Search - Testimony - Tony Palmer's Story of Shostakovich / Ben Kingsley on DVD

Testimony - Tony Palmer's Story of Shostakovich /  Ben Kingsley
Testimony - Tony Palmer's Story of Shostakovich / Ben Kingsley
Actors: Ben Kingsley, Sherry Baines, Magdalen Asquith, Mark Asquith, Terence Rigby
Director: Tony Palmer
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2006     2hr 37min

Testimony is one of those comparatively rare events nowadays ? a real piece of cinema. Tony Palmer?s prowess as an editor, his knack of juxtaposing image and music ? something which has remained his forte since he first ca...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Ben Kingsley, Sherry Baines, Magdalen Asquith, Mark Asquith, Terence Rigby
Director: Tony Palmer
Creators: Tony Palmer, Grahame Jennings, Maureen Murray, Michael Henry, Michael Kustow, David Rudkin, Solomon Volkov
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Drama, Classical
Studio: Kultur Video
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 07/25/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 37min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Something truly special
J. Anderson | Monterey, CA USA | 09/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A film unlike any other, even among Palmer's impressive body of work, Testimony is an unrelieved, excruciating, gallantly bitter ride, riveting in conception and execution from beginning to end. It's a film of epic sorrow and pain, a film of and about truth, subversion, and art. It's filled gloriously with Shotakovich's defiantly eternal music, and Ben Kingsley's performance as Shostakovich is shocking and profound, his masterfully trained actor's voice used like a needle point intelligence through every frame, tracing his character's fate with a mocking sing-song sarcasm that tells volumes. I believe Kingsley's beautifully cadenced performance reveals the film's intent as effectively as do Shostakovich's scores. Hyper-alert to every cinematic possibility, Palmer proves himself again and again every bit as much editor as fantasist. He maintains a close to the bone intent throughout, and his fastidiousness as a filmmaker is stupefying. Palmer uses cinematic artifice brilliantly, devotedly - the way Mozart used humor, and Bach faith. Every scene stings, nothing is wasted, every gesture feeds the overwhelming whole. The film's ending recruits the 13th Symphony ("Babi Yar") as tragic chorus, delivering a harrowing climax - the Easter Island-like statue head of Stalin tumbling with fire and chasing Shostakovich becomes a fantastic spectacle of delirious terror ultimately impossible to forget, grotesque and exotic. Palmer clearly refuses the bandwagon of tired old fools carping ignorantly decade after decade about Volkov's exacting and undeniable book, finding in it the truth about tyranny - Shostakovich's truth. The film is a masterpiece - a word one is careful using about Tony Palmer's work simply because he has committed more than one! - but let that praise be heard here. Testimony is a film awash with the gifts of genius. Especially noteworthy: Ronald Pickup ("The Life of Verdi") as Tukhachevsky, Felicity Palmer's luminous singing in the 14th Symphony, John Shirley-Quirk's amazing singing in the 13th, Barshai's vivid conducting, which commands the inner power of Shostakovich's music with consummate finesse, and discerning art direction by Paul Templeman and Chris Bradley. One's understanding of Shostakovich's great music is incomplete without knowing this potent work of cinematic art. Recommendation with nary a trace of reservation."
Shostakovich via cinema verite merged with music video
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 08/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Anyone expecting a literal retelling of tales from Solomon Volkov's book "Testimony" is going to be disappointed and bewildered by Tony Palmer's cinematic account, for this is more a 150-minute metaphor and music video than narrative of the life and times of DSCH.

Make no mistake, this is a stunning piece of cinema verite, an art form described in one place as, "A form of entertainment that enacts a story by sound and a sequence of images giving the illusion of continuous movement." The scenes in this film comprise all the important moments of Shostakovich's life -- his student years in academy with Glazunov, the success of his student Symphony No. 1, his fear after Stalin's denigration of Lady McBeth of Minsk, his friendships with Tukaschevsky and Meyerhold, the make-good symphony No. 5, "an artist's reply to just criticism", a funny scene about the wartime "Leningrad" symphony and his famous firehat episode that got him on the cover of Time, his 1948 denunciation by Zhdanov at the musical congress, his home life with Nina, Galya and Maxim and the adults ongoing paranoia that a nighttime knock on the door would take him away at any moment.

Yes, the sequences are all there. But to say they are comprehenisve or fleshed out, as they are in the book, would be a mistake. Like Ben Kingsley's portrayal of the composer, these scenes are riveting but superfluous; they tend to last only a few minutes and are often accompanied or followed by bleeding chunks of Shostakovich's music, which is really the star of the program. At other times, newsreel footage of the era is interspersed to accompany the music, much as it did in the oustanding 2005 DVD "Shostakovich Against Stalin: The War Symphonies" (ASIN: B000BLBZM0) with grainy black and white photography adding artistry and affect.

So it's better to think of this as a work of cinematic art than a movie. It's better yet to consider it a music video accompanied by real and acted scenes of Shostakovich's epoch. While Kingsley always comes off well as the composer and the other actors variably fulfill their requirements, I did not find the portrayal of Josef Stalin meaningful or dimensional. The best scene about him was one where Shostakovich was laughing aloud at home the day he died, joyful that he outlived the dictator as he considered attending Prokofiev's funeral instead of Stalin's since the two died on the same day in 1953.

Still, taken in its totality, this English production is a compelling document that lies somewhere between the documentary value of "Shostakovich Against Stalin" and the value of a fully-fledged Hollywood biopic of the composer such as "Amadeus". Anyone that has not read the book on which the film is loosely based, or anyone not familiar with the background of the Soviet composer, will be almost completely lost most of the time because there is never 5 minutes of uninterrupted narrative on which to understand the storyline. In fact, the concept of storyline is often unapparent.

Shostakovich's music is generously presented and well-produced throughout the film. The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai give bleeding chunks of Symphonies 1, 4, 7-9 and 11-14 with selections from the latter choral symphonies ably sung by John Shirley-Quirk and Felicity Palmer. Conductors Kyril Kondrashin and Karel Ancerl lead sections of the Symphonies 5 and 10, respectively, while luminaries and lesser known artists perform sections from Lady McBeth from Minsk, the Michaelangelo sonnets, Jazz Suites 1 and 2, Violin Concerto No. 1, Piano Concerto No. 2 and the String Quartets 8 and 10, one of which closes the program over credits. There is a selection from Mozart in there, too.

By far, the most unusual thing about this film is its timing. The box and Amazon promotion both suggest the film runs 1 hour 51 minutes. However, my DVD player said this film ran 2:26 with 4 minutes of credits. Never have I gotten a DVD with such a difference between the posted and actual timing, which I confirmed by looking at the clock in my house."
Great Film of a Great Composer, but....
Robert Sutton | Woodland, CA USA | 10/28/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"... the video transfer appears to be absolutely awful. It looks like it might have been transferred from video table instead of from the original negative or even a good print. In order to squeeze a movie that is more than two hours long onto a single-sided DVD they must have used lower quality compression. Rather expensive for a DVD of such low quality.

If you haven't seen the movie before and you love Shostakovich, buy a used copy, save your money, and enjoy. You won't be disappointed."
Cinematic work of art captures Shostakovich's art and times.
Alan Glick | Tampa, FL United States | 10/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In addition to faithfully capturing Shostakovich's inner life as revealed in the composer's memoirs, this film is a wonderful cinematic work of art in its own right. Unlike most filmed biographies which take pains to introduce every character and explain every event, this film assumes that viewers are already familiar with Shostakovich's life and the events and people that surrounded him. This is just one of the many elements that helps to lift this film above the level of the typical, dumbed-down biopic.

I taped this film when it was shown on TV years ago and have been waiting for a DVD release for the longest time. I don't have this DVD, so I can't comment on the transfer, but I will say that a copy of this film belongs in the library of everyone concerned with Shostakovich. I guarantee that if you love Shostakovich, you will love this film.

This DVD will, no doubt, come under attack by the same forces that have attacked the composers memoirs. Apologists for the Soviet state were upset that Shostakovich's memoirs showed that he was not a faithful party member whose work blossomed under communist rule. Shostakovich's memoirs showed, on the contrary, that he hated the brutal regime and that his work was a testimony to the tens of millions slaughtered by the workers paradise. Practically every family member and friend of Shostakovich has gone on record as stating that the printed memoirs do indeed reflect the thoughts and feelings of the composer.