Tuesday, March 17, 2015

1996 - Shine

It's been a few months now since I moved to Los Angeles and I've already landed my first TV role, so I'm happy to conclude it was a wise move. About a month ago, I shot a couple of scenes for Marc Maron's self-titled sitcom on IFC. Season three begins in May, so I don't know exactly yet when my episode will air, but watch this space.

Next up in 1996's battle for Best Picture...

Scott Hicks
Jan Sardi
Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, John Gielgud, Lynn Redgrave
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
1 win, for Best Actor (Rush)

The true story of a unique man, Shine explores the life of pianist David Helfgott, from young boy to adolescent (Taylor) to maladjusted adult (Rush). The child of immigrant parents, Helfgott was taught piano at a young age by his father, Peter (Mueller-Stahl), who also imparted an intense passion for winning at all costs. As a teenager, David wins a prestigious music competition and is invited to study in America, but his father cruelly denies him this opportunity. Later, he is offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, but this time, Helfgott Senior's protestations are ignored and David pursues his musical dreams. The pressure turns out to be too much, however, when after successfully performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece renowned for its high degree of difficulty, David suffers a mental breakdown and winds up under psychiatric care. Years later, he is coaxed into returning to play in public, his impetus still to make his father proud.

Shine is a delicate portrait of an eccentric and troubled man. At first, though, it's hard not to wonder how strangers find him so endearing. He's obviously unpredictable and more than a little bit grabby. While we assume he's harmless as we watch in the context of a motion picture, I imagine if I were to actually come across someone so invasive of my personal space, my first reaction would probably not be to welcome him with open arms. Nonetheless, the inappropriate touching is easily brushed aside, allowing us to be enchanted by his enthusiasm for life.

A brilliant collaboration between director Scott Hicks and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson creates some superb imagery that may seem gratuitously artistic, but on deeper examination, serves to represent a different perspective of the world. Aren't cinematic metaphors wonderful? The script uses less of a metaphoric style and, although it is interesting and well-structured, suffers a little from occasional blatant exposition. Some of the characters are also unfortunately written in a somewhat one-dimensional way. David's father is perhaps the biggest stereotype. He's a man who loves his son so much that he refuses to give him any independence, evidenced by indignant cries of "I know what's best!"

In performance, though, Peter Helfgott is spectacularly watchable, thanks to a very nuanced and passionate performance by Armin Mueller-Stahl, Oscar nominated for the role. Lynn Redgrave is also worthy of mention, delivering a believable portrayal of a woman who, on the page, seems almost unbelievable. I mean, how does a sane woman fall in love with a man who seems incapable of true emotional connection? But Redgrave's tenderness makes it work. Noah Taylor as the adolescent David is called upon to show his range, beginning as merely quirky and innocent, but eventually becoming manic and frenzied, before handing the baton to Geoffrey Rush (pictured). And Rush is nothing short of phenomenal, a performance worthy of the Best Actor Oscar that he won. It may seem like yet another case of a technical performance of a disabled person winning the Oscar, but despite the affectations, Rush's portrayal is natural and accessible, which is no mean feat, considering the character he's playing is anything but. On top of that, Rush performed all the piano-playing himself and he's spectacular, at least to my mildly musical ears. His rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Flight of the Bumblebee is positively chilling.

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