GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS
Celebrating his 70th birthday in 2007, this documentary about composer Philip Glass follows him across three continents - from his annual ride on the Coney Island roller coaster, to the world premiere of his new opera in Germany and in performance with a didgeridoo virtuoso in Australia.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's as hypnotic as the music he writes, this documentary about composer Philip Glass, as seen through the eyes (and lens) of filmmaker Scott Hicks. This is Hicks' second film about genius pianist composers, the first being Shine (about David Helfgott) whose star Geoffrey Rush is physically not unlike Glass. The twelve parts into which the documentary is divided could well represent different notes on Philip Glass's own grand staff of music with two extra notes indicating the highs and lows of his genius resting on ledger lines above and below. We become immersed in the life of an extraordinary artist - professionally, personally and spiritually.
Glass has never cared what other people thought - even about his music. 'There's a lot of music in the world - you don't have to listen to mine.' Watching the exhilaration on his face as we join him on a symbolic roller coaster ride at Coney Island, is a dizzying experience as we tag along for the ups and downs of his life. We get an insight into how he works, which often seems as chaotic as the emotions he creates. His fourth wife, Holly, gives us a tour of his home office and although our introduction to Glass with his wife and two toddlers seems harmonious at first, by the end of the film, we learn otherwise. We get a sense of how Glass writes his orchestrations ('do you get the idea? I barely get the idea myself'), his notion of the difference between writing an opera and a film score ('not much; with film, you can complain to producers') and how his work seamlessly integrates with his family life. Crucial decisions are made while standing in the kitchen making pizza. Filmmakers Woody Allen ('he does existential dread better than anybody'), Martin Scorsese and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) all talk about his work, the latter saying "he has created a musical language that is the acoustic door to the unknown, like an ever-ascending score that never reached to the heavens."
We hear about Glass' childhood, his early years moonlighting as a New York taxi driver and plumber, performing in art galleries with his ensemble, when his music was loud, repetitive and intense, musicians and audience alike high on drugs. I was fascinated to hear him talk about the two teachers who influenced him most: Nadia Boulanger ('she taught through terror') and Ravi Shankar ('he taught through love). The result was much the same: 'The collision of their intellects happened inside me,' he tells. We are there for a concert in Melbourne and at opening night of his opera Waiting for the Barbarians in Germany. Spirituality and Buddhism also play a part in his life as he balances the material and spiritual world believing the two sides empower his life. Occasionally there's a spontaneous conversion with Scott Hicks behind the camera, which adds to the tangible nature of the film and its multi-faceted subject who believes writing is his antidote to the world's chaos. Glass' distinctive music is heard throughout and as we become intoxicated by it we realise there is so much more to this unique individual as well as to life itself. Highly recommended.
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SCOTT HICKS INTERVIEW
GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring Philip Glass
PRODUCER: Scott Hicks, Susanne Preissler
DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Scott Hicks
EDITOR: Stephen Jess
MUSIC: Philip Glass
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 13, 2008 (Sydney, Melbourne)