The life story of troubled Australian pianist David Helfgott provides the basis for Shine, one of the most talked about films of the moment. Director Scott Hicks tells Sam Francis about bringing a genius back into the spotlight.
Out of such small moments of synchronicity.
oppressive care of his child‘s progress makes the ﬁlm‘s plunge into the more extreme areas of psychosis touchingly plausible in the ﬁrst place. Bolstered too by a ripe turn from Sir John Gielgud as Helfgott‘s professor at London’s Royal College of Music and a disarmineg sympathetic one by Lynn Redgrave as his supportive spouse. Shine is nothing if not a feast of ﬁne performances. Yet in maintaining a strong through-line holding the ﬂashback structure together. Hicks's bravura direction marks the emergence of another Australian moviemaker to
Whenever Helfgott sat down at that piano he had this pure concentration that was really quite something. He was a genuine virtuoso. Right away, before I really know too much about his troubled past, I felt that there had to be a story there explaining this remarkable person.’
reckon with. Music afﬁcionados will be grateful for his refusal to cheapen or gloss over the Rachmaninov
and Liszt bamstormers that are Helfgott's dazzling pianistic domain. ‘l hate it in movies about musicians where they have
greatness comes. It was I986. ﬁlmmaker Scott Hicks was looking through the newspapers because he fancied going out with his wife that evening, and a
i # ﬁ‘w‘a'
piano recital by one David Helfgott took his eye. He’d already seen media reports about a return to the platform for this gifted eccentric of the keyboard. whose promising international career had been cut short at the end of the 60s by mental health problems. but nothing really prepared him for what he was about to see.
‘You couldn't believe that the person who walked on stage was going to play.‘ says the director. ‘He was hunched over. he was talking to himselfand the audience. makingjokes. kissing people in the front row. it really was unlike anything you‘d normally see in a concert hall. yet whenever he sat down at that piano he had this pure concentration that was really quite something. He was a genuine virtuoso. Right away. before I really knew too much about David‘s troubled past. I felt that there had to be a story there explaining this remarkable person.‘
Hicks was to spend the next year. on and off, in Melbourne. getting to know Helfgott and his wife Gillian. and, more importantly, getting them to trust
Classical genius: iioah Taylor plays the young Davld
his intentions. Out of it came the ﬁrst draft screenplay for the ﬁlm eventually to be titled Shine. one of the hottest tickets on l996‘s international festival circuit. and a movie so knock-‘em-dead powerful the buzz is already talking about the Oscars.
in truth. it sounds unlikely: an Australian offering about a mentally unbalanced classical pianist. and from a writer-director previously noted for his award- winning documentaries about submarines and space shuttles on The Discovery Channel. It is. however. a movie you‘ll be hearing a lot more about, whether it's Noah (The Year My Voice Broke) Taylor's turn as the teenage prodigy determined to pursue his talents to the full. or Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush‘s truly remarkable incarnation (replete with dazzling keyboard skills) of the older Helfgott‘s resurrection from the brink of total disintegration. There‘s also Arrniu Mueller-Stahl‘s dominating father. whose
ileligott ln Shine
to cut away each time someone is performing.‘ reﬂects Hicks. who counts himself as someone who enjoys classical music without being anything like an expert. ‘We tried really hard here to be true to the music and not make the necessary hand-doubling seem as jarring as it often can do. We were lucky of course in that Geoffrey was really up for it and worked incredibly hard to give us the few bars on- camera that really make a difference.
‘And of course, throughout you're hearing material that David recorded specially for the ﬁlm. The soundtrack CD has gone into the top ten in the album pop charts in Australia. and the whole success of the movie has very much put his career back on track — so much so that he sold out Sydney Opera House four nights running. For my part. he's given me a lot in enabling me to make this ﬁlm. so it's really satisfying that the ﬁlm in turn has given him something back out of everything he's been through.’
Shine opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Cameo. Edinburgh, on Fri 3 Jan.
Winner of nine top awards at Australia’s equivalent of the Oscars, Shine is a remarkable and devastating film about the life of child prodigy and pianist David lleligott. Born to poor Jewish immigrants in Australia, lielfgott displayed an exceptional ability as a pianist when still a very young child. The boy rose to local fame through competitions and eventually won a scholarship to the iioyal College of Music in london. Sadly, despite his phenomenal talent, this true life story becomes a tragic one. A breakdown in london forces him to retum to Australia where he lives in mental institutions, only to resume
Shine: ‘a remarkale and devastating film'
piaying and find some happiness many years later.
The film concentrates on the fascinatineg complex relationship between David and his father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a domineering character who refuses to let his son grow apart from him. The megalomaniacal ambition which Peter loads onto the fragile David is clearly elemental to the latter’s breakdown, and yet David is so much his father’s creature that he cannot survive apart from him. Because his talent is supported by this painful relationship, David cannot take pleasure in his brilliance, and this too is a tragedy, perhaps the saddest aspect of the film.
David - played, at different ages, with real love by Alex liafalowicz,
iloah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush - is a vulnerable individual made profound by genius. The most astounding moment in the film comes when he is performing a notoriously difficult Rachmaninov work in the itoyal Albert Hall and, for several minutes, the filmmakers let the music express all, with visuals only of the pianist’s hands This, and most of the other classical recordings in Shine are performed by the real David Helfgott. It would be nice to think that the film goes some way to restoring him to the audience he lost through mental illness. (llannah Fries) _
Shine ( 12) (Scott Illclrs, Australia, 1996) Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Muellerﬂdu. From Fri 3. Glasgow: EFT: Edlnhurgh: 6mm.
The List 13 Dec l996-9 Jan l997 2'1