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Thursday, 13 August 2015

On DVD (10) Gershwin - An unknown, till now, byway in the career of the master Alain Resnais

Gershwin in 1937
Way back in 1992, the master Alain Resnais took the opportunity to make a 50+ minute doco on George Gershwin for French television. It was made between I Want to Go Home  (1989) and the Alan Ayckbourn adaptations Smoking/No Smoking  (1992). None of those features were exactly high points in the great man's career. Nor is a discovery of the doco on Gershwin going to suddenly cause me to say that he was working full tilt. But as a comprehensive look at the musician and composer and for some fine and quite individual contributions by an array of show biz people, its never less than most revealing in telling its story.

It should also be said very early that the look of the film is assisted greatly by incorporating a series of paintings by Guy Pellaert, the Belgian graphic artist who designed some extraordinary images to accompany music and movies into the market place. Pellaert's New York seems to borrow more than a little from Edward Hopper, especially in those street scenes where we are looking in from outside. Nice.

But it's when the biography veers off into personal touches that its at its liveliest and also reaches the peaks where you feel you are learning something more about that extraordinary subject a man dead at 38 who left behind 19 Broadway shows, an opera, hundreds of songs, two sparkling RKO movies for Fred Astaire (only one for Ginger) and a series of orchestral works that are still among the greatest and most-loved compositions of the 20th century. Bertrand Tavernier talks about those nineteen Broadway shows. John Kander and Phillipe Baudoin deconstruct some of the songs to show how Gershwin. Kander sums up: 'Even in his quietest songs he takes you on an adventure'. Betty Comden and Adolph Green reminisce about first encountering Gershwin's work and sing, with great feeling, Our Love is Here Stay including the preliminary words that are omitted in most renditions.

As with his life, where triumph followed triumph with almost surreal suddenness, suddenly George was dead. He was playing with an orchestra in Los Angeles and the moment came and he could not start playing. His brain ceased to function. He reports, according to Resnais's film, smelling burning rubber. I had heard elsewhere that it was the smell of almonds, apparently a frequent signifier of an undiagnosed brain cancer. Two days later he's gone.

Alain Resnais's film brings him back very vividly.

The copy I saw was taped off Channel 4 in the UK and I'm happy to pass on to enquirers where I got it from and the state its in (mostly very good!). You can email me at the address provided on the side panel.

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