Vague Visages’ Ronnie’s review contains minor spoilers. Oliver Murray’s 2020 documentary features Ronnie Scott, Pete King and Rebecca Scott. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
In the late 2000s, while living in the heart of Hollywood, transcendent opportunities awaited on the Boulevard. A typical tavern tour consisted of stops at the Hard Rock Cafe, the Pig ‘n Whistle (R.I.P.) and my beloved dive bar, The Power House (R.I.P.). On any given day, a legendary figure might walk through the door and change the entire dynamic. By the early 2010s, however, the stardust didn’t feel so potent; the scene had seemingly changed for the worse. Hollywood no longer felt like a community, and so I returned to the real thing. Ronnie’s, a 2020 documentary by Oliver Murray, tells a familiar story about a man with no clear direction home.
Ronnie Scott, an accomplished saxophonist from London’s East End, opened a jazz club in 1959 after a fateful trip to New York City. With the assistance of businessman Pete King, he created a venue that hosted American legends and raised industry standards for British jazz musicians. Ronnie’s documents how the subject innovated his “private world” while hiding bouts with manic depression.
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Ronnie’s first half spotlights the subject’s creative vision and business struggles, beginning with a brilliant tracking shot through the titular club. A recurring theme is Scott’s ability to weather financial storms by charming patrons with his musical talent and emcee skills. Murray uses aesthetically rich archival footage in Ronnie’s to immerse viewers into the focal club’s atmosphere: classy and elegant yet still dangerous in all the best ways. Meaning, the improvisational nature of the featured music allowed for transcendent, emotional experiences, certainly for the mind-blown host.
As Ronnie’s progresses into its final hour, the documentary becomes more of a character study. The shift commences with Jimi Hendrix’s surprise appearance on September 18, 1970 — just hours before he passed away at age 27. Suddenly, clips of a smiling Scott feel bittersweet as Ronnie’s delves into his mental health issues. Quincy Jones, a legendary musician and producer, hits the nail on the head by noting the difference between “making it happen” and “letting it happen,” with the main takeaway being that Ronnie’s subject couldn’t necessarily succeed in the outside world as a jazz musician but could indeed experience transcendent moments, through organic means, within his palace of jazz.
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As a music documentary, Ronnie’s arguably shines brightest during its logistic sequences. Foster repeatedly smirks in archival footage while discussing his financial challenges, fully aware that passion simply isn’t enough when developing a business. Murray takes audiences through the process step-by-step: vision, planning, execution. The director also incorporates some late-60s cultural insight, such as Foster accepting money from the notorious gangster Albert Dimes — the cost of “watching statues move.”
Ronnie’s offers little insight about Scott’s home life — his partners and daughter speak mostly about his work aspirations offscreen — but Murray does help audiences understand what it might’ve been like to see live performances by Dizzie Gillespie, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald. What a thrill that must have been. In that sense, Ronnie’s takes me back to my early days in Hollywood, before I had Facebook and an iPhone, before I began forcing experiences and friendships rather than just letting them happen. What a feeling to transcend above what brings you down… to feel at home.
Ronnie’s is available to stream at OVID.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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