Glass film

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Glass film

Postby dick » Wed Jan 09, 2008 12:04 am

I had not heard about this movie project until today -- hope BM and other Aussies doing the festival will also be able to enjoy this. Shine is one of my all time favorites, so am sure Hicks will again do well. Several tidbits in here were news to me, and maybe to some of you all as well. ... 47,00.html

Action days in a musical lifeMatthew Westwood | January 09, 2008

THE roller-coaster may be overworked as a metaphor, but it's unusually apt in describing the music of Philip Glass.

PHOTO caption -- Director Scott Hicks whose movie "Glass" will have it's Australian Debut at The Adelaide Festival Picture: Brett Hartwig
Filmmaker Scott Hicks begins his new documentary about Glass with the composer riding the roller-coaster at Coney Island, New York. The vertiginous camera work and fairground colour are underscored with Glass's music from another movie, Koyaanisqatsi. Rapidly repeated musical figures, so recognisably Glass, accompany the exhilarating ride.

Hicks says the outing to Coney Island, which Glass likes to visit every year, was just one activity in a typically action-packed day for the composer, who has written eight symphonies, more than 20 operas, ballets, concertos and scores for several films, among them Candyman, The Thin Blue Line and The Hours.

"He's one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met, and hardest-working, and he finds time to fit everything in," says Hicks, the director of Shine. "Of course, as the film reveals, there's a price to pay. It's intended to be a very human document of someone who I consider to be a great artist."
Glass and Hicks have known each other for some years and had worked together previously on a cinema commercial for mint breath-fresheners. In fact, while Hicks was making the documentary, Glass was working on the score for his feature film No Reservations, a romantic comedy with Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart.

Glass's management had approached Hicks to make the documentary, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, as a way of marking the composer's 70th birthday in January 2007. The title refers to Glass's extended essay of compositional styles, Music in Twelve Parts, and the film depicts him at work and play, but mostly at work, in different settings.

Hicks followed Glass on and off for 18 months. The first sequences were filmed in August 2005 in Nova Scotia, where Glass has a summer house near the coast. Hicks went along with Glass and his family, taking a high-definition camera and a sound recordist. It was intended to be a preliminary exercise, but Hicks says he started filming usable material almost straight away.

"Philip started making pizza," he says. "And while he was making pizza, he was ruminating on the eighth symphony he was working on. I could see this amazing thing happening in front of the camera: a genius composer going through the process of creating a pizza and reflecting on the ingredients going into a symphony."

In part, the film charts the progress of the symphony, from Glass trying out chords at the piano in his studio to a rehearsal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with the Bruckner Orchester Linz and conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

"That moment of shooting him hearing the symphony for the first time was one of the highlights for me," Hicks says. "Who gets to see this? Imagine if you could buy a DVD of Mozart hearing The Marriage of Figaro for the first time."

Perhaps more than any other contemporary composer, Glass has benefited from publicity, and he is good at it. Hicks, who evidently holds Glass in high regard, nevertheless says he was anxious that the documentary not turn into a promotional tool or a "hagiography of St Philip". Access to Glass was fundamental, he says, if the project was to work. Hicks was also wary of not being influenced or hamstrung by other films on Glass, which include Looking Glass (2005) and Peter Greenaway's Four American Composers (1983).

Nor did he use as models other films about music and musicians, such as the documentaries by Bruno Monsaingeon on pianist Sviatoslav Richter and singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. His methods were exploratory and the film's structure took shape while it was being made.

"The film is not an attempt (at) a comprehensive life story of Philip Glass, it's not an attempt to explain his music," Hicks says. "If people want that information, they can go to the internet or a library. Much has been written. This film is what his day-to-day life is like, from the inside."
Glass says Hicks had the documentary maker's talent for making himself invisible during the 18 months or so that his life was on camera. From the completed film, it's clear there was a rapport between filmmaker and subject: Hicks is part of the conversation, a participant in family activities.

"It's kind of Philip to say I was unobtrusive, but boy, I was there," Hicks says. "Often the camera was inches from him, but he didn't seem to notice." However, when Hicks engaged a film crew for certain scenes, the intimacy was lost: "The feeling changed. Philip became much more his public persona, unconsciously. I could see it happen in front of my eyes. I thought, 'Never again. I'm not going to hire any more extraneous crew."'
Hicks talks to contemporaries of Glass, including the painter Chuck Close and filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Errol Morris, who made The Thin Blue Line ("Philip does existential dread better than anyone," Morris says).

Glass, who gives generous interviews about his work, is guarded about his personal life. Yet Hicks had access to, among other people, Glass's brother and sister, his wife, Holly, and his spiritual adviser, Tibetan Buddhist Gelek Rimpoche. Hicks follows Glass into the New Mexico desert with another spiritual guide and asks him the rather startling question: "What about when he buried you?"
Everything in Glass's life would appear to be felicitous, if hectic, until a revelation near the end of the film, a "bolt out of the blue" that Hicks would prefer not to be revealed.

He says he discussed with Glass whether the footage should be included and Glass, level-headed, gave his consent. "If you're involved in someone's life, these are the things that can happen," Hicks says.
Making the documentary reminded him of the challenges of making Shine, his award-winning 1996 film about pianist David Helfgott. At first he was unable to obtain finance and he relied on his income from making commercials to bankroll the documentary. He went out to drum up support, "calling on a set of skills I hadn't used for a few years".

"If I stopped pedalling, I would simply stop," he adds. "It needed all of the same kind of drive and urgency (as Shine) to get it made. And ultimately all of the finance was raised out of Adelaide: half a dozen investors came in and we put the whole thing together here."
The documentary will have its first Australian screening in March at the Adelaide Festival, which Glass will attend for festival performances of his song cycle to poems by Leonard Cohen, Book of Longing. Footage of Glass at work on the songs would have neatly completed the circle, but that didn't make the final cut. There is footage, however, of the premiere in Germany of Glass's opera Waiting for the Barbarians, based on the book by Adelaide resident J.M. Coetzee.

Hicks says he found the experience of working with Glass rewarding, and recalls several evocative moments, such as Glass describing the act of composition as tapping an underground river that is always flowing.
What, in the end, drives Glass to keep producing music at such a phenomenal rate?
"I have no good answer," Hicks says. "He just strikes me as an exceptional human being. He had a vision from very early on: as a child, he knew what he wanted to do. It's something innate with him."

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts screens at the Piccadilly Cinema, Adelaide, March 9 and 10.

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