in portrait -
'... defying category but never defying mastery.'
Those of us who have an undisciplined and, sometimes, seemingly inexplicable passion for the music of Astor Piazzolla have long needed a slow, thoughtful, investigative consideration of the man and his art to disembark us from any putative 'bandwagon' and allow for the shock of reeling-obsession meeting solid ground. This quite extraordinary DVD serves at least two great purposes. For those who know nothing of its subject, it's an introduction to what might become a lifetime's preoccupation. For the already-infected, it's all we need in mitigation. It explains why we succumbed, whether we should be proud to be 'carriers' and how this unsustainable itch promotes both its lesions and their emollient.
What it certainly doesn't do is make any case for Piazzolla's sainthood. We aren't spared the knowledge of how socially crass, sexually exploitative, politically naïve, professionally and personally unforgiving he could be. We get a strong sense of his capacity for self-aggrandisement along with the deep-hurt that provoked it. It's a rounded portrait -- inspired by admiration but controlled by honesty. Its abiding interest will, ultimately, depend on how highly we value this man and his music.
Astor Piazzolla in 'Tango Maestro': 'When they dance the tango the couple gets so together that it looks like a rape'. © 2004 BBC Worldwide Ltd
Essentially, the DVD consists of three parts: the Mike Dibb film about Piazzolla (Tango Maestro), a BBC-filmed performance of Piazzolla's last studio session (Tango Nuevo) and an extra compilation of interview material. It's in the nature of such things that even the most devoted fan wouldn't want to watch the documentary too many times -- though I've already found that it rewards a second and third viewing. The additional interviews have lovely, heartbreaking, moments but, I guess, once you know them fairly well, they become reference-library fodder. The 'live' performances are the thing to be revisited endlessly -- and they won't disappoint.
Copyright © 8 June 2005
David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK