Film Reviews

Hot Docs Review: ‘Keyboard Fantasies’

Spend an hour with Beverly-Glenn Copeland and their gorgeous music

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Keyboard Fantasies
(UK, 63 min.)
Dir. Posy Dixon
Program: Artscapes

This is an apt title if there ever was one, for two good reasons. It refers to the name of the 1986 album released by boundary-breaking musician Beverly-Glenn Copeland to almost no acclaim. The sometimes quirky, sometimes dreamy, always original work, distributed on cassette from Copeland’s home in the Muskokas, lay dormant until it was discovered in 2015 by a Japanese collector. He bought all the remaining albums and sold them, reviving Copeland’s career and triggering a series of concerts that attracted thousands of adoring fans.

Is that every underappreciated aging musician’s fantasy or what?

Director Dixon undertakes a series of interviews with Copeland, interspersing them with footage of Copeland on tour. We get the full trajectory of the musician’s personal life, from growing up in Philadelphia with conservative parents who played classical piano, to coming out as a lesbian–and isolated because of it–while attending McGill in the 60s to transitioning genders to become Glenn Copeland.

This last dovetailed beautifully with his new-found fame. Copeland not only embraced his identity, he emerged into the spotlight and bloomed again as performer. That blossoming is a beautiful thing to behold. Copeland’s baritone voice is haunting, and at age 73, stronger than ever, and so is his charismatic stage presence.

Key to his new-found success is the superb band Indigo Rising that accompanies him, consisting of much younger members who plainly energize Copeland. These players are highly skilled, playful, able to improvise in a heartbeat and loving to their leader.

Copeland also talks openly about the creative process: “I don’t write the music, the music comes to me,” he says. And when it comes to describing how his new band developed arrangements–a daunting task, given the complexity of the music–Copeland conveys how gobsmacked he is by the young artists’ dexterity.

There are times during the film when you don’t know where you are – London? Toronto? Montreal? – or who is speaking on the voiceover, which is a bit irritating.

But it is a small price to pay for spending an hour with a grounded, gifted, grateful musician who definitely has a lot to say and gorgeous music to play.

Keyboard Fantasies screens at Hot Docs’ online festival * beginning May 28.*

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Susan G. Cole is a feminist, playwright, the author of two books on violence against women and a long-time cultural commentator. The former Entertainment Editor at NOW Magazine remains the books editor there and, as a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association, continues to contribute film reviews. @susangcole

View all articles by Susan G. Cole »