The Eulogy

THE EULOGY,  Australia, 2018. Featuring Richard Gill, Paul Keating.  Directed by Janine Hosking. 98 minutes, Rated M (occasional coarse language).

A eulogy for whom? The answer is, Geoffrey Tozer. Those familiar with the Australian musical world, musicians, performers, recitals, orchestral concerts, will know Geoffrey Tozer as one of Australia’s most talented and successful pianists.

A eulogy by whom? The answer is, Paul Keating. Those familiar with Australian politics (and the young children shown in class at a music school in Sydney don’t seem to have heard of him) will have all kinds of opinions about Keating but will probably consent that he was prime minister who had a great love of the arts.

Geoffrey Tozer died in some destitution in 2009. Raised a Catholic, but not practising, he was buried from St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne. And Paul Keating gave the eulogy. Rather than rely on footage from the time, the former prime minister was persuaded to re-enact the event, walking solemnly up the aisle in the Cathedral, delivering the eulogy with excerpts continuing throughout the film, walking back down the aisle. Paul Keating can be very passionate in his outbursts (and there is one here when he defends his creative fellowships in the federal Parliament, laying into the opposition) and, in the eulogy, he is highly critical of the music establishments in Sydney and Melbourne, almost making them responsible for Tozer’s death.

Respected conductor and music educator, Richard Gill (who sadly died soon after the film was completed) is the guide throughout this film, not having met Tozer, Gil is curious about him as a person and his talent, visiting his home, interviewing a range of people, raising questions, suggesting answers, a quest which become something of a pilgrimage, not without the ability to make some objective judgements about the musician and his life and behaviour.

Fortunately, Tozer’s mother was devoted to home movies and so we see the background of Geoffrey’s upbringing. His mother was a music teacher and, one might say, took possession of him and his talent. Some of her comments are voiced by actress, Rachael Blake. He left school at 13, toured the world as a child prodigy. He was feted and honoured as a great talent. Fortunately, there are many excerpts of his performances, the film audience able to appreciate his virtuosity, his hand and finger skills, his ability to improvise, his working with orchestras (including a Chinese orchestra in 2002) as well as recitals.  Those interviewed are praising in his range of music, his absorbing music, his knowledge, his creative interpretations.

In many ways, the most of his life, Tozer had no life outside his music, living with his mother until her death in the 1990s. There was a mystery about his father, not Tozer, and no real personal life until, at the time he turned 50, falling in love with a musician, Paul Brickhill. But, it is difficult to discern the reasons and pressures for his turning to drink, he was an alcoholic. In his final years, he suffers some neglect, lets himself go, so that he died in rather squalid conditions at his home in Melbourne.

There are many testimonies from friends, especially the curator of his home and memorabilia, testimonies from Paul Brickhill, and, all the way through, excerpts from the eulogy.

He was given two creative fellowships from the Labor government, subject to criticism, Keating helping him in buying a former Queanbeyan convent and doing it up with the intention of having it as a music school – but the project failed.  Where Tozer did succeed at that time was in his discovery of the Russian composer, Nikolai Medtner, and his devoting himself to appreciation and understanding and the recording of his complete works. Which means there are many recorded testimonies to his artistic skills and talent.

One of the testimonies is by journalist Stuart Rintoul who wrote an extensive article on him when Tozer died. Prominent members of Sydney and Melbourne orchestral organisations were incensed at the eulogy and its implications. However, Richard Gill interviews one of the executives of the time and, evenhandedly, she does explain the effect of genius and erratic and unreliable behaviour on conductors, orchestras, rehearsals.

There have been comments throughout the film on the Tall Poppy syndrome. If only the ethos word to collaborate with the tall Poppy rather than an impetus to cut it down.

Madman                                        Released October 17th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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