At long last, Robert Hilferty's film Babbitt: Portrait of a Serial Composer, a documentary about the late Milton Babbitt, is out in the world. NPR is hosting the video; the composer Laura Karpman, who studied with Babbitt and has gone on to a successful career in film and TV scoring, did the work of completing it. Robert, a longtime friend of so many of us who wrote about music in New York, died tragically in 2009. He worked on his film for fifteen years; I saw the opening portion — in which Robert accosts people outside Tower Records and asks them if they know Babbitt's music — back in 1999. (The initial cut, as I recall, had more impatient questions from the woman with asymmetrical sunglasses — "Is he signed? Is he a signed artist?" — and a shot of Robert jumping up and down and shouting, "I love the music of Milton Babbitt!") There are technical imperfections, but the film is a heartfelt and revealing piece of work, and when Babbitt sits down at the piano and plays old favorites it becomes intensely moving. The composer got to see the finished version last fall, and sent Karpman an uncharacteristically brief note: "I love you."
More: Andrew Patner writes about the film.