Another subtitle for this documentary could simply be, “Filmmaker in Progress”. From the start of the documentary, we see British composer Michael Nyman with a camera ready to take pictures, whether in London, Poland or on tour throughout the world.
Probably best-know around the world for his film compositions, Nyman wrote his first film score in 1967 for British filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s black & white short film “5 Postcards From Capital Cities” and, since then, has contributed to many of Greenaway’s films, including the critically acclaimed 1982 feature, “The Draughtman’s Contract”, as well as 1989’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”. His score for the Academy Award winning “The Piano” by Jane Campion was nominated for a BAFTA and won The Australian Film Institute Award. He has furthermore contributed to the films of French filmmaker Patrice Lecompte, German Volker Schloendorf, British Antiona Bird and many, many more.
Most recently, his music was featured in the 2009 Academy Award Winning Documentary, “Man on Wire” by James Marsh and right now you can hear his work on Michael Winterbottom’s latest feature “The Trip”.
Often, as he discusses in the documentary, he composed the music before a single frame had been shot—when all he had to go by was the script.
In this documentary, Beck accompanies Nyman as he moves from making music for other peoples’ images to creating “experimentations with video” as he calls it; visual diaries that he has collected over the past fifteen years. So for the first time, as Nyman puts it, the audience can hear and see the world according to Nyman.
Suddenly, the train ride to Poland that Nyman and Beck take earlier in the film—where he learns of his Jewish grandparents who could neither read nor write—and where we see him walking around, camera in hand, now makes sense. It all comes together later as we see Nyman’s short film of a pair of train bumpers gently moving back and forth, as if kissing and caressing each other, set to his own music. The simple-yet-unique complexity of Nyman’s images allows a deeper insight into his music and vice versa.
However, Beck’s film does not stop here. In addition to the vast repertoire of film scores, and his own video and photography work, Nyman also continues to compose for his own band—The Michael Nyman Band, which he founded in 1976.
In short interviews with some of his musicians, we learn that Nyman’s music is extremely challenging to play, yet extremely engaging and gratifying. His musicians claim that, although their bodies hurt when they play his music, they will always give it all they have. However, when another composer or producer asks them to play in “nymanesque” style, they will never push themselves as hard as they do for Nyman.
Beck, previously trained as a cinematographer, offers captivating images of London as well as some intimate performance footage and, linked together with Nyman’s music, the film provides an energy and pacing that keeps the film moving forward.
Just like Nyman’s music, the documentary leaves you wanting more. After Nyman and his band perform at the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall—a world class classical music festival and the institution, Nyman confesses on camera, he always wanted to be accepted into—it seems like we only got started.
For more information on Nyman’s music, films, the band, and the documentary, please visit: www.michaelnyman.com