If there is an easy explanation for composer Philip Glass’s ubiquity in movies, it is likely the way his music’s neutral surfaces and measured activity serve to amplify mood without imposing extraneous suggestions. Australian director Scott Hicks used some of Glass’s compositions while making his 1999 film, Snow Falling on Cedars. Subsequent contact with the composer’s management resulted in an invitation to create a documentary timed to coincide with Glass’s 70th birthday in 2007.
Shooting in digital video, Hicks takes his lead from Glass’s other cinematic collaborators: An opening sequence endows the composer’s annual ride on Brooklyn’s Cyclone with the kinetic hustle of Godfrey Reggio’s “Qatsi” trilogy, while elsewhere Hicks questions his subject from behind the camera à la Errol Morris. Sections dealing with Glass’s early history rely on slow pans across fading snapshots. But Hicks, provided with unprecedented access to his subject’s family, friends and collaborators, offers fresh insight into Glass’s insatiable drive and pragmatic cosmology.
No dispassionate observer, Hicks counters the utilitarian disregard Glass maintains toward his own prolific output with a lingering shot of emotions playing across the composer’s face during a rehearsal of his latest symphony. It is only in matters of the heart—including a personal crisis that arises during filming—that Glass remains an opaque subject.