Music’s Redemptive Power Uncovered in ‘The Musical Mind’

By: Laura Bennett

25 years ago, Australian filmmaker Scott Hicks brought the story of pianist David Helfgott to life in the Academy Award nominated film, Shine.

Actor Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of the musician, and audiences grew in their understanding of genius and the complexities of mental health.

Scott’s friendship with David has lasted in the years since – as has his fascination with creative artists – and in his new documentary The Musical Mind: A Portrait in Process Scott examines the struggle of bringing art to life, and the neurological uniqueness of those that create it.

Told through the experiences of platinum recording artist Ben Folds, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns and concert pianist Simon Tedeschi the movie touches on their connections to David Helfgott, and the “brutality” of creativity.

“They’re such talented people, and all started so young,” Scott said in our interview. “They all found something in themselves, a sort of ‘wellspring’ of identification with music, [and] my goal was to explore that.”

At 4 years of age Ben Folds was already listening to hours of vinyl recording a day, Daniel Johns was a global superstar at 12 and Simon Tedeschi was dubbed a “child prodigy” at 8.

When you have that kind of success, and the “noisy mind” that can go with it, Scott observed the artists find comfort in knowing “other people have this too”.

“In a way [The Musical Mind] is a celebration of that neurodiversity, where each of these people has found an outlet and a channel for their very particular sort of genius,” Scott said.

“It was so intriguing to come to understand that to an extent.”

Daniel Johns describes the anxiety that exists in his brain without music, and his constant search for “the right wrong thing” when he’s writing.

“Music has clearly been a way of channeling the chaos that [Daniel] feels,” Scott said.

“To me, the music has been this sort of enormously redemptive outcome that we all share and delight in that these people have managed to create from their unique minds.”

Getting to revisit David Helfgott’s life all these years on was particularly rewarding for Scott, who’s seen the impact Shine’s had on him since its release.

“The movie gave [David] back fragments of this lost career,” Scott said.

“Going back and bearing witness to the wonderful life he’s enjoyed for the last 25 years, for me, the feeling is wonderful that that derived out of a movie that I made.

“He trusted me with his life and I was able to inadvertently give him a gift back.”

Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

Feature image: Daniel Johns and David Helfgott in a scene from The Musical Mind / Image supplied

About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.