The Eulogy (M)
Internationally acclaimed Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer died in poverty in 2009 of liver disease at the age of 54.
How this happened, and the story of Tozer's life and career leading up to it, are two of the strands of this absorbing and wide-ranging documentary.
At Tozer's memorial service, former prime minister Paul Keating delivered an impassioned 45-minute speech in which he praised Tozer's talents, saying he deserved to be remembered alongside Nellie Melba, Joan Sutherland and Percy Grainger, and excoriated the Australian musical establishment for neglecting the pianist.
The Eulogy, directed and co-written by Janine Hosking, takes Keating's speech - which he recreated for the documentary - as a starting point for a thoughtful, wide-ranging exploration of Tozer's life, work and legacy. It examines Keating's claims and presents a nuanced, detailed and poignant portrait.
Conductor and music teacher Richard Gill, who died last year, is an engaging, spirited guide. Gill never heard Tozer play live and learns about the man through interviews with family members, friends, colleagues and others, including Tozer's sometime partner, as well as diary entries and items in a collection devoted to the pianist. There are also interviews with Tozer himself and plenty of examples of his brilliant playing.
Keating declined to be interviewed about Tozer, saying all he had to say was in the eulogy.
Tozer was a child prodigy, encouraged and taught by his musician mother Veronica. Tozer performed in a televised concert at the age of eight, and as a teenager was the youngest recipient of a Churchill Fellowship.
He studied in Australia, Britain and the US, won several awards, recorded many CDs for the British music label Chandos, and had an international performing career. Tozer was an advocate of Nikolai Medtner, helping revive the Russian composer's music. He was among the recipients of the Creative Fellowships initiated under Keating (and abolished by the subsequent Coalition government).
So what went wrong? Quite a lot, it seems, though viewers will have to decide for themselves how much weight - or blame - to apportion.
Tozer's mother seems to have influenced him to emphasise his music to the exclusion of much else - education, a social life, relationships. He wasn't very financially responsible and his attempt to transform a former Queanbeyan convent into a music school ended disastrously.
The pianist's improvisational tendencies made working with him a challenge and his eventual alcoholism affected his reliability. Though some in the film cite "tall poppy syndrome", it seems he simply wasn't able to adjust to the realities of life, both as a working musician and in the everyday world.
The film has its flaws. There's an unnecessary, slightly patronising discussion between Gill and a group of music students and a tendency to cut off some interviews and topics prematurely and leave some questions unaddressed (when his longtime agent died, why didn't, or couldn't, Tozer engage another? Why didn't he perform more in solo recitals?).
However, it's an even-handed and poignant documentary that raises worthwhile questions about the best ways to nurture and support talent.