Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bruce Cockburn – Pacing the Cage: The Feature Documentary

Pacing the Cage: The Feature Documentary
True North 

Pacing the Cage: The Feature Documentary – which debuted in a significantly shorter version on Vision TV and is now available in its full 65-minute version on DVD – is a compelling look at Bruce Cockburn, one of Canada’s greatest songwriters and guitarists. Written and directed by Joel Goldberg, and produced by Goldberg and Bernie Finkelstein, who has been Bruce’s manager since the beginning of his career, the film examines Bruce’s life and music from several angles and perspectives the influences of his spiritualism and activism.

Much of the filming took place during Bruce’s 2008 solo tour which formed the basis for his 2009 live album, Slice O Life: Live Solo, which I referred to in my Sing Out! magazine review as “the live Bruce Cockburn album I’ve wanted for years,” and at a couple of benefit concerts in 2009. While the film includes magnificent performances of several great songs, including “Pacing the Cage,” “All the Diamonds” and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” it is the insights provided in the interview segments with Bruce and several astute observers – including Bernie, Colin Linden, who produced Slice O Life and several others of Bruce’s albums, Sylvia Tyson, Michael Ondaatje, and Romeo Dallaire – that make this a worthwhile film.

Along the way, we hear Bruce explain the spiritual quest that led him to his own interpretation of Christianity, as well as his activism in the service of causes he supports. He also reveals his anxiousness as a performer when in one moody sequence he agonizes over what he felt was a show filled with errors that would have been imperceptible to anyone but himself. (I’ve seen Bruce play countless times since 1970 in venues ranging from tiny coffeehouses to major concert halls and big outdoor festivals and have never known him to give anything less than a stellar performance.)

I’ve interviewed Bruce several times for newspaper and magazine profiles and he did an extensive radio interview with me in 2002. I’ve always found him to be a thoughtful, contemplative person to talk to – and someone who is unafraid to discuss difficult subjects. In the film’s most striking moment he expresses regrets about mistakes he made and not appreciating his role as a parent at the time his now-adult daughter was a small child; mistakes he hoped he wouldn’t make again now that he is once again – in his 60s – the parent of a young child.

Pacing the Cage: The Feature Documentary is time well spent, certainly for Bruce Cockburn fans in particular, but also for anyone interested in an enhanced understanding of a particularly creative soul who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of spiritual, political and musical truth.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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