as a financially non-viable musical genre. Since then, 'Ronnie Scott's' has attracted talent and crowds like eager moths to a flame, and the man himself has been firmly immortalized in London's cultural canon.
Oliver Murray, an Oxford-based documentary director who seems infatuated by music's mythical figures, is here determined to unpack Scott's infamously multi-faceted identity; Ronnie's doesn't just put a face to the name, it attempts to understand his soul. The 100 minute long film compiles audio from old interviews with magnificent archival footage, allowing Scott (and those closest to him) to deliver his own story to the audience. This is Scott's most vulnerable MC gig yet, and a welcome opportunity to venture back into the jazz club during a year which saw it forced to (temporarily) close its doors.
In fact, the first half of Ronnie's seems determined to immerse the viewer in the authentic Scott's experience. While Scott and his peers detail what starting the business was like, Murray treats his audience to hazy archival footage of legendary performers in the venues. Icons like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Jimi Hendrix effectively score the story while immersing the movie-goer in the atmosphere that Scott and his partners fought to curate with the club. This directorial style leaves the film feeling oddly dreamy, perhaps a little tipsy; Ronnie's mimics the true jazz club experience, with the on-screen conversation constantly and gently interrupted by welcome pockets of brassy soul.
This conversation re-focuses itself around two thirds into the movie, with attention moved away from the public business and towards Scott's personal troubles with mental health. The candid and raw contributions from Scott's friends and family about the man's depressive episodes and early death are profoundly moving, and this section's featured performance of 'For a While' by Nina Simone moved me to tears. This kind of emotive scoring doesn't feel emotionally exploitative though, it's all very respectfully done. These are the songs that Scott lent his life to, after all, and this is the music that he ultimately couldn't find a way to live without.
Ronnie's is set to have a limited release in Everyman cinemas from October 23rd, and as a fan of the Everyman chain myself I can't imagine a better environment in which to devour this film. Their plush, sofa-style seating serves to echo the cozy booths of Scott's, and if you can't get down to the jazz club itself then I can't think of a more satisfying evening trip. Considering our government seems hell-bent on choking out the Arts during this pandemic, it's never felt more important to validate their uniting, healing potential; there can be no better proof of this than a trip to Ronnie's, a film which feels as much of an ode to the Arts themselves as it is to the eponymous gent...
Written by James Green