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Pritzker's 1st is Silent Film with Live Music
Director Dan Pritzker, left, is seen on the set with actor Reno Wilson, playing Luis Armstrong, during the filming of the movie "Bolden" at Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, N.C. AP Photo/Gerry Broome.

By: Martha Waggoner, Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, NC (AP).- Dan Pritzker has spent more than 15 years and millions of dollars trying to bring the story of a jazz singer of whom little is known to the big screen.

Then he decided to release another movie first. And not just any other movie, but a silent, black-and-white movie about Louis Armstrong.

"Since I finished the silent film first, it's kind of like I finished my second film before I finished my first, which is a little ridiculous," Pritzker acknowledged.

Pritzker, the billionaire son of the late Hyatt hotel magnate Jay Pritzker and a musician in his own right with the R&B band Sonia Dada, had intended to release "Bolden," starring Anthony Mackie, as his debut film project. It's about Buddy Bolden, the cornet player virtually unknown in most circles but credited with being one of the creators of jazz.

But while Pritzker was writing the script for that movie in 2001, he took his mother to see the Charlie Chaplin classic "City Lights," complete with a live symphony, in Chicago. He decided it would be a challenge to make a silent film as well, one that was supposed to pick up where "Bolden" left off.

That's where the inspiration for "Louis" was born. It tells a fictional story of a 6-year-old Louis Armstrong (played by Anthony Coleman), whose dreams of playing the trumpet are intertwined with the seedy, corrupt underworld of early 20th century New Orleans. Jackie Earle Haley plays an evil, corrupt politician with more than a passing interest in a brothel, and Shanti Lowry stars as the beautiful prostitute who captures the heart of the politician and young Louis.

Lowry, who stars in both movies as the same character, said she didn't know what to expect while filming the silent "Louis," but she wasn't at a disadvantage because neither did anyone else, including Pritzker.

"Dan was in the same boat with us. He'd never done it before," Lowry said. "And every day we got on the set and created the scene. It was not always exactly what was on the page. ... It was an adventure every day."

The movie, photographed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, opened Aug. 25 in Chicago, played in Detroit, and is scheduled to be screened in Bethesda, Md., New York and Philadelphia over the next few days. Each showing will feature live accompaniment by jazz great Wynton Marsalis, the film's executive producer, his 10-piece ensemble, and pianist Cecile Licad.

Right now, there are no plans to show "Louis" in other theaters after its initial dates. But Pritzker said he'll figure out how to bring "Louis" to a wider audience, even if it means showing the movie with recorded music instead of a live orchestra.

"I've been showing it to people with music just attached to it," he said. "Humility aside, it came out really well, and it plays completely."

Lowry agrees, saying she doesn't care if it's a commercial success but only hopes those who do see it "Louis" love it as much as she does.

"It's like a museum piece," she said. "You could freeze frame any piece and put it on a wall."

Now that "Louis" is out, Pritzker can concentrate once again on his first love, the movie "Bolden."

Bolden was institutionalized in 1907 and died in 1931 without leaving behind a single recorded note of music, but is considered by many historians as an integral figure in the creation of jazz.

"It's the poetry and the tragedy — an anonymous black guy who created this music that's incredible," Pritzker said. "Jazz is the American art form.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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