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March 16, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts is a documentary which celebrates the complex life of aging composer Philip Glass; an artist so dedicated to his craft and so full of humanity that he is a fascinating subject to watch and holds the audience’s interest for the near two hour running time. Glass portrays various elements of Philip’s life in a series of twelve vignettes; early sections provide a portrayal of the emergence of Glass in the late 1960s, and the documentary moves through to his current work as film composer and his writing of an opera of Coetzee’s Waiting For The Barbarians.

Director Scott Hicks (Shine) clearly has great respect for Glass. The access he has to Philip’s life in both personal and professional environments enabled Hicks to capture the essence of the being that is Glass. The range of interview subjects—from Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen to Glass’ wife, sister and Qi-Gong instructor help give the audience a well-rounded view of Glass. However, it is Glass’ own words used as the primary narration that gave us the best insight into the composer’s mind. Glass has a rare quality not often seen in documentaries—an engaging, professionally shot film that feels intimate, at times to the point of a home movie.

The everyday element of the visuals in Glass offers a perfect counterpoint to Glass’ swelling orchestral music that plays under the majority of the documentary. The static compositions of a pencil lying on a half-finished sheet of music, or wind blowing through long grass in Nova Scotia, portray Glass’ world as the same one the audience lives in. The editing in Glass, cutting from tight close ups of interview subjects’ faces to wide shots of the entire room are handled well, breaking up traditional shots of talking heads and used sparingly enough not to become annoying. Unfortunately the reflection of the camera operator in mirrors and windows destroys several shots and irritates, due to the high quality of the majority of the visual work in Glass.

Glass is both an entertaining and informative documentary, especially for one who knows nothing about Philip Glass. Glass works as a celebration of a man’s life and creative process but falls short as biography, as it leaves too much unanswered. Ominous references are made to darker elements of Glass’ life, which are omitted entirely. Glass is better off without them, as they would have altered the incredibly light tone which makes Glass so easy to watch.

Directed by Scott Hicks
Showing in the World Cinema Showcase at the Paramount 2–15 April 2009

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