For his newest documentary, ODC Theater Resident Artist Paul Festa chronicled himself taking lessons on the Tchaikovsky violin concerto from various artists, none of whom are violinists. It's OK because Festa is a violinist, and he knew the piece quite well to begin with.
It's more than OK, actually, because it's fascinating. What makes someone a "real" artist? What hinders him? In Festa's case, a hand injury has been a factor, and his film doesn't shy away from talk of debilitating wounds, which can be psychological as well as physical. Tie It Into My Hand is what he calls it, quoting E. E. Cummings' exaltation of someone who with fingers unable to hold a brush would issue that command -- notable both for its determination and for needing someone else's help.
Portrait of Paul Festa by Greg Gorman
John Fisher and Carey Perloff
Some of Festa's instructors will seem familiar. Some are famous in their fields. Rather than waste time with introductions, however, he gets right to the lessons. And rather than training his camera on himself, he trains it on these others -- advising, psychoanalyzing, challenging, consoling, and indeed instructing. Collectively they are a perceptive, open-hearted bunch, with much wisdom to share. "Oh, it's so sweet," one says, upon hearing a few bars. "I don't know why you don't have a career. Something must be wrong with your personality." As another puts it, "We're the frightened ones. It's very scary being in front of your camera."
Monique Jenkinson, a.k.a. Fauxnique
In the similarly structured Apparition of the Eternal Church, from 2006, Festa gathered an array of personal responses to Olivier Messiaen's 1932 organ composition by filming people listening to it through headphones and parsing what they hear. In 2010's The Glitter Emergency, his fable in the silent-film style, and a rapturous fusion of camp and class, Festa cast himself as a pixie violinist, advising a peg-legged ballerina, "Do not turn away from the magic within you."
Tie It Into My Hand might be construed as a personal and spiritual synthesis of those earlier works. It's also a highly elevated therapeutic exercise, innately inspirational without ever seeming too cheesy or self-serious, and the kind of thing you urgently want to share with your creative kin before even seeing how it ends. Ultimately Festa both illuminates and transcends the most universal aspects of performance anxiety, with the performance in question being not just a specific concerto but the entirety of the artist's life.
Tie It Into My Hand screens Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22, with The Glitter Emergency at ODC Theater in San Francisco. Paul Festa accompanies the screenings with a live performance of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. For tickets and information, visit odctheater.org.