Shine (film)

Shine (film)

Infobox Film
name = Shine

caption = original film poster.
director = Scott Hicks
producer = Jane Scott
writer = Jan Sardi (screenplay)
Scott Hicks (story)
starring = Geoffrey Rush
Noah Taylor
Armin Mueller-Stahl
music = David Hirschfelder (original music)
cinematography = Geoffrey Simpson
editing = Pip Karmel
distributor = Fine Line Features
released = 21 January 1996
(Sundance Film Festival)
20 November 1996
runtime = 105 min.
country = Australia
awards =
language = English
budget = $5,500,000 (estimated)
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0117631

"Shine" is a 1996 Australian film based on the life of pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in institutions. It stars Geoffrey Rush, Lynn Redgrave, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Noah Taylor, John Gielgud, Googie Withers, Justin Braine, Sonia Todd, Chris Haywood, and Alex Rafalowicz. The screenplay was written by Jan Sardi, and Scott Hicks directed the film. The degree to which the film's plot reflects the true story of Helfgott's life is disputed (see below).


Shine begins as we see an apparently lost man finding his way into a restaurant. The man has some sort of mental disability and we find out his name is David Helfgott, played by Geoffrey Rush. The movie then cuts back to his childhood, where the viewer sees David perform in a music competition. Helfgott's father, Peter( played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) watches as David loses the competition. David's father seems to be a cruel and harsh man.

The movie then shows David as a teenager (played by Noah Taylor). David wins the state musical championship and is invited to study in America but is forbidden by his father to leave. David's talent grows until he is offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, England. David's father again forbids him to go but David leaves and as a consequence his father disowns him.

In London, David enters a Concerto competition choosing to play Rachmaninoff's 3rd Concerto. As David practices he changes becoming more and more manic. During David's performance he suffers a mental breakdown and is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he receives electric shock therapy.

After David's initial institutionalization he tries to return home, but his father still rejects him. David is admitted again to a mental institution where he spends considerable time. Eventually we see David as an adult taken home by one of the workers at the mental institution. This worker remembers him from before he suffered his breakdown. The worker recognizes that David needs more care than they can offer and David finds himself in a hostel, wandering the streets. At this point we enter where the movie began.

At the restaurant they are astounded by his ability to play the piano and one of the owners befriends David and looks after him. In return David plays at the restaurant. It's through the owner that David is introduced to Gillian (played by Lynne Redgrave). David and Gillian fall in love and marry. Through Gillian's help David readies himself for a comeback concert at which he is given a standing ovation.


"Shine" won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Geoffrey Rush), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It also won a BAFTA for best actor, a Golden Globe for best actor and nine AFIs.


The film's title "Shine" connotes David's brightness while coming from a history of darkness. Several previous alternate titles included "Flight of the Bumblebee" and "Helfgott".


The movie has attracted reproach on two main grounds:

Margaret Helfgott's book

Critics allege that certain events and relationships in David's life are portrayed with wild inaccuracy, sometimes even fabricated, resulting in damage to the reputations of real people. Helfgott's sister Margaret Helfgott, in her book "Out of Tune" [Margaret Helfgott and Tom Gross, "Out of Tune: David Helfgott and the Myth of Shine", ISBN 0-446-52383-6, pub. Warner Books (1998)] stresses particularly the case of Helfgott's father Peter Helfgott, who was, according to her, a loving husband, over-lenient parent and very far from the abusive tyrant portrayed in "Shine". Peter Helfgott's decision to prevent David from going overseas at the age of 14 was not made with the vindictive spirit portrayed in "Shine", she claims, but a reasonable judgment that he was not ready for such independence. Helfgott's mother might agree; on seeing "Shine", she said she thought that a great evil had been done. Margaret Helfgott further claims to have been pressured by David's second wife Gillian and by the publishers of the film to stop making trouble for them by telling her story. Although Margaret Helfgott has possession of letters between Helfgott and his father, the copyright is held by Gillian Helfgott who has prevented their contents from being published.

Scott Hicks published a letter to the Wall Street Journal when Margaret Helfgott’s book first came out. The following are excerpts from Hicks' response to the reviewer for the Wall Street Journal August 27, 1998:

quote|My primary source was not David Helfgott's wife Gillian, but David Helfgott himself.

In "Shine" I made a film that speaks for itself, and I stand by the research that was conducted in preparation for it, drawn from numerous interviews with friends, relatives, teachers, medical people and colleagues of David's. A number of these people were adult observers of Peter Helfgott and his family when Margaret and David were very young children.

I maintain that all of the actions of the character Peter Helfgott have their origins in real events. In fact, some people who knew David Helfgott's father have commented to me that it is, if anything, a rather kind portrait. Certainly, I was told of abuses far more serious than those shown in the film, which I chose not to include in order to spare the family as well as the audience. When David's sister Susie read the script, she thanked me sincerely for my discretion about these events, which I have never discussed publicly. Susie continues to dispute Margaret's view of events, and has said publicly that her sister views the past through "rose-coloured glasses."

Margaret Helfgott's first words to me were, "My father was a saint," a view she continues to campaign for, but which is not shared by other members of her family. I believe she chooses, for reasons of her own, to block out the memories of the years she has described in her own letters to family members as "traumatized."

David's brother, Les Helfgott, has repeatedly told me and others that his father hit him, on one occasion actually knocking him unconscious. Les was omitted from the screenplay at his own request. When I gave him the script to read, he asked to be included in it again, but added that he gave the film his blessing, regardless. I gave Les, David's sister Louise and his mother Rae the opportunity to preview the film privately and discuss it with me. Afterward, Les Helfgott wrote to thank me, saying, "Any fears we may have had regarding the film have now gone. You have done a brilliant job of "Shine"." Several weeks later, Les and Louise were my guests at the world premiere of the film, joining in the celebrations publicly with me. This was a strange way to show the concern and anger that Margaret's book would now have us believe they feel.

Louise was also our guest during filming, and actually appears briefly in the film. Louise is the author of a play about Peter Helfgott (which she told me was workshopped at the Australian National Playwrights' Conference in Canberra) that is more explicit in its depiction of her father than is "Shine".

Margaret Helfgott is, of course, entitled to her memory, despite consistently denying her brother David's right to his. It is tragic that she is unable to share her brother's joy at recapturing fragments of his lost career while overcoming the difficulties of his past. Perhaps this is a reflection of a decades-old jealousy instilled by the intense spirit of competitiveness her father fostered between Margaret and David, as she herself describes in her book… She remains devoted to the memory of a complicated man who, whatever his merits, left behind him a family legacy that one psychiatrist who knew the Helfgotts described to me as "a bottomless pit of need."

Australian writer John Macgregor did much of the research for Shine, and wrote its 'treatments' (versions of the story preceding the actual scripts).

In the midst of the controversy, his letter to The Australian was published in November 1996:

quote|The ever-gallant Scott Hicks asked me not to write this. But with Margaret Helfgott's letter about Shine "annihilating" her father's character" (15/11), coming on top of numerous claims by other aggrieved parties who were once in David Helfgott's charmed orbit, I really have had enough.

I was involved with the Shine story from its inception: I did much of the early research, and wrote many drafts of the "treatment" (or pre-script). I spent months talking to most of those who had known David Helfgott, from childhood on. I can take no credit whatever for Jan Sardi's superb script - however my connections with some of these people, and the story in general, have lasted 10 years.

There is one glaring omission from Margaret Helfgott's public statements: much of the Shine story was drawn from David Helfgott's own elephantine memory. And whatever eccentricities David may have, he has never been remotely delusional.

David has been "diagnosed" by many experts - always differently. Even if we accept Margaret's somewhat distasteful public diagnosis of "schizo-affective disorder" (which is itself only a polite term for schizophrenia), the notion that this has "purely genetic or pre-natal" origins is itself - to use her own term - "medically inaccurate". Virtually all forms of mental illness can be precipitated by a stressful youthful environment.

Peter Helfgott was a hardline Stalinist (Stalin was "the greatest man ever born") who treated his elder son with great mental and, at times, physical cruelty. Why Margaret Helfgott has chosen to forget all this is in the realm of family psychology, and thus beyond my competence. However the facts are not - particularly as I (and Scott, and Jan) dug them out quite painstakingly, and verified them with many separate sources - within the family and outside of it.

In her first round of media complaints in August, Margaret Helfgott claimed her father had been "misrepresented for dramatic effect". She is correct. If Peter Helfgott's pathological cruelty had been given its literal cinematic due, Shine would have been a relentlessly depressing movie.

Margaret claims that "a scene depicting her father beating David into submission was 'totally fictional'". This would be news to the only living witness to that encounter. And I would be interested to hear from the "concerned relatives, friends and former music teachers" who have written to her defending her father's name. They kept their admiration for the man very quiet during our research.

The rot seems to be spreading. In August 1987 David's brother Les told Scott and myself that his father had once bashed him to the ground "for playing pinball". Now Les has joined Margaret in telling the world that Peter Helfgott never laid a hand on his children.

Lastly, to Dr Chris Reynolds, the former club proprietor who claims (fairly) to have helped "rescue" David more than a decade ago - and who is now upset at being "written out of the story". Dr Reynolds is telling the media that he offered every assistance to Scott Hicks when the Shine project began, but was told to "get stuffed".

Scott recalls their final phone conversation quite differently - and there the matter would rest. But unhappily for Dr Reynolds, there was a third party witness. I was standing next to Scott in his Perth hotel room when he phoned Dr Reynolds to gain his involvement in the script. Scott's many entreaties fell on deaf ears - indeed Dr Reynolds terminated the conversation by saying, "Talk to my lawyers." He was "written out of the story" at his own insistence.

Scott, by the way, is polite to a fault, and would never say "Get stuffed" to anyone (even if he were thinking it). His final words to Dr Reynolds were a request to phone him back if he changed his mind. It has been 10 years since we have heard from him.

There are those who resent David's success, and those who missed the opportunity to get on the Shine bandwagon early. They may continue to come forward, but let us hope they come bearing facts - not half-understood grudges and third-rate fictions.

Pianistic ability

Critics also claim that Helfgott's pianistic ability is grossly exaggerated. In a journal article [Denis Dutton, Philosophy and Literature 21 (1997): 340-345 [] ] , the New Zealand philosopher Denis Dutton speaks for many critics who claim that Helfgott's piano playing during his comeback in the last decade has severe technical and aesthetic deficiencies which would be unacceptable in any musician whose reputation had not been inflated beyond recognition. Dutton claims that, while listening to the movie, he covered his eyes during the parts where Helfgott's playing was used in order to concentrate entirely on the music, and not be distracted by the acting. He felt that the musicianship, when perceived in isolation, was not of a particularly high standard. Despite being widely panned by professional piano critics, Helfgott's recent tours have been well attended because, according to Dutton, "Shine"'s irresponsible glamorisation of Helfgott's ability has attracted a new audience who are not deeply involved in the sound of Helfgott's playing, thereby drawing deserved public attention away from pianists who are more talented and disciplined.

Others point out that the point of "Shine" was not Helfgott's technical ability but his ability to continue playing at all given the plethora of external and internal factors stacked against him. It has moreover been pointed out that the early career triumphs documented by the film are factual. Fact|date=June 2008


Music credits

    Written by Reg Presley, © 1966 Dick James Music Limited
    Performed by the Troggs, (P) 1966 Mercury Limited
    Written and performed by Johnny O'Keef
    © 1959 Victoria Music / MCA Music Australia Pty Ltd, (P) 1959 Festival Records Pty Ltd
  • "POLONAISE in A flat major, Opus 53"
    Composed by Frederic Chopin, Performed by Ricky Edwards
    composed by Robert Schumann, Performed by Wilhelm Kempff
    (P) 1973 Polydore International GmbH Hamburg
    From Violin Concerto in B minor by Niccolo Paganini
    Transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt, Performed by David Helfgott
  • "HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY No. 2 in C sharp minor"
    Composed by Franz Liszt, Performed by David Helfgott
    Composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff
    Arranged by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Performed by David Helfgott
  • "GLORIA, rv 589"
    Composed by Anotonio Vivaldi, Arranged by David Hirschfelder and Ricky Edwards
    © PolyGram Music Publishing / Mushroom Music
    Composed by Franz Liszt, Performed by David Helfgott
    Composed by Anotonio Vivaldi, Arranged by David Hirschfelder and Ricky Edwards
    © PolyGram Music Publishing / Mushroom Music
    Performed by Jane Edwards (Soprano)
    Geoffrey Lancaster (Harpsichord) and Gerald Keuneman (Cello)
    composed by Harry Dacre
    Arranged and Performed by Ricky Edwards, © Mushroom Music
    Composed by Luigi Denze, Arranged by David Hirschfelder and Ricky Edwards
    © PolyGram Music Publishing / Mushroom Music
  • "PIANO CONCERTO No. 3 in D minor Opus 30"
    Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Arranged by David Hirschfelder
    Performed by David Helfgott, © PolyGram Music Publishing
  • "PRELUDE in C sharp minor Opus 3, No. 2"
    Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff
    Performed by David Helfgott, (P) 1994 RAP Productions, Denmark
  • "SYMPHONY No.9 in D minor Opus 125"
    Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven,Arranged by David Hirschfelder and Ricky Edwards
    © PolyGram Music Publishing / Mushroom Music
  • "APPASSIONATA SONATA, No.23 in F minor Opus 57"
    Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, Performed by Ricky Edwards


Geoffrey Rush resumed piano lessons - suspended when he was 14 - in order to act as his own hand double. [ [ Playing for their lives - interview with actors Noah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush - Interview] ] .


ee also

* Trauma model of mental disorders
* South Australian Film Corporation

External links

* [;adv=yes;group=;groupequals=;holdingType=;page=0;parentid=;query=Number%3A296225;querytype=;rec=0;resCount=10 Shine at the National Film and Sound Archive]
* [ Official Site]
* [ Disability Films]
* [ Cinephilia]
* [ Australian Film Commission]
* [ British Film Institute]
* [ Filmtracks - Shine Soundtrack]
* [ Keys to Recovery]
* [ Jewish Ozzies - the Making of Shine]
* [ Images Journal]

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