Saturday, October 23, 2010

Glass: A Portrait in 12 Parts

“You’ve made a wonderful film,
I just wish it wasn’t about me!”

Philip Glass to filmmaker Scott Hicks

This is an achingly beautiful documentary about one of my favorite living musicians, Philip Glass.

In my opinion, four things make this film truly great:

(1) The music.
(2) Glass' amazing friend Chuck Close and his mesmerizing artwork.
(3) humor.
(4) the just-voyeuristic-enough peeks into Glass' complex romantic life.

In addition to the above there are a few other things that really got to me. One of the highlights is when Glass talks about his teacher, Nadia Boulanger, with whom he studied in Paris from 1964 to 1966. Glass says, in the film, "when I came to her I was a Juilliard graduate, when I left I was a composer."

Glass also talks lovingly about Ravi Shankar, whom he met in 1966 and continues to work closely with to this day. The teacher-student relationship is obviously very important in Glass' mind, and he manages to communicate his thoughts on this subject very powerfully.

The documentary also includes fascinating segments with Woody Allen and Errol Morris, with whom Glass has collaborated extensively. I mentioned "humor" above, and sprinkled throughout there are references to the less than warm reception that Glass' music has often encountered over the years, including the following "joke":

Knock knock.
Whose there?
Knock knock.
Whose there?
Knock knock.
Whose there?
Knock knock.
Whose there?
Philip Glass.

[That is the short version. Here's a longer version.]

There are two places in the film where time completely stops, and one just sits, listening. These are when clips from the film Koyaanisqatsi are shown, and then during Glass' solo performance in Melbourne. Those moments are absolutely spellbinding, but they are simply the high-water marks in a genuine masterpiece of documentary filmmaking.

obligatory linkage:


Arturo Vasquez said...

Dude, you like Philip Glass?! This almost makes up for that stupid post you did against the most Holy Virgin. Anyway, he used to be one of my favorite composers until I sort of gave up on him a few years ago (will explain why further down). But as a teenager that I checked out an original LP of Einstein on the Beach on interlibrary loan, and fell in love with it. I remember one of the best days of my youth was when I brought home the new recording of the Music in Twelve Parts as a teenager. It's like the minimalist Art of Fugue, and truly an astounding work. (I even reviewed it for my high school newspaper.) I saw Les Enfant Terribles three times when I lived in the Bay Area, and had tickets to all five presentations of the Monsters of Grace when it came to Berkeley when I was in school. (I have the CD.)

I still like his old stuff. His new stuff is too neo-romanticist for my taste. (I was dissapointed when I saw his opera Appomattox in SF.) Part of me just thinks that he needs to retire and rest on his laurels. But I still think he is pretty cool. So is Chuck Close. I recently saw many of his paintings when I went to New York recently.

Erik said...

Thanks for the heads up on the documentary! I still remember the impact that his "Mishima" had on me.

Ellen Catalina, LCSW said...

Not a Philip Glass fan but I adore Chuck Close. thanks for the images.