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Behind the Scenes: American Masters' Philip Glass Documentary

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
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from: Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer, American Masters

The opportunity to work with Scott Hicks, the director of the remarkable feature film Shine, on a film about Philip Glass was just a no-brainer. The experience was everything one could hope for. Seeing each of these men’s creativity in action – Scott’s very intimate, unobtrusive filmmaking process and his enormous respect for the music – Philip’s devotion to and delight in his work, his passions and his pursuits. The outcome is a very compelling film, full of complexities, unfolding against a beautiful panorama of both natural and operatic scenery, with the music of this American master always strong and soaring.

Philip Glass rides his bike to work, Nova Scotia (still from the film)

Unlike many of the American Masters films, this is not a soup-to-nuts biography in the traditional sense, but is, instead, a portrait blessed with something we don’t always have – a subject who allowed a filmmaker and his camera to record his daily life over an extended period of time. Thus, the audience is given privileged glimpses into the artistic and personal pressures faced by one of the most prolific contemporary composers of our time, whose output includes opera, music theater, symphonies, concerts, string quartets, and film scores. Glass emerges as a likable, self-effacing soul-searcher, although clearly a driven artist for whom music will always be his first passion. The impact of this on his personal life emerges in the film and, in one particularly surprising moment, the result of this kind of ‘fly on the wall’ filmmaking reveals some genuinely intimate truths.

I wanted to be involved in this film because I feel we must balance out our more popular music shows with programs about classical and “classicist” composers and musicians, whenever possible. The audience for the latter is relatively small, but Philip Glass is probably one of the most well-known contemporary composers in the world, primarily because of his extraordinary and ground-breaking music theater works (e.g. Einstein on the Beach), as well as his hypnotic and beautiful film scores, which have brought him Hollywood acclaim. This film was a wonderful experience for me and I hope it finds the audience it deserves.

American Masters — Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts airs tonight on Thirteen at 9pm.

* Watch outtakes from the film, including fantastic performances of Glass’ music by Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies; Michael Riesman and Kronos Quartet; Wu Man; UAKTI and The Philip Glass Ensemble.

* Original documentary site

* Filmmaker Scott Hicks was interviewed on XM Radio’s Bob Edwards Show: listen here.