AN AMERICAN TIME TRAVELLER: The Cecil Taylor Project
An elderly black man stands over a stove in his New York home - making a cup of tea.
“There is a profound pleasure in taking ones time...”
The elderly man slowly pours the steaming tea into a roughly glazed black earthenware mug.
“When time is at your disposal...”
The man takes a sip of his tea and walks through the clutter of his open plan home to a grand piano. He sits down at the piano and closes his eyes.
CECIL is a visually stunning, dense, impressionistic portrait of the greatest jazz pianist of the 20th Century- Cecil Taylor.
Born in 1929, Cecil’s visionary music is responsible for the coining of the term “Free Jazz”.
Voted greatest Jazz Pianist in the world for nine years in a row throughout the 1980’s Cecil Taylor’s distinctively aggressive improvisational playing style was once referred to as like listening to “eighty-eight tuned drums.”
What is less known about Cecil Taylor is that he is an extremely masterful time traveller and telepath who utilises music to convey profound truths to those around him and guide countless others through their lives.
“Time is what wraps itself around you- and like a shroud, time is also death. I am the living field- I am aether- I am the join between two pieces of wood that form the basis of our house. I am the space between two lovers lips about to kiss for the first time. I am the conduit and the conductor.”
Structured as a series of aphorisms and fragmentary anecdotes about Cecil’s time travelling experiences, the film will unravel in an irreverent, essayistic fashion- accompanied by extremely elegant composed domestic documentary material of Cecil, extensive archival material and a series of impressionistic, abstract sequences representing time travel itself.
“The idea of massive amounts of energy being needed to travel through time- its not true... you need to be still... and relaxed- its about creating a space that enables you to become a conduit- so time moves through you rather than you moving through time... once time moves through you then you can bend it and stretch it as you wish... and that’s how it works....”
Based in New York, Cecil Taylor is eighty eight years old. AN AMERICAN TIME TRAVELLER: THE CECIL TAYLOR PROJECT is an evocative and poetic portrait of one man’s journey through time and space.
Intimate, moving, visually stunning and elegant in structure, this feature length performance portrait documentary created with a vast array of archival material will explore the profound ineffable qualities of one man’s creative genius. By beginning with an amazing foundation of existing performance archival over eighty years, a comparatively small amount of highly cinematic and composed observational documentary material will create a deeply moving and intimate study of inspiration and the transcendent, ineffable nature of spontaneous creativity.
The most important aspect of this documentary portrait is that Cecil’s music is the most intimate and visceral element of the film. It is extremely key that Cecil himself maintains a relatively enigmatic presence in the film that is slowly revealed over the course of the film. This meditative and minimal approach is primarily to sensitise the audience to Cecil’s music- a music that fundamentally needs space around it to be properly appreciated.
“Although we may live in the same place and the same time we are not all afforded the same opportunities...the reality is a separation exists... and that’s all I’m talking about...” -Cecil Taylor (1968)
Like the highly distilled crystalline work of the Chilean writer Borges, there is a dense, at times irreverent tone interwoven with the documentary fabric that underlies this portrait film. A performance film about one of the worlds great living musicians, the political dimensions of the film will be inherent while never erring on the didactic. In this way Cecil’s Native American heritage as well as his experiences throughout the civil rights movement will be evocatively interwoven with the urgency and intensity of Cecil’s music.
By employing such a vast array of already existing archival material, it enables the film to be really driven by Cecil’s music rather than interviews or verbose critical perspectives on his place in musical history.
In this way a kaleidoscopic approach to the structure enables a rich series of ideas, both personal and political, to be introduced that evoke the truly transcendental nature of music.
By also minimally focussing on Cecil’s home life when not performing and examining the daily rituals surrounding his instrument, I hope to create an elegant study of Cecil Taylor’s behavioural complexities- echoing Borges’s assertion that five minutes of anyone’s life is worth more than all of Shakespeare.
I am interested in the moments between notes, the silences that gather, pile up and crash around the feet of the musician. I want to capture the almost imperceptible shift in energy when a musician transitions from sitting down at their instrument and breathing in to anticipating their first note. In this way, the improvisational nature of the development of the narrative details reflects Cecil’s approach to music.
While utilising various semi experimental techniques in terms of sound design and comparatively elliptical montage, the potentially pious subject matter of an avant garde artists creative genius is joyously juxtaposed with a modern history of New York and the United States. By contextualising Cecil’s music and his remarkable urgency to create within the particular political landscape of the time it is key to eroding the all too common hagiographic nature of portrait documentaries about artists.
The film will integrate a vast array of archival sources including dozens of concert performances, home video, as well as paintings, documentary photography of New York over the last one hundred years, as well as excerpts of several existing experimental animation films that will all visually convey the abstract, startlingly arresting and visceral nature of Cecil’s music.
The textural juxtapositions utilised throughout this feature film allows for an absolutely sumptuous array of types of imagery throughout the film. The main body of the film is shot on an Arri Alexa to create a highly cinematic, elegant study of Cecil Taylor today. This material will be complimented by a series of sequences to be shot on a Phantom Flex camera enabling extremely high frame rates to be shot of Cecil playing piano and in his home. To integrate other sequences into existing archival I will also shoot on a range of cameras including VHS, Super 8 and 16mm.
This documentary is a singular and distinctive feature length project with amazing potential. A remarkably beautiful, impressionistic and entertaining portrait of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century. A film that is at once arresting, irreverent and intelligent- reflecting the remarkable output of Cecil Taylor over the last six decades.