Shostakovich in his centenary in a wonderful film by Sokurov
Francisco Yanez Calvino | Santiago de Compostela, GALIZA, Spain. | 01/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here we have a documentary forbidden in the C.C.C.P. for five years, a magnificent work conducted by one of the major soviet-Russian directors from the last decades, Alexandr Sokurov, who have shot magnificent films like `Mother and Son', `Father and Son', `Russian Ark' or `Moloch', apart from many other documentaries which are between the best in the last years, works of a really state of art.
The film begins in the last summer of Dimitri Shostakovich's life, 1975, a time in which composer's health was seriously damaged; we have to think he is going to dye in august of 1975. He was working during that days in his Viola Sonata, his last work, Opus 147, which he didn't listened performed live in his life.
Going back from that moment, Sokurov reviews the composer's life from the very beginning, even from the figure of his parents, whose photographs we can watch in this film, like many others from Shostakovich's early years, many of which come from the family archives, and some of which we know from the many books written about the composer, like Meyer's one, my favourite biography of Shostakovich.
The time of his learning in the Leningrad conservatoire is described, like the time of the war and his first successes, followed by many misunderstood of some of his works, specially by the Russian based critics in the capital's conservatoire. The `fight' between Shostakovich and Stalin, between the artists and the system is not exhaustibly analysed, but some points about it are suggested. It's sad too not to have information about Shostakovich last years, in which he composed some of his more personal works, like his symphonies 14th or 15th. Anyway, it's very interesting to listen the own composer to talk in some events, and to listen his probably last recorded words which the violin player David Oistrakh took from his phone conversation with Dimitri in the summer of 1975 after playing his Violin Concert, which the composer listened by tha radio and which he liked very much.
We can miss many things about Shostakovich's life, it could be really improved very much from the point of view of the information. But the best thing in this DVD is about the way Sokurov conducts and edit the film, the way he make visual poetry with some of the images he took from the archives and with those shot by himself. The beginning of the film, like the ending part, with some takes of Shostakovich's photos, some of them disintegrated in front of our sight are wonderful, between the best in documentary art in music, together with Frank Scheffer, who has wonderful works for Juxtapositions label.
The quality of the image and sound is not very good and I really think it could be much more better restored and remastered. Anyway, it worth to watch and to listen this film about one of the most interesting composers of the last century, a composer whose centenary we are celebrating this year 2006... there's life apart form Mozart... yes.
Rent it, don't buy it
David M. Cheng | San Francisco, CA United States | 02/03/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, this is not a performance of the Viola Sonata. Second, it's barely a biography of Shostakovich - there are no interviews and extremely sparse narration. Most of the film comprises archival photographs and film footage with scratchy archival recordings playing in the background. Quite often it felt like a mini-newsreel history of the USSR with a soundtrack by Shostakovich.
As the previous reviewer noted, there's no mention of the later works (nothing about the 10th Symphony!) nor of the big "career-killing works" like the 4th Symphony or Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
There isn't much at all to recommend in this 75 minute film. However, there are some interesting clips of 1) Mravinsky conducting the very end of the 5th Symphony, with the camera facing him so you see only his expressions and conducting technique; 2) Bernstein and the NY Phil also playing the very end of the symphony in the Leningrad Conservatory hall (Lenny is leaping all over the podium and the tempo is very fast); and 3) Richter and the Borodin quartet rehearsing the final bars of the Piano Quintet, apparently just before an evening performance."