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This report is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

The Helfgott Hiatus Lawrence Sail

Few recent films have given rise to as much commentary as Saine, the story of the Australian pianist David Helfgott, a child prodigy who suffered mental breakdown and has triumphed over it sufficiently, with the help of his wife, to resume playing. Much of the continuing interest has had to do with the international concert tour which followed the release of the film. In The Guardian Ian Katz reported that in America Helfgott made his debut, at the start of a 10-city tour, 'to a rapturous reception from a sell-out crowd in Boston's Symphony Hall. The next morning he woke to the kind of reviews that have reduced more mentally stable performers to nervous wrecks.'1 The report went on to point out that the film itself, though 'lavished with critical and popular acclaim, attracting seven Oscar nominations', had also been attacked for apparent distortion of the facts of Helfgott's life, while 'critics have savaged Mr Helfgotts performance of Rachmaninoff's (sic) Third Piano Concerto on a recently released CD - currently No 1 in the US classical charts.' Almost at once The Times weighed in with a leader headed 'SHINING EXAMPLE: A grateful, graceful pianist - unless you are a US critic'2. The writer has no doubt about the rights and wrongs of the case, praising 'the triumph of the spirit over mental breakdown, the redeeming power of love and the exhilaration of music', and contrasting the 'sour tantrums' of the critics with the public's standing ovations, 'a tribute as ...


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