Pacing the Stage - Bruce Cockburn on watching himself on screen
by Paul Blinov

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2 March 2013 - Though its title suggests a figure feeling encircled by the world at large, Pacing The Cage actually seems to find Bruce Cockburn at a state of general peace, or at the very least, grounded in his element.

The film, showcasing as part of the Global Visions Film Festival, follows his 2009 Slice O Life tour (the same chunk of roadtime that yielded a concert album of the same name). We see Cockburn perform, share stages with Roméo Dallaire, jam with Sarah Harmer, watch rehearsals for a tribute concert to himself and ruminate on his writing and career. Director Joel Goldberg keeps the cameras fairly unobtrusive, capturing some behind-the-scenes footage, performance cuts and compiling a swath of interviews to craft a rounded sketch of the man.

Pacing the Cage would benefit from a longer runtime to flesh itself beyond sketch into a fuller, deeper portrait. I don't mean that it would have to be more critical to be effective (though it's clearly coming from a place of appreciation, co-produced by Cockburn's manager), but there isn't a whole lot of plumbing of depths of a person going on here. Still, even in its wide-angle approach, it does offers a compelling image of one of Canadian folk's elder statesman, content with his status while still trying to use it for good and for honest artistic exploration. Plus there are some stunning concert cuts that highlight why anyone might want to emphasize the guy anyway.

Actually, Cockburn himself comes off as one of the most compelling voices about himself, level-headed with just a hint of self-deprecation and snark (on the environment: "We're fucked"). That was also certainly the case when he took a call from Vue one Friday afternoon to discuss the film, watching himself with an audience, and how realizing belief altered (and didn't alter) his approach to songwriting.

VUE WEEKLY: I'm assuming you've seen Pacing The Cage at this point. What were your first impressions of the film?

BRUCE COCKBURN: The first time I saw it, it was still a rough cut. Well, it was almost finished—the last rough cut before you call it a fine cut. So I was looking at it for how it worked as a film as well as what it was. But the second time I saw it was in a theatre for a film festival, with an audience present. They were quite different experiences; the film works for me very well. I thought that Joel Goldberg did a really good job putting it together. When you watch yourself on film like that, there's always a degree of embarrassment, and a degree of "Aww jeez, if I had just done that, said this, whatever." I found that to be minimal in this case—I've had much worse experiences with that than with this film. And it's very subjective, too: If I would pull out stuff that caused that reaction, other people would go, 'What are you talking about?' So that's inescapable, especially the first time through, watching yourself.

Watching it with an audience held up a different kind of mirror to it, in a way. It's less about what I think of it [than] what they're going to think about it. That's a whole other, y'know, kind of concern. But people responded very well.

VW: Did you find, for those moments you found embarrassing, they felt different with the audience present?

BC: Yeah, although it was hard to separate that fact from the fact that it was the second time I'd seen it. Things that make you wince the first time don't make you do the same way because you're already hardened to it. ... But in the audience, I'm thinking: 'I came off OK in the film. If there had been real red flags—"I look like an idiot there"—we would've cut that out, or I would've agitated strongly to have Joel cut it out, anyway, because of the nature of the film. It's a film about me; we're not trying to be journalists with this film, and so we can afford to be a little pickier about how I'm presented in it. People said all these nice things that ended up in the film; I had nothing to do with that. The only involvement I had in the making of the film up until looking at the rough cut was my presence in the interviews and in the performances. So I didn't exercise any influence whatever on the choice of materials that went into it or the selection of people to talk about me.

VW: In the film, one thing that comes out is the discussion of All of Diamonds being the moment you decided you were Christian, or maybe realized that for yourself. Do you think that having that realization, and being conscious of that, changed your approach to songwriting at all?

BC: It affected the content initially, for a few years maybe, because it was very much on my mind, which would be the case with anything you discover. It's a cliché about people who discover a new cult, or join alcoholics anonymous and suddenly get dry, that they'll go and tell everybody all about it. And I guess I did the same thing. But in terms of the process of songwriting, it didn't affect that. It's always been a question of waiting around for a good idea, for that little flash of inspiration that will trigger something. That was true then too.

Pacing the Cage
Directed by Joel Goldberg
Metro Cinema at the Garneau

~ from Vue Weekly - Pacing the Stage by Paul Blinov.

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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.