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Touch the Sound
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by Jay Seaver

"Really, what is more fun than banging things together to make music?"
5 stars

The promo copy sums this movie up: Evelyn Glennie is one of the world's most talented and renowned percussionists, despite the fact that she is profoundly deaf. It's a natural, immediate hook that would make for an immensely frustrating movie if Glennie was a less charismatic screen presence. Fortunately, she holds up her end of the movie while director Thomas Riedelsheimer documents her with both great appreciation and his own artist's touch.

Ostensibly, this is meant to be a document of Evelyn Glennie and Fred Frith recording a new, totally improvised album in a German building set for demolition. That's only a small part of what we see, though - Ms. Glennie spends time performing on the streets of New York, teaching drums to a deaf teenager in a Glasgow school, giving a concert in Fuji City, Japan, and visiting with her brother at the family farm back in Scotland. You can tell by the changing hair colors that the movie was filmed over a considerable amount of time, and then pieced together in a non-linear manner.

Well, not quite non-linear; the scenes of Fred and Evelyn in their "studio" start with their arrival and seem to continue more or less in order. But since this is a documentary about the here and now, rather than the progression of Evelyn's life or even the evolution of her work, Riedelsheimer mixes things up, not giving us any hints about the order in which these threads occur. He's not trying to tell us a story, but trying to give us a snapshot, so the question of where Evelyn is at point A and point B or how her life changed in between is irrelevant. So, he finds which moments work when placed adjacent to each other and stitches them together that way, even if it means jumping halfway around the globe and back again.

He is extremely good at shooting good-looking footage, too. Riedelsheimer serves as both his own cinematographer and editor, and what's really striking is how well he integrates chaotic and decidedly un-photogenic environments into an absolutely gorgeous film. It helps that this is probably not the sort of documentary whose storyline and focus evolves during filming and editing; Reidelsheimer probably knew from the beginning what sort of movie he would wind up making. It lets him frame shots off-center or with a distant focal point to create striking images, or poke around to find them. This is no small achievement; it takes a concerted effort to find beauty in a fish market, a run-down farm, and a hollowed-out industrial building.

A great deal of this comes from Evelyn Glennie's enthusiasm for her art. The only moments during the movie where she does not appear outright enthusiastic are the interview segments, where she becomes a mere talking head trying to describe indescribable things - how turning off her hearing aid allows her to "hear" better with her entire body, for instance, or briefly dropping into the sort of artist-speak that can make a general audience feel stupid. But when we get to watch her, we get it. We see her demonstrating the method of listening with one's skin and hands to a deaf student. We see her open a box full of different objects to try on a type of Japanese drum she apparently wasn't familiar with.

But mostly, we see her play, in both senses. She's a performer, and her music is both lively and skilled; she applies great technique to the most basic way we have of making music. But it's her way of playing in the other way that unleashes the most delight. Every chaotic place she goes has new things just laying around, items of different shapes and sizes and materials, that will make new and different sounds when you hit them with a stick, or bow, or brush. Parts of the building in which she and Fred Frith are recording have strong echoes, but where other musicians may shudder at the idea of introducing that kind of randomness and distortion into their work, these two find that echo to be just one more exciting toy to play with in order to make music.

Watching this movie didn't really make me truly understand how Evelyn Glennie hears differently than I do; my brain's too hard-wired to get auditory data from the eardrums to process all but the crudest sympathetic vibrations coming from the rest of my body. I envy her ability to perceive the world in a way I can't. Still, I think I understand her delight in finding a new sound: I felt something I imagine must be very similar watching this movie.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10501&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/19/05 13:27:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/22/05 emma breathtaking 5 stars
12/11/04 A Clink awesome 5 stars
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  07-Sep-2005 (NR)



Directed by
  Thomas Riedelsheimer

Written by

  Evelyn Glennie

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