Magazine article American Cinematographer

FILMING THE WORK OF HARRY PARTCH or GET TO KNOW YOUR GENIUS

Magazine article American Cinematographer

FILMING THE WORK OF HARRY PARTCH or GET TO KNOW YOUR GENIUS

Article excerpt

Documenting the special "universe" of a remarkable American character who is composer, musician, designer and creator of unique instruments

"THE DREAMER THAT REMAINS" is a film about Harry Partch. To say that this man is a composer, musician, designer and builder of unique instruments is simply not saying enough. I cannot describe the "universe" of Harry Partch, for one must experience it in order to really glimpse its meaning. For this reason film, at its best, is uniquely capable of communicating the Partch experience.

When I met Harry in the autumn of 1972, I did so out of complete fascination and admiration. Here was a man who not only had a dream, but the perseverance to make it a reality. After forty years of struggle and triumph, he has built his own orchestra, invented a 43-tone scale to go with itr and has written a book, GENESIS OF A MUSIC, to explain his theory to the world.

Columbia Records has released the Partch "extravaganzas", as he prefers to call them, but nowhere up to this point has there been a strong representation of his work on film. With a wink, Partch admits, "I am not a musician, but a philosopher seduced into carpentry." This attitude provided a double challenge to the documentary format I had in mind. Not only were the music and instruments one of a kind, but Partch, a one-time Depression hobo, had wonderful stories and sage advice to share with the world.

Producer Betty Freeman, a friend and fan of Partch, recognized the need for a film. The economics of shipping the instruments curtailed performances. Film would be the logical substitute. Betty generously offered her time and raised $27,000 to make my dream a reality. Her first advice was get to know Partch. "Get to know your genius," she said. And that is what I did.

After a weekend meeting with Partch in his modest, instrument-cluttered home in Encinitas I came back to Los Angeles and filled a notebook with observations about the Partch character. I sketched a few of the particularly vivid stories he had told me, and what had triggered them. I also made notes on his eating and sleeping habits. Hatjry usually awoke at three in the morning worked until ten, then saw no one from eleven until two in the afternoon. I knew I would have to respect these hours. His high energy peaks were in the morning. This is when we would have to film.

Before beginning production there was a catalogue of musical expressions to learn, as well as the names of his exotic instruments. They included: the Spoils of War, the Quadrangularis Reversum, the Eycal Blossom and the Blue Rainbow. I expected my crew to familiarize themselves with Harry's world, for he was sensitive to uninformed intruders and was equally aware of our every move.

When Partch agreed to do the film, several decisions were in order. He requested a small crew, and wanted to know how I planned to present him. I selected John Monsour for first camera. John was familiar ,with Harry's music, and had a good technical background in sound and lighting as well as camera. He also had the easy-going personality to ride along with the demands of the strange shooting schedule.

Other crew members who filled in during heavier assignments were carefully chosen, not only for their technical ability, but their interest in Partch as a film subject, plus their ability to get along with him. …

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