Co-directors James Dowell and John Kolomvakis have (following “Sleep in a Nest of Flames” about Charles Henri Ford) created another fine portrait of a gay U.S. modern artist in “Ned Rorem: Word and Music.” Composer’s life and times have been extensively chronicled in the critically acclaimed, sometimes scandalous diaries he’s published between 1965 and the present. Hence docu skips over more gossipy aspects in an extraordinarily privileged existence. Instead, focus on his overall character and rich musical catalog aptly places him among the American artists of recent decades whose work is likeliest to endure. Artscasters and educators will take note.
Raised Quaker in an artistic, well-connected, pacifist family, Rorem studied with Copland and Bernstein, and began acquiring notable friends like fellow composer/author Paul Bowles (one of many additional interviewees here, several of whom have passed on since the filming).
Wealthy arts patron the Vicomtesse de Noiaille had Rorem as her Parisian houseguest for a heady period in which he met “everyone who was anyone” and honed his defiantly anti-dissonant, lyrical, French-influenced compositional style. A handsome youth, his gay identity was never “closeted,” with an ample sex life (and struggles with alcoholism) duly chronicled in print. He eventually settled with longtime mate James Holmes, who died of AIDS during docu’s decade-long creation.
Beyond musical excerpts on soundtrack, performances include a dance interpretation of three “micro-operas,” Claire Bloom reading poetry to a Rorem score, and Manhattan School of Music’s staging of his only full-length opera “Miss Julie.” Alternately testy and philosophical, the now-eightysomething master of art-song exudes the accumulated complexity of a man secure in his achievements, but perhaps no longer infatuated with self-analysis.
Packing a lot into a fairly short runtime, pic has a courtly, sometimes bemused tenor that’s not stuffy, but is more in line with arts docus of prior decades than any current trends. Tech aspects are solid.