An inspired original view of the creative process (something that is notoriously difficult to capture on film), 20,000 Days on Earth is a brilliant meta-documentary about the musican and screenwriter Nick Cave.
Two men, as comfortable with one another as the proverbial pair of old shoes, rise and get dressed up accompanied by Chopin’s exquisite Berceuse. It’s a most appropriate lullaby for Love Is Strange, Ira Sachs’ compassionate new film about family and other inter-connected relationships. And it’s just the first of six pieces by Chopin that serve as the principal soundtrack for this sweet, observant story of the ironies of life.
Blink and you might miss this little gem about the creative process that is in the cinematic roman à clef family alongside Almost Famous. Inspired by journalist/author Jon Ronson’s experience as a keyboardist with the Frank Sidebottom band at 20 in 1987, Frank follows a present day naive cubicle-dwelling office worker with pop music dreams as he immerses himself in the strange world of a band with the unpronounceable name “Soronprfbs.”
Reuben Atlas’ The Brothers Hypnotic follows eight of Phil Cohran’s 23 offspring as they forge a career for the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble through fierce independence and musical smarts, moving from street performances to playing with Prince and Mos Def. But the film is also a tribute to the musical training their father gave them: “Long tones were the first things we ever learned. It’s the essence. One note. It’s meditation and it connects you to the universe. And because anything that’s worth anything lasts long.” The elder Cohran played trumpet with Sun Ra among others, but was at least as well known for his work with Chicago’s African-American community and his Afro arts centre. Just as important as their musical education was the self love and sense of identity he taught them, which enabled them to inspire and bring joy and happiness to people. The results are contagious and well worth seeking out at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, June 6 to 12.
Music-centric films were less evident in the 2014 Hot Docs than last year’s bountiful crop, yet there were a handful of notable movies that kept feet tapping and sent the mind reeling.
Allan Hicks’ fearlessly intimate Keep On Keepin’ On focuses on the relationship between nonagenarian jazz trumpeter Clark Terry (b. 1920) and blind pianist Justin Kauflin who is in his early 20s. Terry joined the Count Basie band in his late 20s, describing it as prep school for the university of Ellingtonia and stayed with Ellington for a decade before becoming the first black musician hired by NBC (he was a regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, for example). He’s best known as a teacher, however, with his famous system of doodle-tonguing and thousands of students (Strikingly, Quincy Jones at 13 was his first.) spreading his philosophy of music far and wide.