In 1958, fashion photographer Bert Stern (famous for Marilyn Monroe’s last photo shoot ‘The Last Sitting’, six weeks before her death) set out to make a film about the annual Jazz festival in Newport, Rhode Island.
He approached his subject as an occasion to prove that music didn’t have to be merely recorded; the film making itself could be as artful as the onstage sound. So the movie is itself a piece of jazz; in the first half of the film, the camera often wanders away from the stage to fixate on the crowd and the boats in the America’s Cup yacht races, thus creating a great time capsule.
Fielding five cameras simultaneously, some handheld and some with telephoto lenses, and using the finest Kodak positive-reversal color film, Stern captured brilliant images that, as he said ‘just jumped off the screen’. Usually jazz films are all black and white, kind of depressing and in little downstairs nightclubs. This brought jazz out into the sun. It was different.’
Hence the selection for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being ‘culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant’.