Persuading the Baby to Float

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“When Hannah sings Bill’s words accompanied by this group of musicians, something very true comes through… and I remember why I fell in love with music.” — Norman Meehan

Director: Keith Hill
Year: 2012
Country: New Zealand
Running time: 83 mins
Genres: Music, Poetry

Producer/Editor: Keith Hill
Photography: Phil Burchell
Sound: Chris Burt
Music: Norman Meehan, Bill Manhire, Hannah Griffin

With: Bill Manhire, Norman Meehan, Hannah Griffin

World Premiere

The ongoing artistic collaboration between Norman Meehan, Bill Manhire and Hannah Griffin has produced two sublime CDs, with a third in the can for release later in 2012. This film captures them mid-process, as songs from Making Baby Float are rehearsed and then performed in front of an audience for the live recording.

The great virtue of the film is its close and calm focus on Hannah Griffin’s wonderful performances: rapt and unselfconsciously absorbed in rehearsal, blooming expressively in performance. It has the shape of a classic music doco. Interviews and conversations footage reflecting on the process of collaboration are cut in with the rehearsals and performances. Only towards the end do powerful full performances emerge, and only at the very end does the audience appear and applause breaks out like the release of a pent breath.

Mutual admiration shines out of the interviews, but moments of unease are recorded too. At one point Manhire says of ‘Kevin’, a setting of a sad and grave elegy to a late friend that features initially quite shocking moments of gospel uplift, “I hated that song at first, I have to say”. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion of setting poetry to music. A good poem contains its own music already and needs nothing added. But when the additions are as sensitive and imaginative as these, exceptional new artworks arise. This poetry and music lover is persuaded. — Fergus Barrowman