“Who is David Gilmour?” one of the most distinctive guitarists in rock history is asked near the start of the 2015 documentary, “Wider Horizons.”
A man of famously few words, he struggles to answer — “I wish I knew; I have no idea” — before finally offering, “Someone who’s spent his life driven by music.” Later in this affectionate 72-minute portrait of the former Pink Floyd guitarist, author Polly Samson, who’s written the lyrics for all of her husband’s music since “The Division Bell” in 1994, nails the challenge that director Kieran Evans faced, despite having intimate access while Gilmour prepared to tour in support of his fourth solo album, “Rattle That Lock.”
Did the language part of his brain not evolve because the musical part was so busy?
“His emotional center is musical,” she says. “Did the language part of his brain not evolve because the musical part was so busy?” Samson doesn’t answer her own query, but the clear implication is yes. The best parts of the film come when Gilmour talks about his influences, including unexpected artists such as Lead Belly, the Shangri-Las and Joni Mitchell, and shares how he learned to play guitar by listening to a Pete Seeger strum-along tutorial record.
We hear how his first band crammed all five members into a listening booth at a local record store in Cambridge to play the new Beatles album the morning it came out, then tried to replicate a song or two at a party that evening. And we learn a bit — but not too much — about his relationships with Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett and keyboardist Rick Wright, both now deceased.
Fans looking for deep insights into any of the drama in Gilmour’s life will be disappointed. Floyd devotees won’t be surprised that he doesn’t want to talk about his notorious feud with Roger Waters, the conceptual mastermind who drove him to produce his best music. And we can only guess at the emotional impact when Gilmour tells us his parents shipped him off to boarding school at age five while his college-professor dad taught at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for a semester, then neglected to pick him up and bring him home for a year after returning to the U.K., even at Christmas.
Some may also be frustrated at the relative lack of music. We hear short bursts of that famous guitar soaring into interstellar overdrive, but never a full song or solo. And, as has been the case for the last four decades, the snippets of newer songs, including “In Any Tongue” and “A Boat Lies Waiting,” pale in comparison to the samples of Floyd classics, among them “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb.”
What we get here are tours of Gilmour’s recording studio on a houseboat in the Thames and his beautiful country estate in Sussex, both filled to overflowing with guitars, as well as rare and wonderful photos from his formative years. We see him taking as much pleasure rehearsing with his touring band as he does strumming acoustic guitar around the campfire with some of his eight children. We join him on a picnic, and we cringe with him as he hears a generic go-go tune from the forgettable Brigitte Bardot film, “Two Weeks in September,” apparently for the first time since he recorded it for the soundtrack in 1967. Oh, and we see a lot of that wordless wry grin, which is the same today as it was in his earliest pictures or a short interview clip from the 1972 film “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.”
It’s Gilmour as Cheshire Cat, signaling to the world that he knows he’s talented but nevertheless incredibly lucky to have accomplished what he has.
It’s Gilmour as Cheshire Cat, signaling to the world that he knows he’s talented but nevertheless incredibly lucky to have accomplished what he has and survived to become a 74-year-old country squire and fabulously content gentleman of leisure. “I’m not as ambitious as I was,” he confesses, no longer the aspiring rock star reaching for the moon. But spending some time with him is a pleasure nonetheless.