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Frankie & Johnny, Helen & Morgan

On Kasper Collin’s captivating new documentary, I Called Him Morgan

Doomed lovers: Lee and Helen Morgan (a.k.a Helen More) in 1970 (photo by Kasper Collin Produktion AB/courtesy of the Afro-America Newspaper Archives and Research Center)
Doomed lovers: Lee and Helen Morgan (a.k.a Helen More) in 1970 (photo by Kasper Collin Produktion AB/courtesy of the Afro-America Newspaper Archives and Research Center)
Kasper Collin (photo by Henrik Andersson)
Kasper Collin (photo by Henrik Andersson)

Viewed in retrospect, historic events tend to take on an air of inevitability: What we know happened becomes what had to happen. Lee Morgan’s tragic death at the rough Manhattan club Slugs’ Saloon, where the trumpet great was shot and killed by his common-law wife, Helen More, has assumed that quality over the last 45 years, becoming as integral to Morgan’s myth as his music.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Kasper Collin’s captivating new documentary, I Called Him Morgan, is that it strips away the inevitability of history. Collin tells not only Morgan’s story but Helen’s, depicting her not merely as the agent of a jazz legend’s fate but as a flesh-and-blood human being who makes one disastrous, impulsive mistake. In the Swedish filmmaker’s telling, their two stories become like two trains running on parallel tracks, finally set on a collision course by a series of small misjudgments and reckless turns.

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