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Olivier Messiaen - The Crystal Liturgy
Olivier Messiaen - The Crystal Liturgy
Actor: Olivier Messiaen
Director: Olivier Mille
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
NR     2007     1hr 47min


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Movie Details

Actor: Olivier Messiaen
Director: Olivier Mille
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Classical, Documentary
Studio: Juxtapositions
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 11/20/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 11/05/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 47min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: Dutch, English, French
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Absorbing tribute to a musical genius
Dean R. Brierly | Studio City, CA | 01/02/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There have been plenty of books devoted to the legendary French composer Olivier Messiaen, but not much in the way of films, outside of a 1985 episode of The South Bank Show and the 1988 film "Messiaen at 80," both of which are virtually impossible to see. Happily, a new documentary by Olivier Mille, titled "The Crystal Liturgy: A Portrait of Olivier Messian," is now available on DVD. Mille has organized a wealth of archival footage of the composer, plus filmed interviews with Messiaen's colleagues and former students, into a fascinating and inspiring narrative mosaic. While the film doesn't dig too deeply into personal details of Messiaen's life--presenting only those aspects that are relevant to his music--it does explore in considerable depth all of his musical influences: his profound religious faith, his ability to "see" music in terms of colors, his unique approach to rhythm, and above all, his interest in and use of birdsong in his compositions. The film also offers many insights into Messiaen's working methods and relationships with key colleagues. But the real strength of this documentary is the wealth of filmed footage Mille has assembled. Messiaen is shown giving interviews, teaching students, attending rehearsals, even fulfilling his role as organist at Paris' Trinity Church, a post he held for decades. Most fascinating of all is footage of him wandering through sylvan landscapes (often accompanied by his second wife, the virtuoso pianist Yvonne Loriod) recording birdsongs, which he transcribed and incorporated into many of his compositions. Messiaen's unique charisma registers strongly in these filmed excerpts, which reveal his warm and open personality, his impish humor, and his fervent belief in the transformative power of music. Watching him hold forth about the influences that shaped his music is revelatory and inspiring. The DVD extras comprise supplemental interviews with composers and musicians who offer personal perspectives on this iconoclastic figure. Most notable are the somewhat imperious Boulez, who once challenged Messiaen's notion of "seeing" colors; and the engaging Loriod, who shares some funny and tender anecdotes about her famous late husband. Even those who are familiar with Messiaen's music will come away with a better understanding of the man many consider the greatest classical composer of the 20th Century. Bravo."
An informative and entertaining DVD on Messiaen, but the ext
Christopher Culver | 08/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This entry in the Juxtapositions series features Olivier Mille's documentary "Olivier Messiaen: La Liturgie de cristal". By assembling archive footage of the great French composer from the 1950s to just before his death in the early 1990s, Mille has created an engaging montage where Messiaen relates the course of his life, explains his general aesthetic, and speaks of some of his inspirations. Besides interviews with Messiaen, we are also treated to bits of his piano works by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Yvonne Loriod, Pierre Boulez leading the Ensemble Intercontemporain in the opening of "Chronochromie" and other samples. The original material that Mille has created for the documentary are lovely shots of the American Southwest that inspired Messiaen's "Des Canyons aux Etoiles". The documentary does give a very complete overview of the composer's natural inspirations, but much less so his religious ones. In fact, his Catholicism is hardly mentioned at all until we reach a discussion of his opera on the life of Francis of Assisi. One shouldn't expect too specific a discussion of specifics. Case in point, we see footage of Messiaen explaining how he transcribes birdsong an octave or two lower, and writes half tones instead of quarter tones, finishing by saying "though what I'm doing is truthful all the same." I, however, have long been puzzled why Messiaen didn't go for microtonal writing, and answers elude us here.

The DVD extras consist of nearly an hour of interview with musicians and composers about Messiaen's work. Yvonne Loriod talks about collecting birdsong with him, Pierre Boulez and George Benjamin tell of their studies under him, and Gilbert Amy speaks of his translations of birdsong into music. This is quite informative even for one who has read widely about Messiaen. For example, I finally understood here that Messiaen didn't adopt microtonal writing because his relationship with Loriod meant an emphasis on piano music. The extras also add the religious dimension missing from the main documentary, with a whole series of interviews on his faith.

If you've been collecting the rest of the Juxtaposition series, this latest entry is very much worth picking up. Even if you are not a Messiaen fan, I think it can help you make inroads into his soundworld, which can be challenging simply because it is so individual amidst 20th century repertoire."