Peter Brook: The Tightrope (First Run Features, NR)

dvd Peter-BrookI can see this film being hugely interesting to acting students, who will be fascinated by seeing the process of preparation that lies behind expert performance.



Peter Brook is one of the most eminent directors of the twentieth century. In the theater, his most famous works include a 1964 production of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade and a 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (both Tony Award winners); for film and television, he is best known for Lord of the Flies (1963) and The Mahabharata (1989).

So if you care at all about theater, or about performance practice in general, you probably already know who Peter Brook is. If you don’t, you should. He’s a name to reckon with, and still a formidable presence at age 88, so almost anything he does is of potential interest to those involved in the theater.

Hence the existence of Peter Brook: The Tightrope, a documentary directed by Brook’s son Simon Brook. It presents material captured during two weeks of rehearsals, intercut with occasional direct-to-camera statements by Brook. Most of the footage was captured using hidden cameras, presumably so as to not disrupt the actors at work; as such, it offers a view of something you’ll almost certainly never get to see in real life, just as Cave of Forgotten Dreams gives you a look inside a place you’ll never get to go in reality.

The problem is that the film is mostly watching actors going through exercises, a process of limited interest to the general public. Granted, they are all attractive and attentive, and as a group represent an admirable range of ages and ethnicities, but they are still actors doing exercises. It doesn’t help that the film provides no context for what you are seeing, so that watching it is a similar experience to having wandered into a rehearsal hall without having a clue about what is going on.

I can see this film being hugely interesting to acting students, who will be fascinated by seeing the process of preparation that lies behind expert performance, just as music students tend to be interested in how those who are where they want to be (i.e., professional musicians) got where they are. It’s not just a joke that the way to Carnegie Hall is “practice!” and knowing how successful professionals in your field prepare is infinitely useful for those who aspire to a career.

For the typical audience member, however, this documentary will be a much tougher sell. If watching actors rehearse, and being in the virtual presence of Peter Brook, is not enough to sustain your interest, you will probably want to give it a miss. It’s a long slog if you’re not already fascinated by Brook and his methods, and even if you are, watching it is is like looking through the wrong end of the telescope: Something is definitely happening, but the context that would give it larger meaning is absent. And that’s coming from someone who avidly read Brook’s The Empty Space during my time as a theatrical dogsbody.

Extras on the DVD include a photo gallery, a film gallery, and the interview featurette “A Balancing Act.” | Sarah Boslaugh

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