John Cage very early on in this documentary states that he has 'no feeling for harmony' but is interested in sounds (without harmony). This, in the light of musical history is a pretty strong challenge to the musical establishment. As time went by he extended this to an exploration and belief in the pursuit of 'chance' where the sounds he 'created' were presented in an increasingly random way where each piece becomes a new piece at the point of performance and where the performer is actively involved in the process of the 'composition'. He relates this concept of chance to that of some Chinese philosophy.
In one ballet extract he explains that the 'music' has nothing to do with the dancers' movements, both being conceived randomly. In addition, the only reason that both can be experienced in the same performing space is 'for the convenience' of the viewer/listener. In other words the two elements of the dance and the sounds could be performed independently in completely different venues and this would still be the 'composition'.
In answer to the question 'What is the point?' he likes to quote one philosopher as saying that to question the point is to miss the point (and to be rude at the same time). To me this seems like an evasion technique which is not as clever as it seems. Many of his statements based on philosophical ideas seem contradictory or at least somewhat doubtful. For instance, his best friends he says are those whom he doesn't understand. For me, believing as i do that friendship must involve a level of communication, this seems simply contradictory. One wonders what his friends' reactions might be to this statement.
This 56 minute film is a distillation taken from various edited interviews and conversations made between John Cage and the film maker, Frank Scheffer, between the years of 1982-1992. It is mostly in the form of statements of belief made by John Cage with a limited number of comments by others who support his ideas. There are a very few examples of the actual 'music' to be heard during the film. What we hear is a considerable number of philosophical beliefs and statements from various sources which Cage relates to his own life and activities.
There are 5 'extra' films included on the disc and these play for a total of 92 minutes. There is, for example, the Wagner's Ring which runs silently for 4.24 minutes and is, in effect, a speeded up film of stage extracts filmed at some distance. Nopera is a short film, 5.56 minutes, where Cage talks about an opera idea (no opera) which never materialised. In Stopera's 1 & 2 Cage comments for 3.05 minutes on his two completed operas, Europera's 1 & 2. Cage's first attempt at directing a film, Chessfilmnoise running for 17.21 minutes, was created before he developed his later more compressed style with pieces lasting just seconds.
By far the longest experimental film is the one called Ryoanji where Cage's music resulting from a Zen experience is heard in the garden of Ryoanji with images shot on location by Scheffer but where the order and duration of the images is determined by chance operations.
Cage's music is a rarefied taste and one that I don't personally share. This disc is a serious attempt to put forward his ideas and to try and demonstrate the motivations behind them. As such it will have considerable interest value for those already in tune with Cage's ideas or with those who wish to explore such thoughts. The technical quality of the films is adequate to the task and have the additional value of being unique.
It is very difficult to determine on a rating for such a disc. For those out of sympathy with Cage, they will have a particular sympathy with the title 'How to get out of the Cage' which will be at variance with those who support Cage and who will have a totally different interpretation of the title. This conflict of responses to the film's title and intentions would, no doubt, amuse and gratify Cage considerably bearing in mind his apparent love of apparent contradictions.
Overall I am inclined to suggest that followers of Cage or those with an inquisitive mind might obtain 4 stars of interest from this disc while others not so inclined would be best advised to steer clear.