Film review – Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007)

Philip Glass is one of the most prolific and influential modern music composers. His operas, symphonies, concertos and film scores have been equally celebrated and derided. Glass himself jokes that his music is, “So radical that I could be mistaken for an idiot”. For 18 months Australian director Scott Hicks (Shine) had unrestricted access to Glass’ personal and professional life to make this extraordinary documentary.

Hicks delivers a completely biographical portrait of Glass, covering his childhood, rise to fame (and infamy), family and friends, professional career, spirituality, collaborations and artistic motivations. Glass is a likeable, generous and open subject but what really makes this film so compelling is Hicks’ approach. Instead of talking head interviews, Hicks candidly chats to Glass while he is working, socialising and relaxing. When discussing what inspires him to create music, Glass is making pizzas for his children. Interviews are uncontrolled and there are several mistakes and interruptions left in the film, providing unexpected moments of insight.

Admirers of Glass will adore this film but it will also be embraced by anybody fascinated by the creative process. This is an engaging, compelling and beautiful film.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 317, 2008

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008