While still a student, Evelyn Glennie learned that she was going deaf. Rather than abandon her study of music, in which she had shown such talent, she instead turned her focus toward percussion instruments and developed her ability to feel the sound through her body. This documentary follows her as she performs in New York, Germany and Tokyo, sharing her insights into the nature of music and the ways in which we experience it.Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At the end of the day we still know that within everything we see, there's sound. I mean, we know that. We just don't have that sensitivity to hear what is going on around us.
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This film is a wonderful "experience", sort of like a very extended music video, or something you'd get from a VJ (Video Jockey, remember that term?). In spirit it reminded me of Fantasia. It also reminded me of those 60's "happenings", except there's no need to drop acid here.
The images are all "realistic" things you might see with your own eyes (no microscopic nor aerial nor computer-generated nor artificial images). At the same time, they're arresting images: things you've never seen before, or a different way of looking at something, or deep meditations on an everyday event. The camera relentlessly moves back and forth between indoors and outdoors, guided by continuity of themes, people, and sound. Match cuts abound. Just a couple examples: We watch a feather falling through the air, then at the moment of impact the image changes to ripples spreading over the surface of a pond. We watch traffic crossing a bridge as the bridge towers that look like columns are emphasized, then the image changes to different columns that hold up the roof of a large building.
The audio is mostly either percussion performances or "found sound" (much of the rest is philosophizing), sometimes synced with the images and sometimes independent. Some of the performances are fairly conventional (except on a higher plane than usual), others are improvisational and highly experimental. Several are so far off the beaten track they seem to call up the context of "modern art".
Often a theme jumps back and forth from audio to video to audio to video to audio. And sometimes images get pretty imaginative: for example heat waves making buildings in the distance shimmer is reminiscent of water, so next we see a fisherman casting, then we see buildings with greatly exaggerated shimmering as though looking through actual water. Rather imaginative, since the last time we could get our bearings we were in the middle of a grid of streets. It's obvious there was extensive editing and not everything is presented in chronological order: Evelyn's hair may be blond, then red in the next scene, then blond again in the scene after that, and so on.
In one sense deafness is the foundation. But in another sense deafness is largely irrelevant. If I remember right, there's one long scene, another short scene, some scattered images, and some scattered bits of dialog that refer to deafness, or only make sense with deafness as a background, Maybe it totals something like 3% of the screen time. But that's it. It seems possible that a sufficiently obtuse viewer could watch the whole thing and never realize Evelyn Glennie is deaf. If you're looking for an uplifting moralistic tale about surmounting handicaps, this film is beyond that - it just assumes that as given without ever talking about it.
At first when I read "one of the best percussionists in the world", I thought "yeah right, why have I never heard of this person?" But after listening all the way through the film, my dubiousness vanished. Not everything good is in the U.S. Even if you usually find percussion to be just "background noise" or "accompaniment", the musicality here is undeniable. It's obvious the percussionists listen intently and watch each other and adjust, reminiscent of improvisational jazz.
I suspect if seen with enough understanding, this documentary explores a whole philosophy in a coherent way. (I don't really know if that's what the filmmaker intended or not.) What I do know is I didn't see it that way ...and I don't care (and maybe it isn't that way anyway:-). If you're waiting for "something to happen" or "some profound insight", you quite likely will find the film unbearably tedious and slow. It doesn't seem to me to welcome being approached that way.
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