PACING THE CAGE: THE FEATURE DOCUMENTARY – TRUE NORTH RECORDS
This documentary got off to a rather poor start with U2’s Bono expressing, in his own way, jealousy at the lyricism and talent of Bruce Cockburn. Later on, anecdotal evidence is offered to suggest that Eddie Van Halen thinks Cockburn is the best guitar player in the world. The question that has to be asked here is: Who cares what Bono or Van Halen think? People will already have their own opinion of the man and his talent. It is probably the main reason they will pick up the DVD in the first place.
One of the main problems of this film is that it relies too heavily on what other people have to say about Bruce Cockburn. Worse still, the people who offer their opinion get too much screen time and really don’t add enough substance to the conversation. People like Bernie Finklestein (Bruce’s manager) and Colin Linden (his record producer) may have some insights to offer into Bruce Cockburn’s technique, his character and his Christian spirituality, but not enough to justify returning to them again and again. A case in point, Finklestein tells a story about David Suzuki’s response on first hearing “If a Tree Falls”. Would it not have been possible to get David Suzuki to tell the story himself?
But now, the positives; the first is the music. There are recordings of Bruce Cockburn playing many of his songs, including “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”, “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, “Pacing the Cage” and several others. These are mostly solo versions of the songs and you get to appreciate the complexity and beauty of the harmonics and lyrics without the distractions of a band. Bruce seems to feel that these songs are better in their solo versions and, while you may disagree with his assessment, this does provide an opportunity to appreciate the uncluttered genius of the musician. You might also, if you are skilled enough to replicate what you see in the film, get a tutorial in fingerstyle technique.
The non-musician can also gain some insight into the man that is Bruce Cockburn. This is the part of the film that I found most interesting. Watching this altered many of my conceptions of Cockburn. I never considered him to be a Christian artist. In fact, I thought he challenged a lot of the tenets of Christianity in his songs and his activism. As it turns out, he is motivated by his deeply religious and spiritual worldview. This is, perhaps, the most important part of the documentary. Interviews interspersed throughout the film give Bruce a chance to talk about his worldview, his activism and how he sees life. We hear him tell about his vulnerabilities and his striving for perfection. The film gives a brief, although somewhat superficial, glimpse into depths of the man and his inner thoughts in his own words.
By Bruce Pollock