New Worlds: The Cradle of Civilization review – Bill Murray’s elegant, eccentric concert film | Movies


Maybe you had to be there. There is something extravagant and irresistible about the idea of an old-fashioned cultural evening of musical and spoken-word performance. Hollywood legend Bill Murray does the droll literary readings and occasionally some awful singing, and he’s joined musically by his friends: cellist Jan Vogler and violinist Mira Wang (married to Vogler), with Vanessa Perez on the piano. James Fenimore Cooper, Hemingway and James Thurber are among those being read and Gershwin and Schubert among those performed.

This is the filmed record of the final night of this show’s world tour on the Acropolis stage in Athens: their curated performance being a sprightly, tongue-in-cheek homage to civilisation itself. It’s an elegant, eccentric evening in many ways and maybe only Murray’s participation could have made it happen or sold tickets. To me, the audio mix sounded off, so that Murray’s vocals were often all but inaudible against the accompaniment, but maybe it sounded just fine live. His singing, especially in the stirring Scottish ballads, is heartfelt, though probably best heard with a glass or two of malt under your belt. Occasionally we were close to Florence Foster Jenkins territory – that is, the high-society warbler portrayed by Meryl Streep. But the moment where Murray steps downstage to tango with Wang is startling, and rather stylish on the part of both dancers.

The best touch comes after Murray has performed a lengthy reading from Cooper and then admits that the audience may be bored and wondering if it’s not too late to duck out and get some moussaka. To be honest, that moussaka feeling is never that far away. The uniqueness of the event staves off the hunger pangs.

New Worlds: The Cradle of Civilisation is released on 22 March in cinemas.