Mark Gresham | 28 JUN 2019
ATLANTA, GA— On June 21, Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices, a biographical documentary about Robert Lawson Shaw, the late choral music legend and former Atlanta Symphony Orchestra director of music, made its nationwide broadcast debut as part of the American Masters series on PBS.
An energized air of anticipation was palpable among those gathered last Froday to screen the 9pm broadcast at Georgia Public Broadcasting’s headquarters on 14th Street in Midtown Atlanta. It was a three year journey to national broadcast in the wake of the film’s world premiere exhibition on Sunday, April 24, 2016, at Atlanta Symphony Hall as part of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s “Robert Shaw Centenary” celebrations.
The next public screening after its Atlanta premiere came in May 2016 at the New York City Public Library at Lincoln Center, after which American Masters producers requested a screener, then first indicated their interest in including it in their series that August. Subsequent public screenings of the full-length film had already begun in June 2016, the first of what would prove to be over 60 public viewings across the United States in 24 months.
Its first exhibition at a film festival came that November at the St. Louis International Film Festival. It then won its first film festival award, “Best Documentary,” in February 2017 at the Beaufort International Film Festival in South Carolina That was followed by awards from the Palm Beach International Film Festival in Florida, the American Documentary Film Festival (AmDocs) in Palm Springs, California, and the Classical Arts Film Festival hosted by the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa, California.
In the meantime, the film’s first regional television broadcast came in November 2017 via Georgia Public Broadcasting, from which then film won a total of three Southeast EMMY Awards – for “Best Documentary,” for original music and for director — awarded by the Atlanta, Georgia division of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS). Last Friday’s PBS broadcast makes the film eligible for a national EMMY.
One month later, In July 2018, the producers of American Masters said yes to inclusion of Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices in its lineup. Then came the massive task of preparing a shortened version of the film to fit American Masters broadcast limits. The 71 minutes of the original was ultimately cut to 54 minutes.
As seen in last Friday’s screening, he American Masters cut is tighter than the original, with an energized pace that doesn’t slack. It is a compelling version. That said, it is missing a few worthy items that are found in the full-length original.
Mot noticeable is the absence of an opening segment about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when Shaw and the Robert Shaw Chorale happened to be on tour in the Soviet Union. Shaw insisted on following through with plans to perform Bach’s Mass in B-minor for a Russian audience, ultimately to great musical and humanitarian success. It was a scene that helped establish the story of Shaw’s life and career as set against a backdrop of world events. Also redacted are a segment about Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, a bit about volunteer choruses and a clip that included Walter Cronkite clip. Credits were also shortened to help meet the American Masters duration limit.
But have no fear: you don’t have to miss any of that 15 minutes. PBS Distribution released the original 71-minute full-length version on DVD on June 21, simultaneously with the American Masters broadcast. It is available for sale online from the PBS webstore. ■