Thursday, May 26, 2011

P-Star Rising

P-Star Rising

This PBS documentary film tells so many stories. It's a New York story. A story about the quest for fame & wealth. The story of a single father. A story about drug addiction. A story about child entertainers. A story about the crumbling music business. A story about how quick and easy it is to spend a paltry $10,000 record company advance! All these tales are presented in this outstanding film about an up-and-coming rapper named P-Star. 
The documentary follows P-Star from age 9-13. She's usually billed as "The youngest girl in the game". Her skills on the mic are undeniable -- we see many scenes of her performing in the studio and on stage. Her father had a career in the music business decades previous and is integrally involved in his daughter's rise. Complicating matters, he is a single parent raising two daughters with no help from their mother. They live in a small apartment in Harlem.
"P-Star Rising" is gripping from start to finish. It's a family drama encompassed in a story about ambition and dreams. The filmmakers are never exploitative; this is to their credit. They always allow their subjects time and space to breathe and be truthful. Through it all, P-Star herself is a charmer, overflowing with gumption. You will root for her to succeed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould - DIRECTOR'S CUT

Glenn Gould is probably the best-known classical pianist of the 20th century. This is down to his immense technical ability and also his set of idiosyncrasies. When out in public, he would rarely remove his thick wool gloves. He always performed and practiced the piano seated on a modified chair which sat extremely low, at an unorthodox height. He retired from concert performance at the tender age of 31. The list goes on. "Genius Within" is probably the best film portrait of Gould yet to be released. The first half is gripping. We watch this young upstart from a small Canadian town capture wild plaudits after his debut concerts in New York. Then he reaches an even wider audience after his masterful recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations sees release:
A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981)
Gould brought a vibrancy and fresh approach to the rather obscure Goldberg Variations. His playing on that record is a delight, a marvelous blend of precision and panache.

The latter half of the film "Genius Within" does drag. It's difficult to bring Gould's private years to life on screen. He became an isolationist and mostly retreated to the recording studio, putting down on tape his singular interpretations of keyboard classics. During his later years he also produced an occasional scripted radio program, and painstakingly documenting every one of his bodily tics (Gould was a notorious hypochondriac). There's more to be explored here; unfortunately "Genius Within" does a poor job explicating this period of time. 

And then Gould was gone, deceased far too soon. He leaves behind him a vicious wake. He life resembled a fireball: burn bright, scorch the landscape, and then keep on moving.