Review: Highly Strung
Director: Michael Damian
By Mae Anthony
Obsession, passion, and expertise; Highly Strung (2015) is a kaleidoscopic view into the lives of some of the world’s most dedicated and tortured artists. Human creatures that both conquer and cower, who on one hand rule their own kingdom, and on the other serve the power of music, slaving away whilst the Gods of many – Vivaldi, Dvorak, and Ravel – leave them helpless; scoffing masterpieces for breakfast, devouring musical madness, and searching for answers.
From Australian director Scott Hicks, the documentary looks through windows into the world of a string musician – from a glance into the rehearsal rooms, to the closets of the richest players, and the sometimes-empty-sometimes-not houses of the preoccupied musicians who inhabit the elite profession of classical music.
Highly Strung shows us some of the eminent people who work themselves, and each other, to death to play hundreds of pieces of music; to see what this takes from them, and sparked a sentiment that I have not fully appreciated before. After seeing a glimpse into the workings of the Australian String Quartet (ASQ), which plays a poignant role in the hour and 20 minute long film, I was left wide-eyed at the sacrifice made by many people for the the sake of art, and art’s sake alone. A film that also explores the presence of people who have been grinding their fingers to the bone to create instruments that to us sound so beautiful that they eclipse our conception of the universe.
There is a somewhat misnomer attitude about classical music and an incomprehensible intellect about it, that so often strikes dissonances in how people perceive those who dedicate themselves to it. There is a perception that it’s somehow too intellectual, thus less free, and almost inexpressive because not everyone can access it. Although there is a humble truth in this inaccessibility, this distorted perception of the artists can create a cloudy alchemy of artistic prejudice. You can see the people of this world like a severely traumatic wound – complex, messy, and hospitable to all sorts of mayhem, especially if dealt with incorrectly. Highly Strung diffuses this and like an adroit surgical team, rips the wound open, cleans it, and shows us the nitty gritty realities of the profession: the hours of practise, the evolution in combining with other musicians, the glam, the ego, the modesty, the adoration, the sexual charge – you are not passionate enough if on some strange, and unconscious level, have not wanted to make love to your instrument, or at least the music it inhabits. Feel free to ignore the visual cue you might have received from that penultimate sentence, but it is the reality of being so spiritually and emotionally immersed in music.
The documentary genre’s purpose is to inform us, to enlighten us, and to break us. Life is a series of rooms, and what we do in those rooms make up the long stringent line that becomes our lives. This documentary was like a house of rooms, peeking in and taking out just some of the thousands of moments lived by hundreds of artists who slave, often sweating and crying, to achieve something that is so beyond anything definable. It was immensely informative and applicable, whilst portraying such unique perspectives – a synthesis that produced good results.
I can guarantee it has something for everyone: creativity, betrayal, love, nostalgia, competition, and humour, all weaved into a mixture of discussion and intimate visuals that will surely leave you stunned and a little bemused.
Highly Strung will be showing at Cinema Paradiso from Thursday, May 19.