One of the most welcome parts of Piccolo Spoleto each year, but one which often slips under the festival radar, is the Charleston County Main Library’s American Film Series. At 1 p.m. on a dozen or so days throughout the festival, series coordinator Sara Breibart loads up some of American cinema’s most memorable flicks, often drawing on the Big Festival’s programming for inspiration. There’s nothing as physically and mentally transporting as walking out of a blistering 90-degree weekday afternoon on Calhoun Street and into the middle of a cool, darkened auditorium and a screening of The Piano.
But this year’s lineup — while fine in its own right — is lacking in one crucial regard. Philip Glass, one of America’s most prolific film scorers, is going to be here for Spoleto in a couple of weeks, premiering his new music theatre work Book of Longing. Yet not one of the 79 films Glass has scored made the series’ program.
He’s hardly a newbie hack still trying to break into the industry. Glass has been nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Score — for 1997’s Kundun, 2002’s The Hours, and last year’s Notes on a Scandal. He won a Golden Globe for his contribution to The Truman Show in 1998, and nabbed top honors at Cannes in 1985 for his transfixing score to Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.
If you saw Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti in the sleeper hit The Illusionist last fall, then you heard the score Glass composed for it. Ditto for last year’s IMAX film Roving Mars. Nor is he above the crass call of commercialism. Candyman? Yep, that’s his signature tinkle in the background (he also signed on for both sequels). The Secret Window? You bet. Taking Lives? Sadly, yes.
Glass may be best known for the documentary films he’s created incidental music for. One of the most enduring is 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, Godfrey Reggio’s wordless, plotless, trippy avant garde look at the disconnectedness of modern life. His collaborations with legendary filmmaker Errol Morris resulted in acclaimed films like A Brief History of Time, about physicist Stephen Hawking, and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.
Glass has even exhumed the work of long-dead artists for source material. In 1999 he created a post facto score to Todd Browning’s classic 1931 silent film Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, and in 1995 he created an opera version of French master Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et la Bête, which his ensemble performed on stage with a restored, newly subtitled print of the film playing on a screen behind them.
It’s hard to complain about pictures like Finding Neverland, Frida, Shine, and Shakespeare in Love in this year’s American Film Fest at the library. But even so, their Glass seems half empty this year. In fact, it’s bone dry. —Patrick Sharbaugh
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