GEORGE CRUMB: VOICE OF THE WHALE REVIEWED
“Voice of the Whale” is Robert Mugge covering avant-garde composer George Crumb. Originally created for PBS in 1976, the film celebrates its 40th while looking amazing. The full performance of Voice of the Whale is staged with three masked performers and Mugge gives us a bit of insight into Crumb’s process. Still, it’s a rather short documentary about a composer who loves the weird. Mugge remains the master music documentarian, but even he has a hard time pulling a solid approach out of what Crumb offers. So, over the 54 minute runtime, Mugge uses colors to split the difference between Crumb as a person and as a composer. While novel for 1976, it feels a little played out now.
- 1.33:1 standard definition transfer
- Dolby Digital 2.0
RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW!
- Video - 80%80%
- Audio - 78%78%
- Supplemental Material - 0%0%
The Plot Thus Far
In 1976, “music filmmaker” Robert Mugge created his first music-related film. Titled GEORGE CRUMB: VOICE OF THE WHALE, it was this dazzling, 54-minute portrait of Pulitzer Prize-winning and Grammy-winning composer George Crumb. The film was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and makes innovative use of color and a dialectical structure to reveal Crumb’s life (green-tinted-footage), his work (blue-tinted footage, and connections between the two (full-color footage). Included in the film are a performance of Crumb’s 1971 composition, “Vox Balaenae for Three Masked Players”; samples of the rural, West Virginia gospel music that has influenced him; demonstrations by Crumb of exotic instruments and unusual effects that figure in his compositions; and scenes from his home and university teaching environments. At his home, Crumb discusses his compositional techniques with fellow composer Richard Wernick, and his musician wife Elizabeth discusses their life together; at the university, Wernick’s Penn Contemporary players (Carole Morgan, Lambert Orkis, and Barbara Haffner) perform “Vox Balaenae.” Words frequently used to describe George Crumb’s work are “poetic, atmospheric, mysterious, evocative.” He himself has said, “I feel intuitively that music must have been the first cell from which language, science, and religion originated.” GEORGE CRUMB: VOICE OF THE WHALE was first broadcast over PBS on June 6, 1978.