Saturday, August 11, 2007

COPYING BEETHOVEN


COPYING BEETHOVEN (2006, Agnieszka Holland, Stephen J. Rivele / Christopher Wilkinson screenplay)
This new symphony, it's my farewell. My farewell to music as I've always known it, as I've always written it. I'm starting a new chapter in my life. New forms, a new language. And now this woman is sent to me at this very moment. What if she was sent… by Him? Suppose it's a sign. That it's time. Time for me to join with him.

A promising enough beginning – even if the writing clanks a little, strains for weight and authenticity by mere repetition and padding. Part of that promise is fulfilled – the God talk continues – but so too are our misgivings, as the writers continue to strain for notes they don’t quite manage to hit.

It’s not a bad movie – just like Antonio Salieri wasn’t a bad composer. It’s just that they both suffer badly by comparison. A comparison which they invite. To a certain AMADEUS, blessed above all others and beloved of God.

I don’t want to be hard on this film, which has its own appeal. It asks questions about creativity and divinity, speculates about the wildness of God. It features a committed Ed Harris in the title role and a fetching Diane Kruger as Anna, the copyist he retains to write out manuscript for the Ninth Symphony premiere. There’s clever riffing on “copying” Beethoven, and a dynamite eleven minutes in which the almost completely deaf composer defies his critics (and, I’m afraid, both history and credibility) when he conducts his glorious Ninth Symphony by copying Anna, who – unseen by the audience – beats time and cues the orchestra. Mr Harris conducts like a house afire, and when that choir kicks in with the “Ode To Joy”.... Wowzer. Turn it up and sing along.

Still, things too often feel dutiful, derivative. Ed Harris gives it his best effort, but consider the effortlessness of his portrayal of that other tormented genius (Jackson Pollock, not Wolfie Mozart) and you’ll realize how actorish this performance is. Recall other films by spiritually-oriented director Agnieszka Holland – THE THIRD MIRACLE, EUROPA EUROPA, TO KILL A PRIEST – and you may find the religiosity here unconvincing. Most damning, compare scenes – the deathbed composition-dictation sequence, or Anna’s “You gave me the gift, so why are you telling me not to use it” speech – with the celebrated Mozart flick and realize how unoriginal and inelegant much of this writing is. It may be that the writers of COPYING BEETHOVEN were mostly just copying AMADEUS.

But comparisons with the Mozart flick are odious. Make a point not to watch it before (or think about it during) BEETHOVEN and you’ll be fine – the film looks great and sounds greater. If Holland’s film is Salieri to Forman’s Mozart, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching: people still buy CDs by Antonio and Wolfgang both. But next time you’re in Vienna, just try finding chocolate with Salieri’s picture on it.

There are reasons.

THE GAMBLER


Available at Videomatica

No comments: