Classical Music Review: New Releases

Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles. Directed by Owsley Brown. Cinematographyby David John Golia, Gene Salvatori, Rudy Burckhardt, Nathaniel Dorsky.Edited by Nathaniel Dorsky. Music by Paul Bowles (from various recordings).  Musical visualizations by Nathaniel Dorsky, Rudy Burckhardt. 77 minutes.

Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was one of the most fascinating characters in American writing. His music is just as fascinating but much less known.And though his work as a writer has been the focus of several other documentaries and a fiction film, Bertolucci's 1990 The Sheltering Sky, Night Waltzis the first one on his music. Novice director Owsley Brown manages to avoid all the cliches of the documentary form -- no talking heads as in Ken Burns' epic, and frequently dull Jazz, and no follow the ruler lectures either. Instead he lets Bowles speak for himself, and he's quirky, engaging and full of piss and vinegar. He tells, for example, how he stood up Prokofiev in Paris and literally took a hike. And he says he wasn't a very good student of Copland.

Though some of his music might be described as neo-classical, it's too varied to be pigeonholed, and his genius lies in his inventive use of rhythm and harmonic color. Brown doesn't illustrate the music -- about 40 minutes here -- but lets it interact with carefully chosen footage byNathaniel Dorsky and famed New York underground filmmaker Rudy urckhardt (1914-1999). "Huapango (El Sol) Piano Solo" (1939) gets paired with film Dorsky shot in Mexico, while the "Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet" (1930-31)is matched and counterpointed with three of Burckhardt's best-known shorts.Other pieces are evocatively linked with footage Dorsky shot in Paris and Tangier, Morocco, where Bowles lived from 1947 until his death. Music always does something with images and Brown and his collaborators aren't literal about the conjunctions. This lets both art forms breathe. This is one of the best films I've ever seen about a composer. It's won three awards so far but has yet to find a distributor. For further information contact .

-Michael McDonagh
Return to Main Page