Martino Unstrung, A Brain Mystery (2008)

by | Jan 25, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Martino Unstrung, A Brain Mystery (2008)

Documentary on guitarist Pat Martino
Director/Writer/Producer: Ian Knox
Studio: Sixteen Films 0006NTSC
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: English DD 5.1 or 2.0
No region code
Extras: Concert footage at Birdland and Ronnie Scotts, Clips of two Martino masterclasses, Paul Broks masterclass excerpt, Carlos Santana & Pete Townshend talk jazz, Les Paul interview, Michael Sembello interview, Jose Pesci, Red Holloway, Stan the Toronto Heckler
Length: 82 min. (feature), 70 min. (extras)
Rating: *****

This is not your usual documentary on a living or past figure in jazz.  It should be of interest to those who are not into jazz guitar or even jazz in general. What makes it of broad interest – perhaps one of the most interesting recent features on a jazz personality – is the amazing story of the brain surgery that saved Martino’s life but caused him total amnesia and he had to relearn everything to regain his place as one of the top guitarists in modern jazz today.  He was known for his lightning-fast, often complex, but super-clean delivery.

Martino’s neuropsycologist and friends such as Joe Pesci and Red Holloway fill in the story of the before and after surgery guitarist. Martino goes thru childhood photos and explains that after the surgery he at first didn’t even know his parents and had no interest at all in touching the guitar again.  He evidently had a brain tumor from birth and it caused him increasing problems with violent mood swings and seizures.  He was even confined to a mental institution and subject to shock treatments. After he had seizure in the middle of a performance in France he had a CAT scan and learned that he supposedly only had a few hours to live with a serious brain tumor.

As we later learn when his doctor shows him a current MRI scan, a very large portion of his left brain lobe had to be removed. It is felt that Martino’s brain had already compensated since childhood by transferring some needed tasks to other parts of the brain. His father had played his award-winning LPs loudly over and over, trying to get Martino interested in picking up his guitar again.  Eventually he did and discovered that the physical memory of playing was mostly still there; it was the knowledge of the music – in fact all music – that had to be relearned from scratch. Martino has made an astonishing comeback – some of the other musicians were saying that he sounds even better now than he did before. And he sometimes has to deal with the pain he caused a few people with his tantrums prior to his surgery.  The film’s subtitle of a brain mystery is very appropriate.  The film made me want to dig into my several Martino LPs and enjoy them again, but I can imagine most others would find this DVD of great interest without doing that.

 – John Sunier

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