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Ian Knox: Filming Pat Martino's World

By Published: November 4, 2008
AAJ: What audience is the film intended to reach?

IK: I hope the film will satisfy the most avid jazz fan, curious for insight to this brilliant and iconic player, but the extraordinary nature of the human interest story will, we hope, reach further to a general audience. In addition to the 82-minute running time of the film, we have cut a further 70 minutes of DVD extras, which includes extended concert footage, interviews, master class footage, and a taste of Pat's fascinating and original "sacred geometry" musical theory.

Pat Martino AAJ: Did you conceive the film more as an inspirational story or as a realistic "slice of life"?

IK: The film was very much conceived as an inspirational piece. If Pat's story had a bad ending, if his personality had been destroyed by his ordeal, I doubt that I would have wanted to make the film. Pat is an unlikely and inspiring hero. His remarkable survival holds hope and wider meaning for us all.

AAJ: From working so closely with him on the film, what are your impressions of Pat as a person and a musician?

IK: It is impossible to separate the man from the musician. Pat is an artist to his very core. It's a cliche, but he really does live and breathe music. He's very curious and open to all opportunities that life puts his way. His discipline and stamina are formidable. He exercises his brain like a muscle, and his short-term memory seems better than mine now. When filming, he would work until we dropped. We'd work him fourteen- to sixteen-hour days, requiring great concentration from him and often in unbearable temperatures. Then at the end of the day, he'd unwind for an hour or so playing duets with his wife Aya, before taking us out to dinner. He's a witty and charming man and I miss him now that the film is completed. We became great friends.

AAJ: The film is done compassionately, yet it is brutally honest in some ways. What made you decide to dig in so deeply into Martino's personality and character rather than portray him as a matinee idol of jazz, so to speak?

IK: Our love and respect for Pat was a given from the outset, so we didn't really view the material in terms of negative or positive. Rather it was about trying to chart the symptomatic shifts in his mood and behavior over the years. The idea was for Paul to make a forensic interrogation of Pat's brain to see what conclusions, if any, we could draw about Pat's remarkable recovery. To unravel this complex mystery, we needed to be scientifically accurate in presenting the evidence.

The film takes the form of a series of neurological tests, which open up the biographical highways and byways of Pat's memory. Pat is the gentlest, most spiritual person, adored and admired by most of those who come in contact with him. But we did encounter some very oddly diverse opinions from the past. According to one aggrieved producer, he's the devil incarnate. Pat's illness and recovery took him to the furthest emotional and psychological extremes and we have charted that in the film, as far as possible, through people's testimonies. The brain surgery was performed back in 1980, so no records existed. His brain surgeon, Dr. Fred Simeone, could recall a good deal about the operation, but we needed to do an MRI brain scan in order to fully understand what had been done to him.

AAJ: What made the diverse elements of Pat's story come together into a unified whole?

IK: The underlying theme of the film is about the brain and "the self" and what it is that makes each and every one of us who and what we are. That's a universal question, which we have tried to deal with in an entertaining and humorous way. That is what hopefully gives the film unity.

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Making the Film

AAJ: What prior film-making experiences were useful to you in making the film?

IK: My background is in fiction filmmaking. I'm used to working with actors and being able to hold and construct the film in my head. The experience of making Martino Unstrung, my first documentary film, could not have been more different. The lack of crew and equipment was enormously liberating. We started with a clear structure for the film but we were very improvisational and spontaneous in shooting. We'd just follow the moment as it occurred and see where it took us. But the same rules of dramatic story telling apply. It's just that you don't necessarily understand what the story is until much later in the process. We shot 120 hours of material and I initially felt swamped by it. Jonathan Morris, the editor, who is Ken Loach's long-time collaborator, is a seasoned documentarian and he gave me confidence through a prolonged editing process. He was brilliant.

AAJ: How did you help your non-actor subjects to get comfortable in front of the camera?

IK: Well Joe Pesci can hardly be described as a non-actor. But seriously, musicians are performers. They love being in front of the camera and, once they started, it was almost impossible to stop them. Townshend and Santana are total naturals. Also, we were a tiny crew. Only Paul, myself, and Nyika and, frankly, we were such rank amateurs as documentarian that our subjects were more amused by us than intimidated.

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