Article about new Mozart documentary

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Article about new Mozart documentary

Post by ichiro » Sun Apr 15, 2007 1:05 pm

Hope this article has not been posted yet!

'Search for Mozart' finds real genius
British documentary brings balance to 250th anniversary mania

April 13, 2007
Last year's 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was marked by a Mozart mania that was enough to put the most ardent fan of this most universal composer on a strict diet of Bach, Wagner and Fall Out Boy.

Symphony orchestras and chamber music groups stuffed their schedules with Mozart works great and small. The renowned Salzburg Festival in the wigged one's hometown offered a misguided mounting of all 22 of the composer's operas -- many of them trifles and the others too hard to cast for a back-to-back five-week marathon. Cliched stories of his short life -- he died in Vienna at 35 in 1791 -- and unmatched genius were told and retold in lectures, editorial features and video clips. His face on old and new lines of European candies made even chocolate unbearable for a while.

Critic's rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Seventh Art Productions presents a documentary directed by Phil Grabsky. Running time: 128 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening today at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Fortunately, the anniversary year has passed and the music remains intact and, in proper dosing and performances, irresistible and endlessly fascinating. So hats off to the Gene Siskel Film Center for waiting until now to present the Midwest premiere of British documentarian Phil Grabsky's 2006 "In Search of Mozart."
At once a cobweb-clearer and a re-animator, Grabsky's film intelligently combines chronology with travelogue, talking heads with excerpts of letters from two generations of frequently corresponding Mozarts, to give a much better and balanced sense of Mozart the person than any other work aimed at a general audience. Some of the historians and musicologists interviewed -- all clear and informative and often fairly witty -- even take on Milos Forman's 1984 international hit film of Paul Shaffer's play "Amadeus" pointing out that by trying to make the unique musician more "human," Forman actually made him into a cartoon.

Grabsky never does. He is smart enough to know that in the end it's the music that matters. And he's talented enough to have found ways to present musical performances on screen that move well beyond the tuxedoed wax museum approach of a PBS "Great Performances" special.

Perhaps because Grabsky is a filmmaker first -- he has made well-received documentaries on topics ranging from Muhammad Ali and soccer king Pele to the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the lives of children in the Third World -- he has discovered ways to discard conventions and show on screen what is visually interesting about making music -- its physicality. Fingers drum keyboards and bows cross fiddle strings in striking real-time close-ups filled with infectious energy, all brilliantly edited by Phil Reynolds.

This continuing sort of visual reverse of a soundtrack goes from the child Mozart's first composition, a piano piece of audacious accomplishment written when he was just four, to his great and unfinished "Requiem" dictated in part from his deathbed. Some of Europe's best musicians -- mostly young and deeply committed players -- are featured with the eloquent Canadian opera singer Gerald Finley and American star Renee Fleming thrown in for good measure.

Whether in solo piano works, opera excerpts, symphonies, concertos or string quartets, you have a sense that these are people playing as if their lives depended on it and, as the narrative and letters read make clear, that they know that Mozart's life certainly did. His beloved mother died while on tour with him in Paris and the composer had little choice but to write his father and teacher, Leopold, back in Salzburg to share the sad and unexpected news and then move on to the next stop on his family-supporting tour.

While no new ground is broken for music devotees, much is made clear and important insights are offered. Salzburg's position as a mountain-sheltered way station between Germany and Italy helps to explain the context of Mozart's early years and the type of commissions the town's ruling prince-archbishops wanted from their artistic servant.

Mozart was throughout his life very much an urban person, loving the company found in coffeehouses, billiard halls and gambling rooms. His music, while so often seeming gentle or intimate, is rarely pastoral. The infamous scatology in some of his letters to his wife Constanze Weber actually mirrors his time and even follows the example of his own straightlaced -- on the surface, at least -- parents.

Grabsky and his commentators make no attempt to "explain" Mozart's genius. It can't be done and speculation serves no purpose. Since all of the footage here is new, we lack only the observations of the great Viennese Mozart conductor Josef Krips, who memorably told Studs Terkel in 1964 that "Mozart was an angel who was sent for one second to our planet. He arrived completely unnoticed, and he disappeared. Up to now nobody knows where he's buried. He just disappeared ... [but] what he wrote was written for eternity."

Free-lance contributor Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).

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Post by John F » Mon Apr 16, 2007 5:47 am

I hadn't heard about this movie and it sounds like a good one. Thanks for posting the article.
John Francis

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Post by Teresa B » Mon Apr 16, 2007 6:05 am

Thanks for posting the article. I have seen this, and it is excellent! I think it's quite accurate historically, and full of Mozart's beautiful music.

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Post by Ralph » Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:41 am

Thanks-eagerly looking forward to seeing it.

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