'Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music': Film Review

Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music - S 2016
Courtesy of Bridge Strategic Communications

Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music - S 2016

Only skims the surface.

Peter Rosen's documentary explores the life and career of the world's richest living composer.

When asked who the richest living composer is, most people would probably guess Andrew Lloyd Webber. But most people would be wrong. The correct answer is Gordon Getty, the last remaining son of J. Paul Getty, the legendary oil tycoon who at the time of his death in 1976 was the richest man in the world. Peter Rosen's documentary Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music chronicles the story of a man born into great wealth who chose to concentrate largely on artistic rather than business pursuits.

Now 82, Getty has composed numerous operas, oratorios and instrumental pieces that have been performed all over the world. The documentary delivers a fly-on-the-wall portrait of the octogenarian during the creation, rehearsals and performances of various works, including the operas Plump Jack, inspired by Shakespeare's character, Falstaff (and also the name of a successful winery Getty co-founded in 1997); Usher House, based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher; and the song cycle The White Election, incorporating the poems of Emily Dickinson. The last is showcased in footage of a recital taking place in Dickinson's house in Amherst, Mass.

The doc includes extensive interview footage with Getty, much of it conducted by fellow composer and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. He candidly discusses his family history, including his teenage nephew's notorious kidnapping in 1973, and his privileged upbringing. He reveals that he didn't know his father was the richest man in the world until after he graduated high school.

"For children, I do think you can gag on a silver spoon," he comments. For him, the arts were a salvation.

"Then you might escape the curse," Getty comments about his passion for music.

He also seems unfazed by those who have labeled him a musical dilettante, saying, "I'm the only critic I really care about."

Several performers and fellow composers are seen extolling his talents, and one of the film's most charming sequences features an affectionate conversation between Getty and his 100-year-old stepmother, his father's fifth wife, who as seen here is still sharp as a tack.

But despite its many interesting aspects, the film doesn't delve deeply enough into its provocative subject, more resembling a promotional video than a suitably thoughtful documentary. The story is compelling, to be sure, but Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music never finds an interesting way to tell it.

Production company: Peter Rosen Productions
Director/director of photography: Peter Rosen
Producers: Mallory Hill, Peter Rosen
Executive producers: Lisa Delan, Job Maarse, Lothar Mattner, Peter Paul, Bernd Helthaler
Editors: Peter Rosen, Greg Keras
Composer: Gordon Getty

Not rated, 68 minutes