Those who appreciate film music, especially that which falls into the classical, minimalist and electronic brackets will likely be familiar with the work of Max Richter. The German-British composer has made a career as both a jobbing composer in his own right, in addition to his extensive work in film, theatre and opera. But his most impressive and certainly ambitious creation is that of his experimental album, Sleep. The 2015 release comprised of eight-and-a-half hours of music, representing an impression and exploration of the psychology and sensation of a night’s rest.
Five years on, documentarian Natalie Johns seeks to ask the question of how you explain and condense the majesty of a live performance of Richter’s contemplative, semi-somnolent ambience into a filmic format. Hence this documentary, which ostensibly covers the live overnight performances of the album, and in particular the 2018 open air performance in Grand Park, Los Angeles. Instead of a conventional auditorium, the piece is played to a throng of patrons, each supplied with a bed to lay on. Over the night-long harmonic experience they are encouraged to move around, stretch and sleep as they see fit.
It’s a curious form of documentary. Particularly as much of it is bereft of commentary; gently layering images of the musicians, the city and the audiences, with segments of the music playing over it. The result is aiming largely at capturing a sense of the essence of the experience, rather than detailing the specifics of the musicians, or the event’s preparation. This is certainly not a ‘concert documentary’ in the normal sense. Although the documentary’s attention does wander, much like the dozing mind, and we are treated to a few vague anecdotes about Richter, his partner, Director Yulia Mahr, and their children. There is some attention given to the origins of the piece, the idea behind the concerts, and even some background on a few select audience attendees.
The overall sense is one of slipping into a slow and relaxing dreamlike state; one where constant attention isn’t necessary. Much like the music itself, this film is an experience rather a story.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD now