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Director: Kasper Collin
Writer: Kasper Collin
Stars: Lee Morgan, Helen Morgan, Wayne Shorter
Review by Gilbert Seah
The film begins with the voice of a radio dj, describing the weather of the fateful stormy night in February of 1972, when the talented and much celebrated jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot dead by his wife Helen during a gig at a club in New York City. The murder sent shockwaves through the music community, and the memory of the event still haunts those who knew the Morgans.
This documentary by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin (MY ANME IS ALBERT AYLER) is a love letter to two unique personalities and the music that brought them together. The film title implies that it is a twin story of two people – Lee Morgan and the woman, Helen who utters the sentence “I called him Morgan”. The film is about love, jazz (lots of memorable jazz tunes performed here) and America, with cinematography by Bradford Young and the clever editing by Dino Jonsäter, Hanna Lejonqvist, Eva Hillström and director Kasper Collin.
The dj at the start ends up a lecturer at the university that Helen takes a philosophy course with. The professor tells his class about his love for jazz. When Helen tells him that he is the wife of Morgan, the professor immediately knows her to be the wife of Lee Morgan and asks to interview her at some point. She grants the interview which enables a large portion of the film to achieve its greatest effect – a candid tale about Lee and Helen Morgan rendered by Helen herself.
The documentary traces all the events that lead up to this sad state of affairs. Helen was interviewed after her release from prison, just a month before she passed away, The film succeeds on several levels – as a jazz history on talented trumpeter Lee Morgan – his fight against drugs; the crime of the shooting as well as Helen’s redemption serving the Christian church. Others interviewed, who put a perspective to the proceedings are drummer Albert Heath, saxophonist Billy Harper, and legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.
Director Collin does not shy away from describing the individual characters of his two subjects. He shows Helen to be a great cook, a wonderful talker who can make friend easily while Lee to be a classy dresser and big spender who enjoys the riches of his jazz talent. Helen’s background is also under scrutiny, with her poverty and being a mother at a very early age even before being her teen years. Her son is also interviewed. The background gives the audience insight of her behaviour. The jazz atmosphere is also captured on film with performances by Lee and his jazz band.
There is much to appreciate in this documentary – whether it being the love for jazz or the love of watching family drama with murder thrown in for good measure. There also are many lessons in life on display. The climax of the film is the detailed description of the murder as well as Helen’s redemption.
I CALLED HIM MORGAN is also an absorbing and fascinating documentary on life – how strange life can turn out to be – and how one can learn to control life or let bad things just happen.
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