One of the year’s surprise discoveries, this Chilly Gonzales music documentary will make you fall in love with the eccentricities of music-making.
Dir. Philipp Jedicke
2018 | Germany/UK | Documentary/Biography/Music| 82 mins | 2.39:1 | English, French & German
NC16 (passed clean) for coarse language
Plot: Chilly Gonzales is a Grammy-winning composer, virtuoso pianist and entertainer. Criss-crossing between rap, electro and solo piano music, he became the outrageous pop performer who invited himself to the ivory tower of classical music.
Awards: Official Selection – Panorama (Berlin)
International Sales: Charades
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed at the Singapore Writers Festival 2018)
Thanks to Anticipate Pictures, Singapore’s premier independent-cum-arthouse film distributor, I got to see this brilliant music documentary about Chilly Gonzales, a musician whom I have never heard of. By the end of the film, however, I couldn’t shake him and his music out of my head.
The brother of Christophe Beck, a prolific film composer working in Hollywood, Gonzales is one of the most fascinating music personalities I have ever encountered, and his life story as captured here in all of its eccentricities, including his peculiarly-diverse music-making, and especially his ultra-dynamic performances, is as compelling as it gets.
Directed by Philipp Jedicke in his debut feature, Shut Up and Play the Piano is not just an apt title (because Gonzales is infamous for speaking loads of crap), but one of the year’s surprise discoveries. It could also be my favourite documentary of 2018, partly inspiring me in my current ambition to create music for my debut album.
It does help to be madly in love with music to be able to resonate with the nuances of music-making and its varying artistic and performance styles, but Jedicke’s work will also enthral mainstream viewers looking for something off-centre and slightly insane.
Gonzales’ passion for music is intoxicating, and so is his wild, no holds barred personality. He may be a canon let loose, but he compensates with tremendous talent who balances showboating with pathos.
In a performance on grand piano with the famous Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, he is not afraid to rap or create a nuisance of himself on stage. In one scene, he even crawls up onto his piano in the middle of a piece. He tears away at the boundaries of decorum, and in a mind-blowing way suggests a new world order in which he is king.
Jedicke’s documentary is both informative as well as non-judgmental, portraying Gonzales as he is and letting us into his private moments of candour. In the process, we begin to see how someone like him can be both an artist and entertainer at the same time, embracing the duality yet creating an image of oneness—he’s a unique persona unlike any other, though Gonzales would assert (in a Batman-esque sense) that anyone could be like him and continue his legacy.