Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser

Director: Charlotte Zwerin
Year Released: 1988
Rating: 3.5

Appropriately mellow portrait of be-bop founder and piano extraordinaire Thelonious Monk that touches on his battles with musical perfectionism and mental illness. Zwerkin keeps it from becoming a therapy session, diagnosing or criticizing why he used to spin around in circles (which even Monk himself points out is bizarre) or why he barely spoke to anyone except for his wife (his mumbling must have been infuriating after a while). It's a humanistic documentary, full of respect, admiration and curiosity, and the black and white concert footage is unbelievable, capturing the rivulets of sweat that run off Monk's puckered face and onto the ivories. Getting Monk's son - along with his managers and benefactors - to give their side of the story hints at what kind of person he really was, but it's the music that tells 9/10ths of the story.