Dan Pritzker, one of the heirs to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, started shooting “Bolden,” a movie about an obscure jazz musician, in 2008. He wrapped principal photography last year after many reshoots. And then: silence.
An offshoot project, a short silent film called “Louis” about Louis Armstrong, was shown about half a dozen times with a live orchestra and then was put away.
Actors and agents involved in “Bolden” no longer know what’s happened, including Anthony Mackie, who plays Buddy Bolden, Jackie Earle Haley, and Reno Wilson. Pritzker and I spoke this evening. I thought maybe “Bolden” had been released and I’d forgotten about. Nope. “Bolden” is sitting in an editing room in Pritzker’s Chicago mansion. An edior comes and goes he says, and they have several versions.
“They run anywhere from an hour and forty five minutes to three hours and forty five minutes,” Pritzker said. He was very open and affable. “Bolden” is a passion project. He declined to confirm rumors that he’s spent $100 million. “Even if I had I wouldn’t tell you,” he said with a laugh.
It’s not like Charles “Buddy” Bolden, aka King Bolden, is going anywhere. He lived and died in New Orleans, from 1877 to 1931. He died in a state mental hospital, suffering from schizophrenia. But as a coronet player he’s widely thought of as inventing jazz and funk, even the term “funky.” He’s not completely unknown. The late playwright August Wilson refers to him often in the play “Seven Guitars.”
“I’m in no hurry,” Pritzker told me. “If I were doing this to make money, I wouldn’t have made a movie. I’m not a filmmaker.” His full time job is asset management. He says that “Bolden” is on no timetable, and probably won’t be ready for another “12 to 18 months.” There’s no financial peril, either. If “Bolden!” never makes any money, Pritzker told me, ”It won’t affect my life.”
A musician, Pritzker said he heard about Buddy Bolden from a Colorado radio station manager in 1996. “Here was a story about this man who may have invented jazz,” Pritzker told me. A light went off in his head. The movie begins as a flashback, when Bolden is dying and hearing Louis Armstrong on the radio. The baton has been passed. And then Bolden’s story unfolds.
The movie not only boasts an excellent cast (Wendell Pierce is also in it), but has a famous cinematographer in Vilmos Zsigmond. Five editors are credited on the imdb. Wynton Marsalis wrote the music (and conducted the live orchestra for the “Louis” screenings last year).
The huge list of credits on the imdb.com does suggest that $100 million is not a crazy estimate. But as he says, Pritzker is no hurry. Does he feel a responsibility to the actors? They shot the movie four years ago. It’s obviously no longer part of anyone’s career trajectory.
“I have a responsibility to make the best movie I can,” Pritzker replied.