In the 12-minute NFB/ONF documentary Oscar, filmmaker Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre uses animated sequences, archival footage, photos, news clippings and other documents, radio and TV interviews with Montreal-born jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to chart his career and to depict the loneliness of life on the road and the toll it takes on a marriage, on the relationship between a father and his children and on musical performance, too. (Peterson was only 19 when he married for the first time. He tells an unseen interviewer that he should have waited until he was at least 40.)
A telegram reads: “I miss you Daddy. When are you coming home?” We also see a divorce document – genuine or recreated, I don’t know – that lists the respective parties as “Oscar Peterson” and “Mrs. Peterson.” That’s how it was in those days, married women didn’t even have a name of their own. More cringe inducing is a radio segment from 1944 in which announcer Jeff Davis calls 18-year-old Peterson a “coloured boy with amazing fingers.”
In addition to talk about the hardships of touring, we see daytime and night-time photos of Montreal back in the 1940s, are reminded how popular our city was with U.S. tourists, and revisit the tale of how U.S. impresario Norman Granz was riding in a Montreal taxi when he heard Peterson on a live radio broadcast from the Alberta Lounge. Granz instructed the driver to take him there right away.
In the next sequence, Granz has taken Peterson to Carnegie Hall, where he plays on a bill that includes Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. (Granz was Peterson’s manager for most of his life; a New York Times obituary for Granz says that Peterson named one of his sons after him. Google tells me that late in life Peterson had a daughter named Celine. Was she named for our national songbird? Anybody know?)
An animated depiction of CBC radio host Peter Gzowski is astounded when Peterson tells him that he thinks ahead while he’s playing, or more precisely, that he plays behind his thinking.
Needless to say, Oscar contains lots of Peterson’s music, too, a bonus for old fans and newly created ones.
Oscar is part of a three-film selection called Animating Reality 1: Familiar Faces, that will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., as part of the Sommets du cinéma d’animation film festival, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise, 335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
NOTE: Casino, a 4-minute film by Montreal director Steven Woloshen, uses music by Oscar Peterson. Casino is among the films in the International Competition – Programme 3, that will be shown at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., at the Sommets du cinéma d’animation.