Film review: ‘THE EULOGY’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The fascinating Australian documentary The Eulogy recounts the remarkable but tragic life of the phenomenally gifted Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer who sadly died in 2009. The film’s title stems from the eulogy Tozer’s friend and supporter, former Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered at his funeral. There Keating lacerated the arts establishment for, he felt, turning its back on one of the most talented musicians this country has ever produced. The film, directed by Janine Hosking, sees music teacher Richard Hill investigate, almost detective-like, Geoffrey Tozer’s career to find out what happened to him and to test the validity of Paul Keating’s accusations.

The film recounts Tozer’s tumultuous early years as, officially, the son of a British Army colonel and a piano teacher (Veronica) but actually fathered by a musician neighbour whom one person suggests was selected by Veronica for his musical abilities. Quickly revealing an astonishing affinity for music – including playing Beethoven at three – Geoffrey was lauded as a nascent musical genius and as a teenager played alongside musical greats throughout Europe. While further accolades and awards followed, money didn’t and he and his mother wound up living in poverty. This briefly changed when he was befriended by Paul Keating after a school concert where Tozer was a part-time music teacher. Previously unaware of his talent and acclaim, Keating championed Tozer’s career and upon discovering he was living in poverty, set up an arts grant to help people like Geoffrey.

The documentary reveals that Tozer’s genius was a blessing and a curse giving him almost unmatched powers as his fingers danced across the piano keys but also a painful vulnerability that led to self-destructiveness.

Despite the temporary stability the financial grants provided, he clearly struggled to keep his life on track. As we often hear with geniuses, Tozer is described as masterful at his art but almost dysfunctional when it came to everyday life, struggling to perform mundane tasks like paying bills or preparing proper food. As is sadly the case with some great artists, the stress of their personal contradictions and revered status leads to addiction, in Geoffrey’s case, alcohol.

Hosking has fashioned a sad but wonderful film that works as a celebration of great music, a psychological mystery, an insight into Australian arts culture and an examination of a brilliant, troubled and complex character. Infused with the energy of Tozer’s dramatic and dynamic performances, the film, while a little long, is never less than riveting.

Hosking also delivers a balanced account of Tozer’s life, giving equal weight to those who heap praise on him and those who, while admiring his musical gifts, feel his disorganised nature and drinking, rather than an elitist arts establishment, led to his apparent lack of recognition in Australia and his alarming decline.

While its subject is someone driven by intense, high-brow music, this is still a very accessible documentary. Also, while it concerns someone who is, in many ways a tragic figure, this isn’t a completely dour film. An unexpected character to emerge from this story is Tozer’s beloved dog Schnabel who provided him with wonderful companionship and delivers a few laughs for the cinema audience, particularly when one interviewee recalls how Schnabel left dog hairs all over one of Paul Keating’s famed Italian suits.

With The Eulogy, Hosking has created an intelligent and moving film about a man who, whatever the circumstances behind his lack of public recognition, deserves to be revered as one of our great artists.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Janine Hosking.

Release date: 10th Oct 2019.

Running time: 103 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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