Four American Composers: John Cage (1983)
Directed by Peter Greenaway
Peter Gordon .... Himself (segment "Ashley")
Jack Kripl .... Intereviewee
Jill Kroesen .... (segment "Ashley")
Kurt Munkacsi .... Interviewee
Dora Ohrenstein .... Interviewee
Michael Riesman .... Interviewee
'Blue' Gene Tyranny .... The World's Greatest Piano Player (segment "Ashley")
David Van Tieghem .... The Captain of the Football Team (segment Ashley)
Runtime: 220 min
Revel Guest .... producer
Original Music by
Non-Original Music by John Cage
Cinematography by Curtis Clark
Film Editing by John Wilson
Michael Nyman .... musical advisor
4 American Composers. Produced by Revel Guest. Directed by Peter Greenaway. New York, N.Y.: Mystic Fire Video, 1991. Originally produced by Transatlantic Films in 1985. Vol. 1: John Cage. Mystic Fire Video 76237 (VHS cassette; 60 mm.); ISBN 1561762377. Vol. 2: Philip Glass. Mystic Fire Video 76234 (VHS cassette; 60 mm.); ISBN 1561762342. Vol. 3: Meredith Monk. Mystic Fire Video 76236 (VHS cassette; 60 mm.); ISBN 1561762369. Vol. 4: Robert Ashley. Mystic Fire Video 76235 (VHS cassette; 60 mm.); ISBN 1561762350.
Based on London performances under the aegis of the New York/Almeida Festival, this set of four one-hour documentaries, originally produced in 1983, introduced these avant-garde composers and their music to general British audiences. It is a tribute to the filmmakers' accomplishment (and a sorry comment on how we honor our own prophets) that the set provides no less valuable an introduction for American audiences a full decade later.
These videos merit viewing not simply for exporting the avant-garde to a general public, but for explaining it-or, rather, for letting the composers explain themselves. Compared to Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley, John Cage and Philip Glass are household names, yet their relative fame frequently turns on the persistence of misconceptions. All too often, even scholars who might be expected to know better portray Cage as either charlatan or nihilist. Critics in the 1980s tagged Glass's music as "classical music for people who don't like classical music," suggesting his shrewd exploitation of the yuppie market. Director Peter Greenaway and producer Revel Guest weave representative musical excerpts with interviews to present the personalities more accurately, and, in so doing, establishes a broader context for listening. Perhaps the most striking revelation of these documentaries is that such notorious iconoclasts are so soft-spoken in person (compared to the shy, halting Ashley, the loquacious Monk seems downright assertive).
-- BRIAN ROBISON, Cornell University