Dir. Peter Esmonde
Viewed: From the Balcony
Somewhere in Seattle, Washington a German immigrant who goes by the name of Trimpin (yes, just Trimpin) is building something. It may or may not involve a musical instrument but it probably involves some gears, an electrode or two and something found in a junk yard, all put together in an effort to create a sound, music you've never heard before, but Trimpin must hear. Trimpin, the film, follows this eccentric man, whom many of the interview subjects don't hesitate to call both a musical and technological genius, through his day-to-day life as inspiration strikes and slide projectors get turned into automated percussion instruments.
One of the inherent elements of a documentary is the drive to find inspiration in the lives of its subjects and Trimpin is no different and fairly successful at that. And unlike say Derrida, Zizek!, or How to Draw a Bunny, the film doesn't get too bogged down in its subject's philosophy and instead gives you just enough to be drawn in and even slightly enamored of of Trimpin. His childlike curiosity, energy and mind-boggling creativity make for some fun and even fascinating moments. Machinery built to tune a piano while it's being played by electronically programed fingers and a perpetual motion non-music music device can be tough things to wrap your head around but when you see the joy Trimpin gets out of making them and the happiness and wonder it brings to the people who witness them in action, it's easy to simply let these objects d'art (and d'music) confound and amaze in equal measure.
What really holds the movie together is a ongoing narrative where Trimpin and the Kronos Quartet craft a multimedia concert to be performed with toy instruments and sensor activated violins. We get to eavesdrop on the pieces of the creative process from beginning to end and Trimpin's unshakable faith and grinning optimism that it will all come together when other composers would be breaking woodwinds over people's heads is indeed inspiring. As the date of the concert approaches, I was surprised to find myself a bit eager and nervous at the outcome. It is easy to root for this crazy old man-child and I really didn't want to see him fail even when he would no doubt spin a failure into a success. And even if the actual climactic concert is one of those you-kinda-had-to-be-there performances, it was still a pleasure to see all the pieces fall into place.
At 79 minutes the film breezes by and does what every documentary should do -- make you want to fire up Google and find out more on the subject (and as it turns out there's some pretty wild installations and accomplishments that the movie doesn't touch on). So as an introduction to a formidable underground art character, Trimpin: The Sound of Invention is an entertaining primer.
You can check it out at the Independent Film Festival of Boston this Thursday (April 23) @ 10:15pm or Sunday (April 26) @ 8pm -- both shows are at the historic Somerville Theater. Buy a ticket here.