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Review ‘In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon’: Alex Gibney’s brilliantly composed documentary charts the career of the singer-songwriter


“People always said I had my finger on the pulse,” Paul Simon tells Alex Gibney at the beginning of his artfully composed documentary: In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon. “I just have my finger there and the heartbeat is running underneath it.” Regardless, few people have played as central a role in American pop music and culture as Simon. Gibney, best known for exhibitions, among other things The inventor, about Elizabeth Holmes’ tech company fraud, and Go clear, about Scientology, proves to be the ideal director to explore Simon’s long, varied career.

Simon invited Gibney to his home studio in Wimberly, Texas, where the cameras watch him tinker with the sound of his latest album. Seven Psalms (released in May) and talks about his career, inspirations, growing older and what the hearing loss in his left ear has meant. With that album as an anchor, the film mainly flashes back and forth in time, using a wealth of revealing archival interviews and extended performances. It takes us from the immense popularity and folk sound of Simon’s years as part of Simon & Garfunkel to his solo career, inspired by world music from Africa and South America.

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon

It comes down to

Masterfully done, plus music.

Location: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Form: Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis, Lorne Michaels, Edie Brickell
Director: Alex Gibbney

3 hours 29 minutes

Although Gibney places Simon in the social context of his time over the past sixty years, the documentary assumes rather than proves his importance. And his name might not conjure up more than a vague idea of ​​”that guy from Simon & Garfunkel” to anyone in their 20s or even 30s. People who aren’t interested in Simon yet will probably want a different movie. For someone else, In restless dreams is fascinating and lively from start to finish. With a running time of three and a half hours, it never feels padded.

In the rustic-looking home studio, Simon, now 81, with white hair sticking out from under a faded red baseball cap, describes the songs in Seven Psalms as “an argument I have with myself about faith or not.” The film’s title is a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s first hit, ‘The Sound of Silence’, but also refers to the inspiration for the latest album, which Simon says came in a dream that gave him the phrase ‘seven psalms’ and the idea that he should write something about them. Seven Psalms is thankfully not the film’s main concern. The album has been well received by critics, but lines like “The Lord is my engineer” may not be the most enduring Simon ever wrote.

At its best, the documentary is woven together with all those fresh and often surprising clips, which Gibney and his editor, Andy Grieve, have cut and assembled to flow gracefully. They include scenes of Simon in London in the 1960s, comedy moments from performances Late Night with David Lettermanand many gem-like music scenes, such as Simon and George Harrison singing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ Saturday night live. The always clear context comes from the clips themselves or from Simon’s interviews with Gibney.

Many episodes here are eye and ear opening. Simon fled to England in 1964 after Simon & Garfunkel’s first album flopped. While he was away, their producer, Tom Wilson, added electric instruments and drums to the acoustic “Sound of Silence,” and the single took off. It’s one thing to know that, but much more deeply rooted to belong that hit-making difference in the film. The same goes for the way Simon & Garfunkel’s sound engineer and producer Roy Halee recorded the drums for “The Boxer,” echoing down an elevator shaft.

There are only a few additional voices in the film: Simon’s wife, the singer Edie Brickell; Wynton Marsalis, who provides another ear in the home studio; and Lorne Michaels, who we are reminded here was the best man at Simon’s wedding to Carrie Fisher. But the most important additional voice is that of Art Garfunkel, heard occasionally in audio and on video, all archival material. Gibney gives us both sides of the story of the duo’s breakup in 1970, which came after “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which they shot separately because Garfunkel was away on Mike Nichols’ film. Catch-22. Garfunkel says he felt like Simon was holding back other parts of his career. Simon says he went solo because Garfunkel didn’t make himself available enough. But this is Simon’s film, and as in almost any documentary with a cooperative subject, his version is given more weight.

That solo career led Simon to South Africa and his 1986 hit album Graceland. True to his deft style, the film lets us see and hear the extraordinary changes in his music as it developed. And the documentary reminds us of that Graceland was controversial when it was released because South Africa was still under apartheid and the UN had approved a cultural boycott. Simon chose to feature South African musicians on his album instead.

At one point, Simon tells Gibney that he is fascinated by the way songs change over time. Later we get a dynamic example with 1973’s ‘American Tune’, which is played in its entirety in the documentary. Written after Watergate, the piercing melody and world-weary lyrics resonate even more hauntingly now, with the lines “I saw the Statue of Liberty sailing out to sea” and “We come into the most uncertain hour of the century / And sing an American tune.” It’s a sign of how well the film’s understated approach works, and how much Gibney trusts his audience, that he doesn’t make the connection to today clear. That’s not necessary. Behind the song he shows images of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and everyday factory workers. The sequence lands as a perfect little music video. It also reminds us how keenly Simon felt the pulse of the culture, in a way that can change and move us even now.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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