By Jim Slotek
The city is full of largely-untold stories disguised as homes and buildings. One of them is Integral House on Roxborough Drive in Rosedale, a mathematician’s geometrical dreams made real via architecture.
The subject of the Hot Docs hit Integral Man, the doc follows the stately-pleasure-dome last-act of the late Jim Stewart, a calculus professor touted as the most published mathematician since Euclid. Stewart also happened to be a passionate violinist, philanthropist and gay rights activist.
And as his declining health and arthritis robbed him of his own ability to perform, he decided to share his world by creating a living space around a central, acoustically-ideal performing space that would be open to the arts community.
It was a deeply-personal project, captured with a slow, contemplative hand by first-time director Joseph Clement, who uses stillness almost as a silent soundtrack. The film seems to say that beauty needs no comment. The result is almost architecture as performance itself.
Which takes you only so far when your mind is filled with questions about how this 18,000 square foot private residence came to be. There are archived shots that stand as time-lapse. There are rhapsodic descriptions of the curves and lines. What narrative there is, is haphazard and spare. We see that Stewart left behind a loved one who soldiered on through the process. We see performances by famous friends, including the soprano Measha Brueggergosman. We see cocktail parties.
At its best, Integral Man is a meditation on how one’s life is expressed through one’s surroundings, and on effect architecture can have on the spirit. It has moments of sublime loveliness.
Its weakness is as an introduction to Stewart for people who have no idea who he is. For those of us not in that rarified circle, who’ve never wangled an invite, it is not enough to point the camera and expect us to nod with recognition and delight at the Rosedale celebutantes.
I am fascinated and still hungry for insight into the Renaissance Man who redefined math teaching (becoming wealthy in the process – who knew?). Integral Man whets that appetite for a hopefully fuller follow up.
Integral Man. Directed by Joseph Clement. Begins a one-week engagement beginning July 7 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.