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Friday, June 21, 2024

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon movie review (2024)

His body of work is as huge as the man is short, so it makes sense that a documentary spanning his career would stretch well past the three-hour mark. But for fans of Simon, Alex Gibney’s two-part doc “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon” should serve as a healthy diagnostic on a pop music icon—comprehensible, digestible, and chock-a-block with more than a half century of the man’s stamp on pop culture. It’s his “Eras Tour,” basically.

Framed largely around the recording sessions he conducted in 2021 for Seven Psalms at his studio in Wimberly, Texas, “In Restless Dreams” zips back frequently to let Simon reflect on the various moments of his career. (Suffice to say, Paul Simon has to think about his entire life before he plays.) It’s in these stretches that Gibney, a veteran documentarian who normally handles more politically prescient material (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the World,” “Totally Under Control”), breezes casually through the usual mix of interviews, narration, and archival footage of Simon’s relatively uncontroversial career. 

This isn’t to say Simon’s career hasn’t been a rocky one, as Gibney makes clear (though frustratingly refuses to explore deeply). A good bit of the doc’s first episode—which Gibney cheekily dubs “Verse One”—details Simon’s early collaborations with, then bitter feuds, with Garfunkel, a close childhood friend who becomes a bitter creative partner. Then, his solo career (and life) stumbles more than a few times, from his attempt to follow Garfunkel in front of the camera in the 1980 flop “One Trick Pony” to the accusations of “cultural slumming” he faced around his Grammy-winning world music tracks in “Graceland.” 

Peppered throughout these sections is the same sense of perfectionism Simon lends to his music. We watch his boyish face and weary eyes grow and change over the years; his hairline grows thinner, his blazers boxier. He and Garfunkel come right out of the gate with The Sound of Silence, and recount the way “Mrs. Robinson” was essentially being written as they recorded it, rushing to complete it for “The Graduate.” Whether there, or in the minutes-long jam sessions we see in South Africa with some of that nation’s most talented musicians or finding the right lyric for Seven Psalms—complete with handwritten text floating overhead—we get a decent sense of Simon’s perfectionism. 

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