Ryuichi Sakamoto.“I’m fascinated by the notion of a perpetual sound,” Ryuichi Sakamoto says. “One that won’t dissipate over time.“ He’s seated at the piano listening to the sound he’s just made melt into thin air. But as Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, Stephen Nomura Schible’s meticulous documentary on the now 66-year-old composer-performer indicates, Sakamoto’s own music is likely to outlast him.

Sakamoto with bow and cymbal.The film, shot over a five-year period, begins with footage of Sakamoto playing a piano that survived the 2011 tsunami. We follow his anti-nuclear activism triggered by Fukushima and then enter with him into his one-year sabbatical from music while he fights throat cancer. Once he’s able, his musical career resumes with the scoring of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant and working on his first solo album in eight years, async. We see him assiduously creating soundscapes on his computer (while sitting on an exercise ball), using natural forest sounds, for example, or delighting in the imposing result of a violin bow stroked over a cymbal that becomes fodder for The Revenant’s main theme. He imagines that his new album will be like composing for an Andrei Tarkovsky film that doesn’t exist.

Coda is that rare document that captures a composer’s creative process. There are no talking heads, no mention of Sakamoto’s personal life, marriages, children and the like. Instead we see his fascination with the great Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky’s use of Bach chorales. Sakamoto is consumed by the melancholy of Bach’s music.

Schible uses 1979 footage of Sakamoto from his synth-based heyday with the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra as a stepping stone to an overview of his film career. When Nagisa Oshima asked him to act in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence opposite David Bowie, Sakamoto refused unless he could also write the score. The result was arguably the most iconic and recognizable of his entire musical output, a simple repetitive tune that is as beautiful 35 years later as it was when the film was released in 1983. That led to his Academy Award-winning contribution to Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic Oscar winner, The Last Emperor (1986), and his echt romantic score for Bertolucci’s gorgeous follow-up, The Sheltering Sky (1990). We watch Sakamoto conducting an orchestra for the soundtrack in studio while the matching footage for both movies is shown onscreen.

Sakamoto playing the tsunami piano.The Sheltering Sky was based on a book by Paul Bowles, who had a cameo in the film. Sakamoto thought Bowles was the best thing about it and used Bowles’voiceover in async’s fullmoon, the album’s emotional centre. “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well,” Bowles says. “How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”

In choosing sounds for his new project, Sakamoto is also responding to the improvisatory nature of music and the way life itself has seemed to mirror it. Even the tsunami piano is returning to its natural state, he says. Schible’s lens captures it all for posterity.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda plays on June 20 at 7pm as part of the 7th annual Japanese Film Festival in the Japanese Cultural Centre, Kobayashi Hall, 6 Garamond Court, Toronto.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

From the cover of The WholeNote vol. 6 no. 9 - June 2001WholeNote readers who remember with affection Jim Galloway’s 16 years as Jazz Notes columnist with The WholeNote will be interested to know that the James Cullingham/Tamarack Productions documentary, Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz, will receive its premiere (free) live screening at Church of the Redeemer (Bloor and Avenue Rd.) on Thursday, June 28 at 7pm. This will be its only live screening prior to its broadcast on TVO on Thursday July 5 at 10pm. The screening will be followed by a live performance by saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist Mark Eisenman.
Given Galloway’s 23-year relationship as founding artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz, it’s fitting that the June 28 screening is under the auspices of TD Toronto Jazz Festival – Church of the Redeemer being one of eight Yorkville area venues, indoor and out, that will be hosting performances during the festival.

The Ken Page Memorial Trust (one of Galloway’s passionate causes) and The WholeNote have been co-presenting twice- or thrice-yearly reunions of the Galloway Wee Big Band, with Martin Loomer at the helm, at the Garage here at 720 Bathurst St., Toronto (The WholeNote’s home base). The hundreds of Galloway fans and WholeNote followers will get a special kick out of the footage in the film from one of those events. But the film also traces a wide geographic arc (Dairy (Scotland), Glasgow, Kansas City, Vienna), as it depicts some of the things that made this remarkable jazz ambassador tick.

Anyone who attended the most recent of those 720 Bathurst events will be particularly pleased at the choice of Mike Murley for the live set that follows the film. Murley guested with the Wee Big Band for this year’s February 15 Garage reunion event, and laid down an evening of the kind of playful, punny, sweetly considerate lines that were a hallmark of Galloway’s own memorable melodic style.

Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz will receive its free premiere screening, featuring performances by saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist Mark Eisenman, at 7pm on Thursday, June 28, at Church of the Redeemer, Toronto.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Gurrumul BannerThere are at least a dozen new films with a significant musical component in this year’s Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, which runs at various Toronto venues from April 26 to May 6 (hotdocs.ca). Many promising titles are tucked away among the 246 in the 2018 lineup, which celebrates the festival’s 25th anniversary. Among the ones I’ve seen, some are essential viewing and others are of more than passing interest.

Gurrumul at home during his father’s funeral.Gurrumul: April 28, 29, May 5. Paul Damien Williams’ definitive portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, the blind-from-birth Indigenous singer from Echo Island in Arnhem Land, Australian Northern Territory, manages the difficult task of fusing the artistic and personal life of one of the most significant musicians Australia has ever produced. “I am my ancestors,” Gurrumul says of his songs, most of which are in the language of his Guratj community whose musical traditions go back thousands of years. With hours of performance and rehearsal footage to choose from, Williams chronicles Gurrumul’s musical ascendancy from when he was discovered by Mark Grose (who became his manager) and Michael Hohnen (who became his producer and “brother”). Hohnen accompanied him on the double bass on tour and recordings; their two-decades-long relationship ended with Gurrumul’s death in 2017 at the age of 46. Gurrumul’s soulful tenor voice was a powerful musical instrument; once you’ve heard it, it’s not easily forgotten. Neither is Williams’ film.

Georg Friedrich Haas and Mollena Williams-Haas at Museum of Sex, New York.The Artist & the Pervert (April 27, 29, May 4) is a no-holds-barred look at the personal and professional life of Georg Friedrich Haas, one of the major European composers of his generation. His best-known work, In Vain (2000), was written in response to the rise of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party. Simon Rattle, one of the film’s talking heads, calls it “a really astonishing work of art … that audiences can’t get enough of.”  As a child in Austria Haas was beaten by his Nazi parents. At 20 he resolved to rid himself of their “venomous ideas.” At 50 he had his first BDSM relationship, finally giving in to his urge to dominate. Three years ago the 60-ish Haas, by then a New Yorker, married his soulmate and muse, Mollena Williams-Haas, an African-American kink educator and bawdy storyteller with whom he has a loving 24/7 master/slave relationship. “I can now work much more intensively and more focused than before,” he says. An intimate examination of the process of making music itself, The Artist & the Pervert is an idiosyncratic introduction to Haas’ floating constellations of overtones and microtonal experimentation.

I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story: world premiere April 26, 27, May 4, 6. Three generations of women (two Australian and two American), 18 to 64, share their obsessions with The Beatles, Take That, the Backstreet Boys and One Direction. If you’ve ever wondered why teenage girls scream at concerts (“It was so cathartic”), you’ve come to the right place. Taking us inside the mindset of these obsessed boyband fangirls (“They’re just like Barbie Dolls; they’re so perfect; they’re all my boyfriends”), the film is seeded with retro footage and pop candy songs. Spoiler alert: there is no music by The Beatles in this film.

Bathtubs Over Broadway: May 1, 3, 5. Steve Young, a comedy writer for the Late Show with David Letterman, stumbled onto a few vintage record albums – bizarre cast recordings marked “internal use only” – that were full-throated Broadway-style musicals whose subjects were the products of corporate America: General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox – Everything’s Coming up Citgo, for example. Bathtubs over Broadway follows Young deeper down the rabbit hole of this most unusual musical genre. With David Letterman, Chita Rivera, Martin Short, Florence Henderson, Susan Stroman, Jello Biafra and more. Co-presented by the Musical Stage Company.

Barbara Rubin in 1964. Photo credit: Jonas Mekas.Barbara Rubin and the Exploding NY Underground: May 2, 4, 5. Barbara Rubin was a teenage experimental filmmaker, whose transgressive film Christmas on Earth caused a sensation when it screened in NYC in 1964. She hung out with Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg and (with Factory habitué Gerard Malanga) introduced Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground. Rubin was a spoke in the avant-garde wheel for more than 15 minutes; Warhol shot her screen test in 1965. Yet within a few years she had become a Hasidic Jew and moved to a religious community in France, dying there at 35. Her lifelong friend, legendary experimental filmmaker and curator Jonas Mekas, saved all her correspondence. That and contemporaneous film footage were the fodder for Chuck Smith’s fascinating cultural touchstone; music by Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo.

Bachman: world premiere May 2, 3, 4. Randy Bachman’s American Woman was a chartbuster for the Guess Who and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet also hit number one for Bachman-Turner Overdrive, but the Winnipeg native is at least as well known for Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap on CBC Radio One. Each week Bachman fills two hours of thematically unified airtime with music and anecdotes delivered matter-of-factly, intimately and authoritatively. John Barnard profiles the man and his craft.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A (May 3, 5, 6) follows Sri Lankan genre-bending music star M.I.A. Mathangi Arulpragasam. “This is not a normal pop documentary, because M.I.A. was not a normal pop star,” writes Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic. The Strange Sound of Happiness (April 30, May 2) tells the director’s own story of how his obsession with the marranzano (jaw harp) led him from Sicily to Yakutia in Siberia to study under the legendary master of the instrument. Could it have been Sergio Leone’s memorable use of the instrument in For a Few Dollars More that triggered director Diego Pascal Panarello’s dream?

My Father Is My Mother’s Brother.My Father Is My Mother’s Brother: May 2, 3. Tolik, an artist in the Ukrainian underground music scene, is raising his niece while her mother is in and out of a psychiatric hospital. “The film seems to float, like the melody of one of Tolik’s songs,” according to Céline Guénot of the Nyon, Switzerland documentary film festival. To Want, To Need, To Love: May 2, 4. Two actor/musicians and the director’s brother are part of a troupe of artists, travelling from Zurich to Belgrade to Pristina, who create musical performance pieces around the question “What do you believe in?” Music by Kosovo native Arbër Salihu, who also plays one of the principal roles.

Ellis Haizlip, producer and host of the PBS series SOUL!, surrounded by his team. Clockwise left to right: Sherry Santifer, Stan Lathan, Loretta Greene, Leslie Demus, Alonzo Brown and Anna Maria Horsford. Photo credit: Bill Whiting.Mr. SOUL!: April 27, 28, May 5. A who’s who of black musical legends of the 1960s appeared on the PBS variety show SOUL from 1968 to 1973. Rare archival footage of the era dovetails with an intimate portrait of Ellis Haizlip, the openly gay producer-turned-host who is the film’s eponymous subject. Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Muhammad Ali, among others, also lend their voices to this moment of American cultural history. United Skates: April 28, 30, May 4. The roller rink scene and the Black community go under the microscope through the eyes of three skaters from LA, Chicago and North Carolina, as what was once a little-known cultural phenomenon and incubator of such hip-hop stars as N.W.A. and Queen Latifah fights to survive racism and a new economic reality. Jongnic (JB) Bontemps’ score was recorded by the Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra just last month.

Believer (May 1, 3, 4) follows Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds and openly gay former Mormon Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Neon Trees, as they create LoveLoud, a music and spoken-word festival designed to spark dialogue between the Mormon church and members of the LGBTQ community. Love, Scott (April 28, 29, May 3) follows Scott Jones, a gay musician oparalyzed from the waist down by a homophobic stabbing attack, as he rebuilds his life, in part through working with choirs. Score by Sigur Rós!

Among the films by Hot Docs’ 2018 Outstanding Achievement Award recipient Barbara Kopple are The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (May 1), a fly-on-the-wall chronicle of how the popular alt-country band dealt with the fallout from lead singer Natalie Maines’ criticism of President George W. Bush and his Iraq war policy; and Miss Sharon Jones! (May 2), Kopple’s inspirational portrait of the legendary soul singer that celebrates her music-making, joyful spirit and determination to carry on despite the cancer diagnosis that would take her life. May 3, Kopple will introduce a surprise screening of My Generation (2000), which takes a star-studded musical trip across three Woodstock Festivals (1969, 1992 and 1999) to see just how things have changed (or not).

Included in the Redux program, ”a retrospective showcase of documentaries that deserve another outing on the big screen,” is A Drummer’s Dream (2010) on May 2, featuring Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr, Dennis Chambers, Kenwood Dennard, Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Mike Mangini and Raul Rekow. Finally, Focus On John Walker – a retrospective of the Canadian filmmaker’s work – includes Men of the Deeps (2003) on May 5, about a world-renowned choir of working and retired coal miners who sing passionately about lives spent deep underground as the last coal mine in Cape Breton prepares to close.

Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival plays April 26 to May 6 in various locations throughout Toronto. See hotdocs.ca for further information.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Armie Hammer (left) and Geoffrey Rush in Final Portrait. Photo credit: Parisa Taghizadeh, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.Stanley Tucci’s sharply observed depiction of Alberto Giacometti’s last oil painting, Final Portrait, lingers lovingly over the artist’s exacting creative process. In 1964, Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), primarily known for his sculptures, asked his friend, the American author James Lord (Armie Hammer), to sit for him. Tucci’s film, adapted from Lord’s memoir, gives us a writer’s POV into the artist’s methods – driven by doubt and neurosis – and his personal relationships. Giacometti’s wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) tolerates his four-year-long relationship with Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a prostitute who is Giacometti’s muse and model. In his early 60s, Giacometti lives a chaotic lifestyle, grounded by his key relationships with the two women and his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), a calming presence who serves as his confidant and right-hand man.

Tucci uses the uncannily accurate set design adroitly, treating the facsimile of the studio as familiarly as if it were his kitchen, and filming visits to neighbourhood bars and restaurants with a sense of verisimilitude and period detail that transports the viewer across more than five decades. Tucci’s keen eye harkens back to the observational style and verve of his classic Big Night. His actors, particularly Rush, Poésy and Shalhoub, bring art history to life and energize the slim thread of the narrative balanced by Hammer and Testud’s naturalism. Final Portrait, despite its many accomplishments, does not examine the philosophical underpinnings of the painter’s aesthetic (as Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse did, for example). Instead, frequent conversational strolls in nearby Montparnasse Cemetery by Lord and Giacometti serve up gossipy tidbits. It’s what happens in the studio that stands firmly at the film’s centre.

Geoffrey Rush (left) and Clémence Poésy in Final Portrait. Photo credit: Parisa Taghizadeh, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.Evan Lurie’s score for various combinations of violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano and celeste is a model of discretion, never overwhelming what we see on screen, acting more as a linking mechanism between scenes or a subtle comment on their mood. In fact, after a brief moment of violin melancholy, the film begins with Ralf Dieter Gscheidle’s La Fleur, a typical Parisian accordion solo announcing Final Portrait’s locale. Suddenly we’re in Giacometti’s studio, with Giacometti’s iconic sculpture of Isaku Yanaihara at its centre. The soundtrack bristles with the sound of walking across the studio floor, of a canvas being moved onto an easel, of choosing brushes and moving pedestals – the soundtrack to a picture of creativity.

“It’s impossible to paint you as I see you,” Giacometti tells Lord, as a tentative violin leads into the warmth of a string quartet and a lyrical piano solo. Whether it’s a sprightly violin that signals a spirited scene in the bar of Chez Adrien or a tentative violin melody that acts as a momentary comma to the end of Lord’s sitting for the day, there’s just enough musical noodling to propel the action before Gscheidle’s accordion closes the parentheses on a footnote in art history.

One of the founding members of the Lounge Lizards, the seminal 1980s downtown Manhattan group led by his brother John, Evan Lurie (classically trained as a pianist) is also known as an actor. For the last decade he has operated a contemporary art gallery in Indiana.

Final Portrait opens April 6 at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity and VIP.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

(L-R) Amira Casar as Annella, Michael Stulhbarg as Mr. Perlman, Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Photo credit: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, c/o Sony Pictures Classics.The third film in director Luca Guadagnino’s trilogy about desire, Call Me By Your Name wears its sensuousness on its sleeve without going over the edge into sensory overload. The visceral attraction of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) to 24-year-old graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an organic outgrowth of the younger man’s sensitivity to all things sensorial. Set in Northern Italy during the hot summer of 1983 and based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name places Elio’s first same-sex affair in the context of an idyllic family villa with a pair of intellectually committed, compassionate, understanding parents.

Elio’s art historian/archaeologist father (the quietly hedonistic Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator mother (the elegant Amira Casar) welcome Oliver into their home for a six-week internship, a home that also serves as an axis for neighbours and friends. Elio’s sexual energy, already occupied with his girlfriend (the winsome Esther Garrel, whose director father Philippe and actor brother Louis are major talents in the French film world), begins to be focused sporadically and haltingly on Oliver. Guadagnino captures these moments with great sensitivity, aided by James Ivory’s insightful script and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s sun-dappled cinematography. Ivory, known for his directorial chops in such films as A Room with a View and Howards End, has adapted Aciman’s novel with great care; Mukdeeprom, fondly remembered for his camerawork on the award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, brings that same evocative eye to Guadagnino’s film. Chalamet and Hammer are superb, realizing their characters’ relationship of nuanced anticipation and shaded desire.

Music is intrinsic to Call Me By Your Name, both as a key plot/character point and in its varied use on the soundtrack. Right from the moment when John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction jolts the opening credits with an infectious burst of pianistic energy, we have a sense that Guadagnino’s ear will be almost as crucial to the action as his eye. Not only will Hallelujah Junction return to enliven the proceedings later on, Adams’ Phrygian Gates makes a quizzical point and his China Gates contributes a sunny mood. The wispy romanticism of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s piano adds atmosphere; so does Frank Glazer’s austere take on Satie’s Sonatine bureaucratique and Valéria Szervánszky and Ronald Cavaye’s excerpt from Ravel’s Ma mère l'Oye. The beauty and warmth of André Laplante’s playing of Ravel’s Barque sur l’ocean from Miroirs deepen Elio and Oliver’s bicycle ride through the countryside.

Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Photo credit: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, c/o Sony Pictures Classics.Elio is an amateur pianist and music copyist who also dabbles on the guitar; he performs Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother on both. In another scene, for a transfixed Oliver, Elio plays the familiar “Zion hört die Wächter singen,” from Bach’s Cantata BWV140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme as if he were Busoni channelling Liszt’s version of the piece. (Alessio Bax covers it on the soundtrack.)

Popular music also figures in Guadagnino’s vision. When Oliver dances with a girl in a club to Giorgio Moroder and Joe Esposito’s Lady, Lady, Lady it evokes jealousy in Elio; the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way is a favourite of Oliver’s; Loredana Bertè’s J’adore Venise is of the times. Three songs by Sufjan Stevens, including two that Guadagnino commissioned for the film, comment directly on it. As the director said (via thefilmstage.com) when Call Me By Your Name played at the New York Film Festival in October 2017: “I like in cinema when you have an ominous narrator. It’s something that fascinates me a lot, and in fact, I wanted that here. In a way the narrator became Sufjan Stevens with his new songs, made contemporary, about our story…I felt Sufjan’s lyricism, both in the voice and the lyrics itself, had some beautiful elusiveness on one hand, on the other hand poignancy that [was] really [resonant].”

Call Me By Your Name is currently playing at Cineplex Varsity & VIP.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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