Satchmo, the Backstory, in Louis


Director Dan Pritzker’s playful silent comedy features beautiful women cavorting in frilly lingerie, a jazzy score overseen by Wynton Marsalis (which he’ll perform with an ensemble at the film’s Apollo Theater screening), and a shooting style that mimics the look of pre-talkies cinema. So why isn’t Louis more fun? In 1907 New Orleans, six-year-old Louis Armstrong (Anthony Coleman) dreams of escaping poverty by becoming a musician. Woven together with this fictionalized account of the iconic trumpeter’s childhood are the exploits of a young prostitute (Shanti Lowry) searching for her baby’s father and a corrupt judge (Jackie Earle Haley) plotting to be governor. Venerable cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond drapes Louis in gray-palette elegance while giving the action the herky-jerky, sped-up motion that modern audiences associate with old silent movies. But no matter Haley’s skill at Chaplin-esque balletic clowning, or Lowry’s feisty carnality, Pritzker invests too little time in too many skimpy storylines, resulting in an episodic slackness that reduces the film’s faux-silent technique to little more than a visual gimmick. Louis may superficially resemble movies of a bygone age, but it lacks their essence: masterful effortlessness.