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Elliott CARTER (b.
A Labyrinth of Time
Directed by Frank
Featuring interviews with Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez and others.
Released 2004, filmed in New York with archival footage from
Berlin, Paris and other locales.
FILM/IDEAL AUDIENCES INTERNATIONAL DVD9DS17 [90:00]
Dutch film maker
Frank Scheffer has devoted his life to making films about music
and musicians. He has amassed an impressive catalogue of work
covering some of the most significant composers and performers
of the twentieth century and now the twenty-first century.
This has included award-winning films on Mahler, Stravinsky
and Boulez, among others. This documentary about American composer
Elliott Carter, who is now 99 years old, is the result of collaboration
between Scheffer and Carter spanning more than a quarter century.
Scheffer as a film-maker
is part visual artist and part documentarian. His eye for captivating
pictorial montage is superb. His melding of image and sound
is astute and compelling, and there is a hint of influence
from Godfrey Reggio, who is an undisputed master of slow motion,
stop-action and accelerated motion photography, especially
when connected to music. A number of the exterior scenes from
around New York City are reminiscent of such films as Koyaanisqatsi.
This is not so
much a film about Carter’s music as it is about Carter himself,
and what drives the man to create. Although there are abundant
samples of his work used throughout, Scheffer eschews the approach
taken by Christopher Nupen by which we hear and see long segments
of music filmed in concert. Instead, we see Carter in the creative
process, as he physically writes a piece, and as he works with
performers to bring the music to life.
This film is an
interesting and helpful way to come to terms with Carter’s
works. To simply sit and listen to a piece of music by this
composer takes an effort. Some might say too much of an effort.
And yet, as you listen to this gentle nonagenarian talk about
his creative processes, how he came to learn his craft and
what he is trying to tell the world through his music, one
is compelled to put forth the work necessary to understand
his music. What is most telling is the Carter’s utter lack
of compromise in either his standards or in the manner in which
he wants his music to be played. He is calmly insistent throughout
rehearsal sequences and does not quit until he hears the music
as he conceived it.
I often rail against
episodic and disjunctive music in these pages, but there seems,
at least in these samples - oft relegated to the background,
and difficult to sort out from the conversations under which
they are played - to be a high degree of structure in Carter’s
work. What is most evident in all of the music heard here is
Carter’s slavish devotion to counterpoint, a value instilled
in him by Nadia Boulanger.
This film is more
than just a pastiche of interviews by and about the composer
interspersed with bleeding chunks of music. Rather, we get
an intimate portrait of a gentle man and his lifelong dedication
to his art, his wife and his city. It is haunting to see images
of the World Trade Center before its destruction, and then
to hear Carter’s reflections on that day and its effect on
his own life and work. His 1997 opera What Next?, which
deals with the aftermath of a calamitous traffic accident,
eerily foreshadows the changes that the September 11 attacks
had on New York City.
must ask this question of such a film as this: “Does it inspire
me to seek out this composer’s music?” The answer is clearly ‘yes’.
If one were to have a criticism of Scheffer’s style it might
be that the rather stark pace and dark hues that come to the
fore cause the overall tone of the film to be a bit too dream-like.
That said, I still found it captivating. It would have been
nice to have had, in addition to the excellent essays in the
booklet, a printed list of the musical selections and the performers
involved. They are credited at the end of the film, but fly
by so quickly as to make it a chore to assimilate the information
for any kind of written documentation.
see also review by Christopher Thomas
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