Tony Palmer has expanded his 2-part film, made in 1978 for the "South Bank Show", into a remarkable warts-and-all portrait of the composer Malcolm Arnold. The mixture of archive materials and more recent film and interviews starts by celebrating the composer's early successes and phenomenal musical output. Gradually we realise that this was at a price - alcoholism, bipolar disorder and disintegrating relationships with his family.
His appetite for life seemed enormous, involving not only the traditional 'serious music' activities and his massive film music output but his collaborations with the likes of Gerard Hoffnung, Deep Purple and the Padstow lifeboatmen! But the film is unflinching in its portrayal of the restless, suicidal and ill-tempered aspects of that life, descending into institutionalisation, followed by a disturbing dependence on strangers. It is hard to appreciate that the large, bouncy, generous person shown in so much of the archive material was also the furious, "deeply unpleasant" (in the words of one interviewee)and almost inarticulate old man we also see.
But above all, the film reminds us that Arnold was a great and much under-rated composer, with extended extracts from a wide range of his enormous output. He is the most recorded modern English composer - and the film shows us why.
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