A Beethoven Must See
John H. Kilbourne | New York, NY United States | 06/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We may all know this piece, but to see the effect of this music on everyone from royalty to below-stairs staff lends insight into the music we could obtain no other way. The acting is awesome - there is a bit done by Timothy Piggott-Smith (Passage to India), perhaps a 60 second continuous take, that is Oscar-worthy all by itself and bears watching over and over, as the old warrior is overcome by the music's funereal second movement, perhaps recalling fallen comrades. Watch for it - it is overwhelming. And compare Jack Davenport in the role of Prince Lobkovitz here with his 180 degree role in (the real BBC)Coupling. Fennella Woolgar is suberb as his wife. Key, much of the acting here is of necessity done with facial and bodily expressions only, since the entire symphony is performed. Watch what fine actors can do without a word spoken. The musical performance is satisfying, because the actual musicians, not actors, are the players, and are duly credited. It is interesting to compare this John Elliott Gardiner reading with his on CD with the same orchestra - I swear, this is better! The only flaw - some may find the Beethovenian romance angle a bit hokey, but apparently even it is based on fact. A superb add-on is the entire work performed without break; the spoken parts are replaced by a look at what appears to be the original score. Only the BBC could have or would have lavished such production values and acting talent on one complete Beethoven Symphony. We are just glad they did."
Neither flesh nor fowl; neither history nor MTV.
T. Holland | 02/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am coming off a long evening of watching and rewatching this film, both beginning to end and piecemeal (sorting out thematic scenes). I had seen it a few times before, but hadn't systematically studied it. The film is neither a performance of the "Eroica" nor a historical pageant about Beethoven's biography, yet it manages to incorporate both of the above into something rather more ambitious. Incorporating a blazing performance of the symphony on period instruments into a reconstruction of its first performance at the Lobkowitz Palace, it manages to make a lot of statements about art, music, biography and history without ever being didactic. The acting is magnificent; understated and mostly mute, it characterizes Prince Lobkowitz and his wife, his arrogant aristocratic cousin, Haydn, various servants and musicians, and Beethoven's poor despised pupil in a few strokes of body language and fewer words. It combines historical fact with biographical speculation, without aggrandizing or overstating either. It's really a film about a moment in musical history, which is best encapsulated in Haydn's few comments towards the end of the film. The performances, both musical and theatrical, are terrific. On my first few viewings, I was bothered by the characterization of Beethoven (a bit too tentative, and too unpredictable in his moods). On further viewing, and further reflection, I think it fits perfectly. As a film biography of a musician and his work, it certainly beats anything else I've seen hands down (the creepy and silly "Amadeus," as exhibit A).
The last two movements of the symphony are played partially in background, behind wrapups of thematic sequences. At first this bothered me (why not play the whole symphony, and put the other material between or after movements?). In retrospect, after a few viewings, I think it puts the music, life, and history into the proper perspective: and after all, it's a film, not a music video.
Final thought: the performance of the symphony is wonderful!"
Irene Adler | San Diego, California | 07/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just to let you know where I am coming from. I am not particularly a Beethoven fan.
This movie which includes a complete playing of the 3rd Symphony is intended to put that piece in general and musical historical context. It accomplishes that goal in a startlingly unique and entertaining way. There is no other movie quite like this one.
The reactions of every one from scullery maids to princes are expressed non-verbally. Not all are entirely approving. By necessity the acting is subtly nuanced. The social system of the time is displayed in microcosm. The politics of non-French Napoleonic Europe are hinted at, and Beethoven is placed in the center of it. The whole is really ... quite moving. The essence is finally captured by Hayden when he comments after the performance, "From this day forward, everything is changed." And indeed so it was.
(PS: if you like rock music or the movie "Amadeus", don't bother. You won't like this.)"
R. Albin | Ann Arbor, Michigan United States | 12/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is the type of thing that seems destined for failure, a movie about the first performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. It is, however, surprisingly effective. A great deal of the credit goes to an excellent performance by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, which is really the centerpiece of the movie. Its impossible to be unaffected by this ravishingly beautiful music and this colors the reception of the movie. The creators of the DVD clearly wanted to emphasize a number of historical features; the novelty of Beethoven's Romantic style of composition, the dependent character of artists in late 18th/early 19th century Europe, the nature of a society based on deference to inherited rank, the relationship between revolutionary art (even as such art is patronized by aristocrats) and revolutionary politics, and Beethoven's tempestous personality. These are covered in a series of very well acted plot actions around the performance. These plot actions are largely well integrated with the performance and the nature of the different movements of the symphony. An admirable effort."