Early into Bolden, Dan Pritzker’s artful biopic on pioneering New Orleans jazzman Buddy Bolden, a lush scene unfolds as a hot air balloon rises over the city, circa 1900. Gary Carr, as the young horn player Buddy Bolden, evinces fearful wonder after taking the bait from his upstart manager, Bartlet (adroitly played by Eric LaRay Harvey), whose crafty grin suggesting a harvest of money provided the publicity stunt doesn’t get them killed.
Bartlet is based on Buddy Bartley, a hustler who managed Lincoln Park, a weekend hub for Black folk on western fringes of the city. Bartley really did fly hot air balloons to advertise events and showcase himself; one time he crashed into Lake Pontchartrain but made it back to land.
Pritzker and cinematographer Ned Norton paint the scene with a dreamy realism; the balloon sways and rocks upward until Bartlet pushes Bolden over, telling him, now play! As Bolden plunges, people in the park gaze up. Carr’s face becomes a magic mask of comedy and fear, he lets out a stream of notes on the golden cornet and when the parachute pops, voila!, he’s a satiric angel.