In Search of Mozart (2006)

by | Sep 25, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

In Search of Mozart (2006)

Director/Producer: Phil Grabsky
Performers: Include Renée Fleming, Leif Ove Andsnes, Lang Lang, Sir Roger Norrington, René Jacobs, Sir Charles Mackerras, Frans Brüggen, Orch. of the 18th Century, Salzburg Camerata; Sam West as the voice of Mozart and Juliet Stevenson as narrator
Studio: Seventh Art Productions SEV103
Video: 1.77 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: PCM stereo, English primarily
Subtitles: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish
No region encoding
Extras: Interview with director Phil Grabsky, Theatrical trailer for “The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan”
Length: 128 minutes
Rating: ****

This is the only feature documentary film produced on Mozart’s life for the current 250th Anniversary of his birth. It is being broadcast so far on 20 different TV channels around the world. But not – wouldn’t you know – in North America. It is being (or has been) shown at four films centers and libraries in the U.S. and is available for sale online. It is Grabsky’s first foray into the world of classical music – his two previous films having been on Muhammad Ali and The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan – the latter winning 11 international awards.

The director was moved to make this film after seeing the filmed version of Amadeus.  While dramatic and exciting, he felt he wanted to use a different approach, tracing the life of Mozart thru his music and extensive letters, with the visual reenactments, but with more of the master’s music.  He zoomed around Europe, sometimes as a one-man crew, filming many different Mozart performances and interviewing distinguished performers of the music for their takes on the genius of Mozart. His goal was to correct some of the common misunderstandings relating to Mozart’s genius, health, relationships, character and death.

Mozart’s letters, heard on the soundtrack, seem to make him a more intimate and personal figure than seeing an actor playing him. the letters are full of joy, pain, anger and much scatological humor. Several noted musicologists fill us in on aspects of Mozart’s life and struggles.

Grabsky likes closeups. His film has a completely different look from other classical music documentaries or concerts.  The talking heads are usually shot from the chin up to just above the eyebrows, and the performing musicians’ heads or even their entire bodies are seldom seen, with the focus being tight in on their fingers on the instrument.  If you have a very large display you may even want to sit back further than usual. The integration of the musical excerpts with the narration and excerpts from the letters is very smooth and keeps the viewer’s attention. Among the live performances of Mozart operas and concert works are clips featuring the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Concerto Köln, Netherlands Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic. One aspect I found a bit disconcerting was that most of the opera productions used very contemporary costumes; I suppose they are considered to be in the Eurotrash style.  I found that an odd contrast to most of the other images and the excerpts from the letters being set in the 18th century. One startling painting from the period showed the child Mozart at the harpsichord keyboard with an orchestra in one of his concertos.  I didn’t know such a painting existed.

Although the film follows a rather didactic list of chronological milestones in Mozart’s life, and includes a huge variety of musical excerpts, it is not just for the viewing pleasure of knowledgeable music lovers, but should appeal to the general audience  – including young people – as well.

– John Sunier

 

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