Louis Armstrong is one of those icons who’s so well-known, so universally recognized, that you may realize you actually don’t know that much about him.
That realization was part of what made director Sacha Jenkins and producer Julie Anderson gravitate toward making a film about his life, “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues,” for Apple TV+. Both spoke to executive managing editor Christian Blauvelt at the IndieWire FYC Consider This Brunch on November 18 to discuss their intentions for the film, a top awards contender heading into Oscar season.
Armstrong’s incandescent technical ability possessed an otherworldly quality that still resonates today — and his presence was indeed otherworldly at one particular moment during filming. When asked about what we can learn from Armstrong’s lifetime that can be applied to today, Jenkins told an eerie story: “I’m waiting for someone to tell me that he’s going to walk through the door. He’s not dead. For instance, there’s a scene at the very end of the film where we’re shooting his actual turntable [in his house in Queens, which is a museum today], and the last record he played an hour or so before he died. There are reel-to-reels that form the backbone of the movie, conversations with friends, interviews he did. We had access to all this stuff… you’ll see it in the film. We got the reel-to-reel to work… The turntable, however, you couldn’t get to work. We decided that we had to spin the record manually and then shoot it. The record turned. The turntable started to work, and nobody could figure out where it was plugged in. The dude is very around. He’s the co-director.”
Anderson said that you can still get a “tour of that house, and every room is set up exactly the way it was [when he died in 1971]. You feel his presence.”
“You can use the restroom knowing that he’s into laxatives, he’d probably be OK with that,” Jenkins said, as Armstrong was apparently known for his affinity for laxatives.
Jenkins is a music journalist turned nonfiction filmmaker best known for the documentaries “Fresh Dressed” and docuseries “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men.” That influence is felt in “Black & Blues” as Jenkins’ friend Nas voices Louis Armstrong, bringing to life letters and diary entries that the jazz great wrote himself.
Anderson has had an eclectic career starting in reality TV and docuseries before devoting most of her time to documentary features such as “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” about Dolores Hart, the actress who starred opposite Elvis Presley in “King Creole” before leaving Hollywood to become a nun; and “Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street.”
“Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” was an opening night selection at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it received strong reviews and became tipped as an Oscar contender for documentary feature.