REVIEW: A Concerto Is a Conversation [2021]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 13 minutes
    Release Date: 2021 (USA)
    Studio: The New York Times
    Director(s): Kris Bowers & Ben Proudfoot
    Writer(s): Ben Proudfoot

It goes back to slavery.

As composer Kris Bowers elaborates upon the title of his and Ben Proudfoot‘s short documentary A Concerto Is a Conversation, we the viewers begin to understand he’s talking about this film as much as he is the piece that’s about to debut at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He’s explaining to his grandfather Horace Bowers Sr. that a concerto is a work pitting a soloist against an ensemble. They speak to each other through the music either with alternating passages or in concert much like people do when sharing a conversation. So while the exchange happening on-screen may seem like it’s one that’s just between these two men, the dialogue soon reaches back into the past to expose the orchestra sitting beside them.

Because what is this dynamic if not a discussion between past and present with Horace proving a conduit reaching back towards the heritage Kris was born from? The younger Bowers is therefore the soloist, the elder Bowers a mouthpiece for the sprawling group of “musicians” that laid the foundation for his success. So we hear about what it was like growing up in the south during the 1930s. We learn about Horace’s decision to hitchhike across America and subsequently end up in California with a rather ingenious way of securing work. And we listen to him recount his struggle against prejudice to make something of himself by securing a seat at the table he earned from those who refused to believe the color of his skin was worthy.

The visuals cut between an interview individually framing Horace and Kris in high definition as they ask and answer questions and archival images from the past depicting Jim Crow in a broad sense and photographic evidence of the Bowers family having lived through it. And Kris’ music plays the whole time—another project to accompany his Emmy-nominated work on “When They See Us” and his score for Green Book (a quick glimpse at the Oscar ceremony with Peter Farrelly on-stage is a weird segue if you weren’t already aware of this context going in). The film is intimate and enlightening in equal measure with impossible stories and the fruits of their authenticity. Despite being separated by generations, these Bowers men show the inseparability of their fates.

courtesy of ShortsTV

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