“Philip on Film” treats, mesmerizes Portland

Philip on Film
through Friday
PAM North Ballroom

Arguably the most important composer of the past 40 years, Phillip Glass has returned to Portland for this week’s Philip on Film Program, hosted by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Arts (PICA) and

Northwest Film Center. The festival, which began Monday, features Glass performing live film scores at the Portland Art Museum’s North Wing Grand Ballroom.

Philip Glass was part of the minimalist movement of the 1960s, which included such composers as Steve Reich (the first musician to incorporate tape loops in his work).

Glass long ago made known his dislike for the term “minimalist,” and rightfully so. His compositions are in truth multi-layered – if harmonically simplistic – pieces that first hypnotize the listener, then prove to contain and convey the perfect catharsis, leaving audiences empty for want of continuation.

Glass’ work has been the butt of jokes for years – the up-and-down ceaseless arpeggios, the melodramatic tenor coming in out of nowhere – yet he remains vital, touring year round, an American treasure.

Glass last graced Portland with a 1999 performance of his opera “Monsters of Grace” at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. That performance, a collaboration with designer Robert Wilson, featured a huge 3-D digital video display and captivating score performed by The Philip Glass Ensemble.

This week’s performances are likely to captivate as well. Monday’s screening, “Shorts,” featured Glass and company playing along to short films. Some of these Glass had previously scored, like Godfrey Reggio’s “Evidence” and “Anima Mundi,” and others he commissioned and to which the ensemble improvised. These included Iranian-born artist Shrin Neshat’s “Diasora” and Peter Greenaway’s “In the Bath.”

Tuesday’s program was “Powaqqatsi” (Hopi for “war life”), Reggio’s meditation on globalization and its impact on, and meaning for, third-world people. “Powaqqatsi” is part two of the “Quatsi” trilogy, which begins with “Koyaaniskatsi,” Friday night’s feature and the finale of Phillip on Film.

“Koyaaniskatsi” features classic Glass – ceaseless, cascading fourth and fifth arpeggios and a solemn chorus. The music amplifies Reggio’s celebration of the earth’s natural grandeur in all of its beauty and violence – followed by footage of humankind’s conquering and destruction of it.

Tonight’s screening will feature director Tod Browning’s classic 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” The film’s sparseness will surely be well complimented by Glass’ wall of rhythm. Initially there was no musical score and Browning relied on the Hungarian accent of Legosi to provide the “sound” in the early “talkie.” Glass has provided the film with a sound that is haunting and mesmerizing.

Thursday’s film will be Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et La Bete” (1946), during which Glass replaces the dialogue and score of the original film with the work of his ensemble. His singers will cover, on the spot, the film’s dialogue, while the instrumentalists play Glass’ score to the work of one of his favorite filmmakers.

As an added incentive to all would-be Philip Glass fans, PICA and the FilmCenter are offering $10 advanced-purchase tickets to all students. This is a great opportunity – in 1999 it cost $12 general admission to see “Monsters of Grace,” while General admission tickets to this year’s events run $30 (PICA and NWFC members pay $25.) Advance tickets are available at the PICA box office, 503-242-1419, the Film Center Office 503-221-1156 and at POVA’s ticket central.