Sure, the world of chamber music may not be one that many people mine often for their daily soundtrack, but sonically, there are very few musicians better in this world than the very top tier in the world of chamber music. And they themselves don’t get any better than one Robert Mann.
A massive player in the chamber music scene for well over half a century, the 90-plus-year-old musical legend is the subject of a new documentary currently set to play in limited release, and while it clocks in at just under an hour, it’s a rather enjoyable look into the life of a musical juggernaut that never sees his name thrust into the stratosphere that it so rightly should be.
Entitled Speak The Music, the film comes to us from Allan Miller, and introduces us with a beautiful sense of pace to this beloved classical music legend. Mann, since taking to the violin, has made an unfathomable impact on the music world, with his various performances, master classes and especially as the founder and first violinist of the Julliard String Quartet, arguably the greatest foursome to ever take to stringed instruments. A legendary soloist and teacher, the film looks deeper into the man, the myth and the sonic legend that has come from this man’s nearly 100-year-long life.
Admittedly the less-than-an-hour runtime is a bit bizarre. The pacing here is superb, and while it’s aesthetically not much more than your standard talking head documentary, the central character here is as magnetic as they come. Whether it be as a teacher or in these various intimate interview segments, Mann is an entrancing force to listen to and the rare moments when we see him perform the film is at its very best. There is a passion behind his eyes and a vitality that drenches off of every word he says turning this into a short, but deeply compelling, documentary. The anecdotes here are engrossing, and again, the performance sequences are bewildering. Toss in the class sequences and you have a film that is both an exciting look at this musical legend, but even more so the passion with which he creates and performs his art.
That said, the runtime is a bit of an issue. Under an hour, the film carries with it an ease and lightness to it that may leave many viewers cold. Admittedly a tad slight and not nearly as interested with the music itself as much as it is the musician, the film misses a valuable beat here and there, missing a real sense of life in the moments where it’s not much more than a talking head. Seeing the urgency that is felt when we see Mann in the classroom, the film is dying for a handful of extra sequences that introduce us to the bewilderingly creative mind that is held within the head of Mann. These moments are so brazenly entrancing and insightful that they really turn this film into something more than just a curio for classical music fans.
Far from the most groundbreaking documentary, for an hour long look at one of the music world’s greatest legends, this is a real charmer. Lacking a handful of moments that elevate it from just a curiosity for those interested in this type of music, the film may not make for the most engaging watch for some, but for those willing to go along for the ride this is absolute one of the better music-focused documentaries around.