Thursday, August 14, 2008

Movies: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts

This almost too intimate documentary is aptly titled: it's more a portrait of Philip than a study of Glass. We are shown a man playing with his children, cooking a big meal for a gathering of family friends, practicing Qigong, who then just happens to go into his study and write out a symphony. I exaggerate a bit; the filmmakers give a fair amount of attention to Philip's work, showing him working with Woody Allen on the score for Cassandra's Dream, opening new opera Waiting for the Barbarians, and reviewing symphonic orchestration with his conductor in the backseat of a taxicab. At the same time, though, we meet his young wife who intimates that their relationship isn't working out, and nearly breaks into tears.

Moments during which Philip discusses his work are for me the most interesting; he likens music to an underground river; it is always there, one only has to listen for it, find it. When he writes, he says, he is not creating something new so much as writing down something that is already there; when he hears his new symphony played for the first time, he listens to find whether it correlates with what he's already "heard." Almost equally interesting are the photos of Philip as a younger man, staging musical happenings in downtown warehouses in New York in the 1960s and 70s, where people came to listen, lying on the floor in a circle around the ensemble, which also played in a circle.

More divulging than "cameo" conversations with Chuck Close, Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris, Woody Allen, etc. (although these are certainly interesting) are the shots of Philip at home (both at his city house and country house); seeing the space in which he lives and works reminds us that he is a mere man. Watching him practice Qigong in a stretched out tank top and loose cotton pants, shameless before the camera, confirms this. All the while, though, his gorgeous music forms the soundtrack, reminding us that he is, in fact, much more.

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