Slices of a real, then fictional, then real, then fictional jazz life held together by Herbie Hancock's music played by all-star combos - 'Round Midnight embodies the jazz myth of the outsider. In an Academy Award nominated performance, tenor sax great Dexter Gordon, a self-imposed exile in Europe, plays a roman-a-clef character based on an even earlier tenor sax great, Lester Young, taking refuge from the pain of black American life in European exile.
The film is dedicated to two dead, exiled jazz stars: Bud Powell and Lester Young. It is appropriate that Round Midnight, as close to adoration as modern cinema gets, is made by the French director Bertrand Tavernier, and that its central mechanism is the friendship a French boy offers the aging jazzman in an unlikely bid at understanding.
While the music is outstanding, it never overshadows Tavernier's acute orchestration of small moments, one-on-one exchanges, and the sprung rhythms of life's scratchy surface. Gordon - not acting, just being Dexter Gordon - presents the last bastion of existential anxiety, a man who has constructed heroic stature by systematically giving away everything with any possible heroic potential: except his sound. The ultimate hipster as alien in an aridly comic universe.