Thursday, November 17, 2005

Touch the Sound

A film on an artist’s interpretation of sound by a director who excels at shooting beautiful images can either be a stunning combination or an unfocused union. Thankfully, Touch the Sound is far closer to the former than the latter. Following the world’s premier solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie (who happens to be deaf) across the world as she experiments with musicians from Germany, New York, Scotland and Japan; Touch the Sound is a hypnotic and informative documentary from Thomas Redelsheimer, the man who last brought us Rivers and Tides.

The most fascinating parts of the film are those dominated entirely by Glennie. An enthralling subject and an incredible overachiever, she really makes for a great subject and captivates whether in her impromptu creative sessions or her discussions on how sound affects her despite her ailment (hint: she doesn’t consider herself handicapped). The documentary is equally balanced between her music itself and the life that surrounds it and all in all, does a nice job of balancing both. First, the visceral power that she achieves through percussion is shown throughout several locals whose acoustics incidentally make for intriguing cinematic settings and after sees her as she does everything from help an equally deaf student at her old school to visiting her old home. Throughout all of this it becomes hard to consider Glennie as anything less than singular; it almost makes me feel bad for all the artists I see at my local university whom seem to be trying so hard to be different when people like her just…are. It’s a credit to the power of her art and to the director, who for the second time has chosen intriguing artists and has shown them as warm complex individuals rather than simple oddball eccentrics.

While Glennie is fascinating, the film does have a few slight flaws. Since the movie consists of her either playing or talking and one can only take so much footage of either, the rest of the visual track features Thomas Radelsheimer’s interpretations of the sounds that surround us all: basically, shots of anything that makes noise. While most of these images are absolutely stunning and proof that he’s an extremely talented cinematographer, after a while they begin to feel “tacked on” and distract from the main subject at hand. For this reason, Rivers and Tides felt like a more natural project since Radelshimer just had to point the camera at the artwork; something that’s impossible in a film based on sound. Also, the film’s pacing is a bit off with the back end revealing precious little new information and dragging on slightly. While hearing Glennie play is a delight, one wonders if there wasn’t more to say as well to keep the viewer guessing.

All in all though, Touch the Sound is an engaging documentary about an intriguing performer. Thomas Radelsheimer is 2 for 2 in his series on artists and continues to get more able with the camera and Evelyn Glennie’s music will certainly be on my list of things to check out. Recommended.

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