Oscar Aleman: A Swinging Life

As you might guess from the banal subtitle, this 2002 documentary by Hernan Gaffet is a less than satisfying look at the intriguing Argentinean jazz guitarist and entertainer Oscar Aleman (1909-’80). Raised by an impoverished Spanish-Indian family and untrained as a musician, Aleman made a name for himself in the 30s as part of Josephine Baker’s Paris orchestra (and may have been her lover); World War II drove him back to Argentina, where he eventually became even more popular. Gaffet’s approach is frustrating: he provides analyses of Aleman’s improvisational style but no musical illustrations, and most of the film consists of photos and talking heads with random bits of his music chugging in the background. But a few tantalizing clips show how charismatic Aleman could be as a guitarist, singer, dancer, and comic actor. In Spanish with subtitles. 104 min. (JR)

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