I Called Him Morgan is more of a ‘true tragedy’ than a ‘true crime’ documentary. Director Kasper Collin’s second documentary feature tells the story of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was killed at the age of 33 by his wife Helen. Collin gracefully weaves together the Morgans’ painfully human tale with the history of jazz and Blue Note records, focusing on their differing backgrounds, struggles and lifestyles. The multiple moving parts of I Called Him Morgan come together to paint truthful and moving portraits of these two figures; making them people instead of myths.
Archive footage is expertly deployed, with select recordings of Morgan’s performances helping to tell the story as much as the testimonials of his friends and fellow musicians, and his killer/wife. The interviews are uninterrupted by questions, and appear more as deeply personal stream-of-consciousness anecdotes. Much of the archive material consists of photographs taken by acquaintances; the core interview, Helen’s final interview before her death in 1996, was conducted by her teacher. Morgan’s music is given a melancholic edge, much of the film appearing as a celebration of an artist who is posthumously threatened with fading into obscurity.
While I Called Him Morgan has a dramatic hook that a lot of true-crime documentaries crave, it shows no interest in painting Helen as a villain, or a grand tragic figure. Helen is a fundamentally decent and normal human being who made a mistake, and the film slowly brings us to this conclusion practically without reenactment.
Restrained and elegantly told, I Called Him Morgan defies the typical style of true-crime tales. A touching and poetic portrait of a pair of imperfect people, forever transformed by the vices of success, the big city and other all-too-human temptations.
DIRECTOR: Kasper Collin
WRITER: Kasper Collin
SYNOPSIS: A documentary about jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his wife.[TRAILER FORTHCOMING]