‘The Pleasures of Being Out of Step’: a Nat Hentoff tribute
A review of the documentary “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” a warm and informal portrait of the highly respected and venerable jazz writer and First Amendment specialist Nat Hentoff. It got three stars out of four.
Seattle Times jazz critic
Movie Review ★★★
‘The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff,’ a documentary directed by David L. Lewis. 87 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
Jazz critic, public intellectual and First Amendment specialist Nat Hentoff, still writing at 89, was a major inspiration to jazz writers of the next generation — not to mention setting a dauntingly high bar. In the documentary “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” director David L. Lewis presents a warm, informal portrait of this dynamic, white-bearded New Yorker.
Lewis films Hentoff at work at his typewriter in his Greenwich Village home and interviews his wife, Margot, as well as fellow jazz writers Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch and Dan Morgenstern; First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams; former ACLU director Aryeh Neier; and various editors Hentoff worked (and/or quarreled) with at the Village Voice, where he wrote a column for decades. Archival footage of Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Charles Mingus and Hentoff himself, plus a fabulous score, give the film texture beyond the usual talking heads.
During jazz’s golden era of the ’50s and ’60s, musicians such as Miles Davis and Mingus trusted Hentoff, not only for his outspoken views on racial injustice but because he was a perceptive listener. While others shook their heads in dismay over John Coltrane’s or Ornette Coleman’s innovations, Hentoff kept listening, and reporting what he heard. Mingus even called Hentoff for his opinion of music he’d just composed.
Hentoff eventually turned his attention more to First Amendment issues than to music, alienating liberals for defending neo-Nazis’ right to free speech and for turning against abortion, positions that no doubt inspired the film’s title.
Though the film makes a valiant attempt to integrate Hentoff’s dual concerns — “the reason we have jazz is that we’re a free people,” he argues — it switches jaggedly between these poles. But this doesn’t spoil what is an informative and enjoyable film.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org