SECOND FEATURE OF THE MONTH
by Christopher Nupen
|Above Left: Music DVD producer Christopher Nupen, directing Vladimir Ashkenazy
Above Right: The late cellist Jacqueline DuPrez, featured in two Nupen films
I can honestly say that I have been waiting for DVD for 30 years, ever since videotape recording was invented and, to the surprise of all film-makers, it turned out to be possible to store moving images electronically. I have nonetheless been surprised at the way in which DVD has made itself different from VHS, CD, television and the Laserdisc. It is fascinating to see how each new audio visual medium generates not only its own format and style but its own distinct character in the public mind.
Happily, the differences are all improvements starting, of course, with the fact that there has never been a format which offered such high quality either in picture or in sound – but it goes much further than that.
The really big difference comes from the fact that DVD is non-linear and, consequently, everything on the disc is instantly accessible. There is no limit to length, no tedious winding and rewinding and an unprecedented degree of accuracy in finding what is there. All these things make DVD an entirely new thing in the world. The differences come also from fashion, from the spirit of the time and from the new medium itself – wanting to make itself different and better and more attractive. These characteristics change everything and make DVD cry out to be big on content, compendious in range and, if possible, definitive.
Hallelujah ! Welcome DVD!
Another difference is that DVD likes not only to show us who people are and what they are – as television has always done – but it likes also to offer intimate, well presented evidence of what they do.
In the case of performing musicians, this means not only intimate portraits of the artists at work, at play and in reflection off-stage, but also well played, well lit, well shot and well edited performances with them on-stage, projecting their glorious gifts to their public. Bringing the artist and the art together in the way that film can do if well handled, can produce a result that adds up to more than the sum of the parts – and sometimes it does just that.
This combination is exactly what Allegro Films has aimed at since the day we started and the films that we have produced enable us now to release, in collaboration with Opus Arte, a series of DVDs that will each contain both of those elements and a few others besides.
We live in the audiovisual age and among the great changes that have come with technological innovation has been the ability of film to preserve the memory of our artists in a way that was never before possible.
Books, newspapers, critics, musicologists, radio, audio recordings and concerts may be able to do more for the art itself but, when it comes to remembering our artists, film does something more intimate, more personal, more revealing. What would we give now to see really well-made film with Niccolo Paganini himself or Franz Liszt or the young Wolfgang Mozart or a host of others from the past?
This new possibility enjoyed a dramatic technical advance in the 60s and we were lucky to be there in the right place and at the right time – in the middle of a happy combination of unusual circumstances. When we started television was new, full of hope and full of discovery. A new post-war generation of musicians then appeared, young musicians who had a different attitude to their public (and to television) from that of their predecessors. Both artists and film-makers revelled in the new possibilities and we seized them with everything that we had.
We knew that we were doing things that had not been done before for one technical reason before all others; the first silent, lightweight 16 millimetre cameras had just been invented and for the first time in history it was possible to set up a camera one metre away from a performing musician without having to encase it in a staggeringly heavy, soundproof metal casing called a blimp. A blimp looked like a hippopotamus and, when it came to moving one, it behaved like a dead one. At last the camera could be close, silent and agile without its mechanical noise wrecking the music. That made it possible to take the cameras, handheld, into the places where the artists are most at home – where they are at their best and at their most revealing.
These things enabled us to put images on the screen that had never been there before, neither in the cinema nor on television; scenes which, until then, had been the exclusive, private preserve of the great performers and their intimate friends. The new cameras and the long lens took the viewer to places where she or he had never been before, both on – and off-stage.
We discovered that a well-made film in this genre gives us something which cannot be found anywhere else and to have, at last, in DVD, a medium that not only wants all of these things but demands them, gives us a glorious opportunity to do something for music, for musicians, for the public, for future generations and for the preservation of our work.
We have learned also that films of this kind acquire both an historical quality and the quality of nostalgia as the years go by because film not only preserves the memory of our artists, it may also preserve something of the spirit of times that may never return to the world of music.
Everything goes in time and, while all that I have said here holds good, even while the artists are alive and still appearing on the concert platform, they acquire an added significance after the artists are gone.
All this is tailor-made for DVD.
Among the musicians whom we have filmed, the world has already lost Jacqueline du Pré, Nathan Milstein, Andrés Segovia and Isaac Stern but they are alive in the films in a way that was never possible before. For that, and for the unexpected and quite amazing opportunity to have been able to make these films, I am profoundly grateful.
If DVD continues to grow and hold the public interest we hope to release the following DVD portraits (in alphabetical order, not the order of release),
Vladimir Ashkenazy – Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pré – Johannes Brahms – Nathan Milstein – Modest Mussorgsky – Itzhak Perlman – Evgeny Kissin – Gidon Kremer – Niccolo Paganini – Astor Piazzolla – Ottorino Respighi – Arnold Schoenberg and Ludwig Wittgenstein – Franz Peter Schubert – Andrés Segovia – Jean Sibelius – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Pinchas Zukerman.
[© Christopher Nupen and Allegro Films. 25 May 2004.
Reprinted with permission.]