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Cinema

In Toronto, Paul Simon Takes a Bow with a New Career-spanning Documentary

September 11, 2023

TORONTO — After a three-and-a-half-hour documentary on his life, Paul Simon had only sympathy for the audience.

“You’re probably exhausted,” Simon told the crowd after the premiere of Alex Gibney’s “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon” on Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The 81-year-old Simon, himself, hadn’t watched the film before its debut, and he didn’t watch it Sunday, either. “I’ll get up the courage to see it, no doubt,” he promised.

The film, which is seeking distribution at TIFF, is an expansive look at Simon’s decades-spanning career, from growing up in Queens, New York, with Art Garfunkel to the success of “Graceland,” the sensational 1986 album he made with South African musicians.

“In Restless Dreams,” which takes its name from a lyric in “The Sound of Silence” (“In restless dreams I walked alone”), also intimately captures Simon painstakingly assembling his latest album, “Seven Psalms,” which was released in May.

He began the album, his first in several years, he says, after a dream in 2019 in which he envisioned an album of seven songs. His work at his home studio in Wimberly, Texas, was made more difficult by Simon’s hearing loss in his left ear, throwing off his musical equilibrium.

“I haven’t accepted it entirely, but I’m beginning to,” Simon told the audience of his hearing loss in a post-screening Q&A.

Simon reached out to Gibney, the veteran documentarian of “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” after admiring his 2015 documentary “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All.” Though the cameras took some adjusting to, Simon was content for Gibney to assemble a narrative around his life.

“Having the truth about me depicted by an observer is very interesting to me,” Simon said. “I think I’m probably not the person to want to describe what the truth is. I’m biased on both sides. I overestimate myself and I dislike myself to a sufficient degree that I’d rather give it to someone else to document.”

Further, Simon said, he wished some of his earlier recording sessions had been filmed, like those for 1970’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “Graceland.” “In Restless Dreams” does include some rare footage, including 16mm dailies from the making of the 1969 documentary “Songs of America” and early rehearsals of “Graceland.”

After some prodding, Simon acknowledged that he is still making music and recently wrote a new song. Ideas are also still coming to him at night, too.

“The other night I dreamed again,” Simon said, to applause. “I dreamed it would be a good idea if I wrote a song called ‘It’s What’s His Name.’ “

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