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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, September 4, 2020

Critic's Corner: Grusin doc worth finding on Vimeo




In 1984, a budding interest in jazz made music stores one of my favorite haunts. One day, as I was browsing a Tower Records in Denver for something that would catch my eye, I came across a CD with a cool cover of a painted cityscape at night.

Called “Night-Lines,” I bought it for the theme song from “St. Elsewhere,” which never failed to draw me out of whatever room I was in at home to watch the show with my mom.

At the time, I assumed the artist, Dave Grusin, was new to me. But as I mined music stores for more of his recordings, I discovered I had been enjoying his work for years.

Specifically, I had listened to his music while watching “Heaven Can Wait” in 1978, as I viewed “On Golden Pond” in 1981 and when I caught “Tootsie” in 1982. Although I didn’t know who Grusin was, his music had always been there.

This is the discovery many people make as they delve into Grusin’s discography and realize how long he’s been making music and how prolific his career has been.

From his days in the ‘60s as the musical director on “The Andy Williams Show,” to his many film and TV scores, to the countless recording careers he helped to launch, if you’re reading this, there’s a chance you have always been listening to Grusin’s music.

A new feature-length documentary, “Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time,” effortlessly and joyfully captures the scope of Grusin’s career, as well as the personality his music has always hinted was there.

The documentary was a labor of love for writer, producer and director Barbara Bentree, who interviewed a lot of people about their associations with Grusin and captured their stories on film.

Some of the names and faces will be familiar to most viewers, including music producer Quincy Jones (who calls Grusin his favorite person), actor Michael Keaton and journalist Tom Brokaw, one of Grusin’s fishing buddies.

Others will be less familiar to mainstream viewers but a treat for ‘80s jazz geeks like myself, including guitarist Lee Ritenour (who riffs on an unplugged electric guitar as he talks), pianist Dave Benoit and bassist Marcus Miller.

While these fellow musicians play an important role in defining Grusin as a talented and tireless composer, arranger and pianist, the best and most revealing stories come from his friends and family members.

A stepdaughter’s story about Grusin’s tender and forgiving response when he lost two days’ worth of work on his 1988 score for “The Milagro Beanfield War” when she accidentally flicked off a light switch in the room where he was working is especially endearing. (Grusin won an Academy Award for Best Music for the score.)

But the heart of “Not Enough Time” is found in Bentree’s interviews with Grusin, in which he comes across as a humble, practical and grateful human being. Since Grusin has spent much of his life expressing the voice of other artists, it was a pleasure to hear him talk about himself.

To keep “Not Enough Time” moving, Bentree included mostly brief clips but still managed to pack her film with gems, including a funny story about what Franco Zeffirelli, director of “The Champ,” said after hearing Grusin’s score for the first time.

When I first saw “Not Enough Time” at the Knoxville Film Festival last fall, the audience laughed.

Bentree was there, too, nervous about people leaving during the screening, which came at the end of a block of documentaries. I sat near the back, and if memory serves me correctly, no one budged.

Perhaps everyone was as absorbed as I was in not just the subject of the film but also Bentree’s storytelling and film craft. Although Bentree had directed only one other documentary, she exhibits a level of skill that exceeds her experience.

Or should I say Bentree proves herself to be a natural?

Her shot selection is impeccable. A good example is the scene that shows Grusin at the far end of a room, working at a desk in his Montana home. A tall shelf along the right edge of the screen is filled with hundreds of records. A lesser documentarian might have placed the camera closer to Grusin, but Bentree uses the moment to show how, even in this quiet corner of Grusin’s life, his work towers over him.

“Not Enough Time” is filled with snippets of Grusin’s film and TV scores, but Bentree also dove into his catalog to include portions of his jazz recordings with GRP Records, the record label he formed with producer Larry Rosen in the ‘70s.

She gives this music room to breathe and viewers time to listen without dialog. During these sequences, Bentree seems to say the best way to get to know Grusin is to listen to his music.

Despite this, some of the most memorable moments in “Not Enough Time” are those that contain no music at all. One of my favorite shots is one of Grusin making a fishing lure as birds and a gentle brook outside his window provide a relaxing soundscape for the 86-year-old maestro.

Grusin has earned his rest – but “Not Enough Time” left me wondering at what cost. While Bentree interviews several family members, including children, they are generally seated alone, as is Grusin.

There’s a drone shot of Grusin sharing a meal outside with what could be family – and a cute shot of Grusin seated at a piano, tickling the ivories and then playfully tickling what could be a young grandchild – but outside of footage of him performing with his brother, Don Grusin, he’s mostly seen without his family.

Bentree explores this notion, but not too deeply. The most telling scene is one of Grusin’s wife, who tends to a horse as she talks about how his work often required the bulk of his time and energy.

Whether or not Bentree deliberately showed Grusin without his family, the realization of how his work impacted his personal relationships strikes a rare sad note in a film brimming with happy ones.

Despite being an independent work, “Not Enough Time” sounds like a big budget production. Having seen the film in a theater with a good sound system as well as on my PC with a pair of $30 headphones, I can say it honors and preserves the impeccable audio quality present in Grusin’s recordings.

With “Not Enough Time,” Bentree takes a legend and not only reminds us about what we already know (I smiled when Benoit discusses how Grusin can make a piano sing in a way no one else does) but also reveals the person behind the music many of us have been listening to all our lives.

It’s a beautiful, exquisite work, and I hope it finds an audience.

“Not Enough Time” became available to rent via Vimeo on Sept. 1 in order to qualify for Grammy and Academy Awards. To find the film, go to grusinfilm.com and navigate to the Vimeo page from there. It will take a bit of work, but it’s worth it.