The best and worst uses of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue in the movies.

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Aug. 17 2009 12:23 PM

Miles at the Movies

The best and worst Kind of Blue moments in screen history.

Miles Davis' Kind ofBlue is the best-selling jazz album of all time, and judging from its frequent appearance on television and in the movies, it's a particular favorite of filmmakers. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the landmark album, Slatehas compiled five notable Kind of Blue moments from screen history. We left out the unfortunate reggae covers and scenes in which the album is merely background music. We focused instead on instances when Kind of Blue is woven into the plot. What we found is that the album tends to be used to achieve a particular effect, often showing up when a character is experiencing a transformation. When Kind of Blue is spinning in the background, an evil journalist might become a future husband (Runaway Bride) or a washed up cop might discover he's still got some fire in his belly (The Wire). Take a look, and give a listen.

In the Line of Fire (1993)
Clint Eastwood plays a washed-up Secret Service agent who lost his post beside the president after the Kennedy assassination. In this clip, he returns home after almost killing his partner in a counterfeit bust gone bad. He hangs up his coat, picks up the stereo remote, and turns on "All Blues." As the fluttering of Bill Evans' piano gives way to swinging, languid saxophone riffs, the grizzled agent, alone in his apartment, begins stripping himself of his hardened exterior, both literally and metaphorically—the gun drops on the table, followed by his handcuffs and badge.

Clip from In the Line of Fire © Columbia Pictures, 1993. All rights reserved.

Pleasantville (1998)
Probably the best Kind of Blue moment in the movies. Siblings David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) have been transported into the black-and-white world of the fictional TV series Pleasantville. As they begin to expose the cloistered townsfolk to sex, painting, and jazz, the town slowly starts to take on color. Here, the song "So What" is used to score the most significant transformation in the film, the turning point when the town's young people embrace the knowledge David and Jennifer have brought them. Davis' solo comes in right as the camera pans out to a brighter world.

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Clip from Pleasantville © New Line Cinema, 1998. All rights reserved.

Runaway Bride (1999)
The most obvious, and most obviously wrong, Kind of Blue moment on film. Richard Gere plays Ike Graham, a reporter who has been sent to write a feature on Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts), who has left three men at the altar. Maggie is initially determined to prevent Ike from writing the story. Eventually, however, she's convinced that he's not the scoundrel she thought he was—but only after she discovers he's a Miles Davis fan. In this scene, she presents Ike with a copy of the original Kind of Blue LP. "Wow, this is so rare!" he responds. "You should hold on to it!" Not exactly. The close-up of the album initially shows the original 1959 cover, but when Gere takes the record out toward the end of the scene, the Columbia Jazz Masters reissue cover is shown. Neither is worth much: The original '59 album was pressed at the wrong speed and the Columbia Masters LP was part of a larger, extremely popular, reissue series.

Clip from Runaway Bride © Paramount Pictures, 1999. All rights reserved.

The Wire, Season 1: "Old Cases" (2002)
Detective Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), heretofore considered washed-up, begins his journey back into the thick of things in this episode from the first season of The Wire. After Lester discovers a crucial clue in the investigation into a Baltimore drug ring, detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) invites him out for a drink. McNulty is impressed with Freamon's keen intellect, not to mention his cynicism—Lester, Jimmy discovers, is "natural police." Freamon's rebirth is accompanied by the soulful "All Blues."

Clip from The Wire: The Complete First Season © HBO Home Video, 2004. All rights reserved.

Dexter, Season 2: "That Night, A Forest Grew" (2007)
Miles might not have appreciated the invocation of Kind of Blue in this episode of Dexter. Keith Carradine plays Special Agent Frank Lundy, the innovative head of an FBI task force hunting a serial killer known as the Bay Harbor Butcher. * While staring at a particularly gruesome series of photos of dismembered body parts, he turns on his CD player. As the opening chords of "So What" crescendo, Lundy theorizes that the killer, while methodical, occasionally liked to "improvise," drawing a parallel between Davis' trumpet and the serial killer's handiwork.

Clip from Dexter: The Complete Second Season © Showtime/Paramount, 2008. All rights reserved.

Did we forget one of your favorite Kind of Blue moments? Tell us what we're missing in the Fray.

Correction, Aug. 17, 2009: The original version of this article misnamed the serial killer in an episode of Dexter. The killer is the Bay Harbor Butcher, not the Bay Area Butcher. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)