HIGHLY STRUNG, Australia, 2016. Starring Kristian Winther Joana Tache, Stephen King, Joanna Draper, Ulrike Klein, The Carpenter Family. Directed by Scott Hicks. 104 minutes, Rated M (Coarse language).
First and foremost, this documentary film is for music lovers. Other audiences will find the characterisation of the musicians quite interesting, and the narrative which develops in unexpected ways, as well as the opportunity to hear excerpts of classical music and chamber pieces. Director, Scott Hicks, is famed as being the director of Shine but he has also made a documentary on the composer, Philip Glass.
There are three stories intertwined in Highly Strung.
A framing story concerns the four musicians in the Australian String Quartet, the particular skills, the rehearsals, performances, and a growing tension about the quality of their playing. Each of the four musicians Kristian Winther, Joana Tache, Stephen King, Joanna Draper, is interviewed throughout the film, enthusiastic beginnings, excitement about the violins being bought for them (which is the second storyline of the film), some crises amongst the players, especially with two who marry after something of a whirlwind courtship, the other two players, one of whom is married with family. Each of those interviewed is very frank about themselves, the love for music, the experience of playing together, the challenges that they face and the break with the quartet.
The second storyline is about violins themselves. The documentary gives quite an amount of information about the making of the Stradivarius violins as well as the Guadagninis, the reputation of the violin makers from the 18th century, their being kept in bank vaults, the extraordinarily high prices (over $1 million). Benefactor, Ulrike Klein, decides that the quartet should have the violins and go through a process of purchasing – with an excursion to Italy, to Cremona, where Guadagnini lived and where contemporary violin makers are crafting instruments in the line of Guadagnini. Some interesting sequences where we look at the making of the violins. Then there is something of a leap to the United States at an introduction to the Carpenter family, very vocal about the making of violins, their playing, their promotions – and some tour-de-force performances from them.
The third strand in the story concerns are Ulrike Klein, her German background, her coming to Australia, her love for music, her financial success and her becoming a benefactor of the arts, especially the building of the Ngeringa Arts centre in South Australia’s Mount Barker. There is some biography of Ulrike, a reunion with the husband she left long since, her business success in Australia, the patronage of the Australian String Quartet and obtaining the violins, her concern about the breakup, her relationship with other officials backing the quartet as well as those of her Ngeringa centre.
There is always something going on in Highly Strung, each of the three strands linking although, at times, the film goes off to concentrate one or the other.
As has been said, this is principally a film for classical music lovers and those who appreciate fine musical instruments.
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Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.