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60 Seconds With . . . Bruce Weber

January 10, 2008|Chris Lee

Fashion photographer Bruce Weber got an Oscar nod for his 1988 foray into film, the feature documentary "Let's Get Lost," about hunky, hard-living trumpet player-singer Chet Baker -- often called "the James Dean of jazz." The film begins a one-week run Friday at Landmark's Nuart Theatre in honor of its 20th anniversary.

WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT CHET BAKER?

I had been listening to his music since I was a kid and had always wanted to photograph him. By the mid-'80s, Chet hadn't been in America for years because of all his drug busts. But he came back and I wanted to make a short [film] about him. He hitchhiked from San Jose and arrived at our door at the Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica with no money in his pocket. We got him a room, bought him some clothes and went over to a recording studio to have him do Oscar Levant's "Blame It on My Youth." We heard the joy and sadness of that voice, and everybody looked at each other. That was the beginning of our film.

L.A. WAS CHET'S CITY. HOW WAS HE A PRODUCT OF IT?

He was a West Coast musician at a time when there was a kind of rivalry with the East. West Coast jazz guys went sailing, rode bikes, were really sportive. And he had a tone in the music and lyrics that epitomized the lifestyle -- the California vibe. [To me] Chet's music is all about a guy being outside with a girl in a convertible. Maybe they were fighting, but then they made up and made love.

CHET NEVER GOT BACK TO L.A. AFTER FILMING.

He died in Amsterdam just before I'd made final cut. We had had all these dreams for him: to have a cool little house by the sea, to have him playing the clubs, living with his girlfriend and dog. But fate had other ideas.

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-- Chris.Lee@latimes.com

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