The Immortal Beethoven Comes To Life
Reviewer | 03/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest composers-- some would say THE greatest-- in the history of the world. But what of the man himself? His passions, his loves? The humanness behind the genius? "Immortal Beloved," written and directed by Bernard Rose, examines the man behind the music in a dramatization focusing on the mystery behind a letter-- written by Beethoven-- found among his effects after his death in 1827. The letter bears no name or address, but was written to a woman to whom he refers as his "immortal beloved," with nary a clue as to her identity. But in his final will, it is she to whom he bequeaths his estate, and it therefore falls to Beethoven's secretary, Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe), to unravel the mystery and discover her identity. And as Schindler pursues his quest, a portrait of Beethoven, in his most human aspect, emerges. Reminiscent of the approach taken by Orson Welles with "Citizen Kane," Rose presents a riveting study of the enigmatic genius that was Beethoven. He suggests a man driven by passion and ego, who was under appreciated during his lifetime (as great artists often are), and who grew bitter in the wake of the slings and arrows fate so surreptitiously hurled at him. The great irony of his life, of course, was the deafness that deprived him of the aural beauty of his own creation, an affliction Rose implies was brought about through the brutality of a drunken father who would beat his son about the head and ears (And in retrospect, what a testimony to his genius, that he could write such music in his head without ever hearing an actual note). As Beethoven, Gary Oldman gives an outstanding performance, one for which he should have received acclaim that somehow was never forthcoming. His ability to create a total character, with such incredible emotional depth as he does here, is astounding. It's puzzling as to why so many of his performances are overlooked, especially at Oscar time. Besides this film, consider his work in "Sid and Nancy," or more recently in "The Contender." He is simply a tremendous actor who has yet to have his day in the sun. As Beethoven, he so completely immerses himself in the character that his soul is veritably reflected in his eyes. You feel the silent world in which he was confined for most of his life, and it allows you to identify with the inner turmoil with which he had to cope and endure without respite. Most importantly, Oldman makes you feel that unabashed passion that motivated and drove Beethoven on. It's quite simply a remarkable performance. Turning in notable performances as well are Isabella Rossellini, as Anna Marie Erdody, one of the women in Beethoven's life who may or may not have been the one to whom the letter was intended, and Johanna ter Steege, as Johanna, Beethoven's sister-in-law and the mother of his beloved nephew, Karl (Marco Hofschneider). The supporting cast includes Miriam Margolyes (Nanette), Barry Humphries (Clemens), Valeria Golino (Giulietta), Gerard Horan (Nikolaus), Christopher Fulford (Casper), Alexandra Pigg (Therese) and Luigi Diberti (Franz). Beethoven's renown today, of course, exceeds even mythological proportions, which often facilitates the blending of fiction with fact. But with "Immortal Beloved," whether or not the finer points are historically accurate or not is of little consequence, for at it's heart this is a love story that is engrossing drama that is altogether transporting. It's a memorable film, highlighted by Oldman's performance and, of course, the music. And there are a number of scenes, as well, that are unforgettable and demand mention. One depicting the debut performance of the "Ode to Joy," and another in which the young Beethoven (played by Leo Faulkner) runs at night through the streets of the city to escape his drunken father (Fintan McKeown), coming at last to a lake, into which he wades to float on his back; and with the camera positioned directly above, looking down upon him, a billion stars are reflected in the water around him. Then slowly the camera pulls back until the young Ludwig blends with the reflected stars to seemingly take his place among all the brightest lights of the firmament. It's a scene that will leave you breathless and remain etched in your memory forever. And it's but one of the more astounding moments from an astounding motion picture that absolutely must not be missed."
Beethoven It Ain't, But Movie-Making It Is
Kenneth S Graiser | United States | 01/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"No. You won't learn about the truth of the identity of Beethoven's eponymous title from this marvelous film, told in cinematic episodic jumps, fits and starts and from various points of view each based on an 'interviews' by Anton Schindler afer Ludwig Von Beethoven's death. The plot, at least insofar as the revelation of the true lady behind the tortured Maestro's love, is just so much hooey.
But the evolution of Beethoven as a composer might just be fairly valid, if exaggerated and oversimplified. Beethoven's growing deafness, his outrageously overprotective attitudes towards his nephew (culminating in a botched suicide attempt by the latter), the invasion of Vienna, are all documented and presented in this gorgeous film with, at times, heartbreaking verisimilitude.
And, you will probably never again hear many of Beethoven's most famous pieces without recalling the images of the film. The last movement of the famous 'Moonlight' piano sonata accompanies a furiously rushing coach through the rainy streets so Beethoven can meet his beloved; an image of the composer superimposed against the cosmos accompananies the Ninth Symphony (Choral). And so much more.
Gary Oldman as the composer is perfect. Jeroen Krabbe is just right as his Boswellian friend who seeks the truth at all costs after Beethoven's death.
The settings are sumptuous. You will appreciate the cutting and the editing more and more as the film progresses. Ditto the superb direction. The score is magnificently realized by both orchestra and conductor and pianist, chamber musicians, all involved.
Reality? Nope. A tantalazing suggestion of what might have realistically been? That's more of what you can expect. If you want reality, I suggest you take George R. Marek's unsurpassable biography, 'Beethoven,' out of the library and luxuriate in it.
'Immortal Beloved' is a cinematic experience that will most likely appeal to lovers of classical music in general and Beethoven's music in particular. But this statement should not put off anyone who is not necessarily a fan. If anything, the more casual listener might just be entranced enough to understand why Beethoven and his music have lasted through the centuries.
This is a film for all of us."
It is the finest blades that are most easily blunted, bent o
Steffan Piper | Palm Desert, CA | 04/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
Eulogy delivered by Franz Grillpazer in the Wahring Cemetery at the Maestro's funeral:
Ludwig van Beethoven, the man who inherited and increased, the immortal fame of Handel and Bach of Haydn and Mozart is now no more.
He was an artist. And who will stand beside him? He was an artist. And what he was, he was only through music.
The thorns of life had wounded him deeply. So he held fast to his art even when the gate through which it entered was shut. Music spoke through a deafened ear to he who could no longer hear it. He carried the music in his heart.
Because he shut himself off from the world, they called him hostile. They said he was unfeeling and called him callous. But he was not hard of heart.
It is the finest blades that are most easily blunted, bent or broken. He withdrew from his fellow man after he had given them everything and had received nothing in return. He lived alone because he found no second self.
Thus he was. Thus he died. Thus he will live for all time.
Immortal Beloved is a film that deeply affected not only the course of my life, but also the quality. Yes, I was very much aware of Beethoven before seeing this movie and I had heard the bulk of his music being an active listener of classical music and a student performer. But after seeing the dramatization of some of the more "stormy" and "troubling" portions of his life, played aptly by Gary Oldman, in this lavish production for the modern audience, I came away with an even deeper understanding of not just this man's music, but his contribution for all of us, music as a whole and music as something alive.
Mstistlav Rostropovich, now deceased and much missed, stated that he felt that Beethoven and Mozart did not die, that yes, they still exist -- even if on a subatomic level, and primarily because of the legacy of the music and the immense amount of love that the world has for them and always will. Thus, the music keeps them alive with every new student at the piano, violin or cello.
This Epic Masterpice opens, surprisingly, with a vividness that is reminiscent in films like Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus or Ben Hur and drops you into this now vanished historical Vienna like a fly on the wall and is done so well, one might just believe that it actually is Vienna. The swelling sound of the `Missa Solemnis' in the background is yet another example of Beethoven's genius to create something new, rather than re-interpret the Stabat Mater as was traditionally done by all his predecessors. Most of the film was actually shot in the Czech Republic which had been almost forgotten by the process of modernization. Street lights, payphones, stoplights, road signs, power lines, television antenna - you name it. This is also the same location where they had filmed the much hyped and beloved `Amadeus', and for the exact same reason and a whole decade earlier.
As blasphemous as this might sound to some, it is my contention that Ludwig van Beethoven is probably the most influential and important living being that has ever graced our people. In one thousand, five thousand, ten thousand years from now, as abstract of an idea as that is to some, young children will still be setting down at pianos to learn his sonatas, his symphonies and his Fur Elise. His work will be mainstay in the progress of mankind. I will save any and all comment about Jesus Christ, as that is a conversation for another forum. But the unfortunate, but struggling truth about religion, is that it is not as equal to all of us as music is. A Hindu family or a Buddhist family, for example, with no desire for Christianity may never experience the Bible, but they'll happily play `Sonata Quasi una Fantasia' in their living rooms and fully enjoy the work for what it is. For these reasons, Herr Beethoven will live on forever and influence billions more of us in the many years to come, thus enriching the human experience where the words of our prophets may fall deafly or unheard.
The stigma that seems to follow this film, from reading all the reviews online that came out during its release, the reviews on Amazon, the comments on IMDb, is that people bemoan that it is a Hollywood production. Probably in time, this stigma will fade, as the unpopular machine that Hollywood is today, won't last. Bernard Rose is a wonderfully knowledgeable and passionate Director and musician who labored over the idea of this film, wrote the screenplay and orchestrated its creation. The stigma that this film is a Hollywood production and that it misses the mark on Beethoven's life is not just grossly unfair, but inaccurate. People often comment that `Amadeus' is a better film when they talk about 'Immortal Beloved', I guess because they are equally two movies about famous composers. But the real truth is that `Amadeus' is a fictionalized version of a stage play titled `Mozart & Salieri'. 'Immortal Beloved' is historically rich and a close and accurate portrayal of the events of Beethoven's life and the lives of those that he was closest to.
Joahnna ter Steege plays the part of Johanna Reiss / van Beethoven who Bernard Rose believes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the actual `Immortal Beloved' of the very illustrious and now famous love letters that were found after his death. Without going into detail about why he felt this way, I'll just say that 'obsession' had a lot to do with it. `Beethoven's Letters' is an excellent source book for anyone interested in reading his personal letters in their complete and translated glory. Ivory Tower academians seem to disagree with Rose about his choice, but most of those that disagree, all seem to have books that they're pushing about some other woman that you may, or may not have heard of.
Also to note, most of those that disagree with Bernard Rose, take him to be a novice, a buffoon and a bounder on the subject of Ludwig van Beethoven and all typically attack him as a non-musician who has little to no knowledge of the composer. They also seem to be in lock-step about how he egregiously gives our beloved, but ugly hero the Hollywood treatment. One needs to just listen to the incredibly informative and very telling Director's Commentary buried within the disc to learn that this is not the case in the slightest. You'll not only come to learn that Bernard Rose has been a fervent musician since childhood, but also incredibly well-read on the subject of the Maestro.
Some of my favourite scenes in the movie involve the character of Anton Schindler, Beethoven's secretary and friend, also played wonderfully by Jeroen Krabbe. Jeroen was actually called upon to originally play Beethoven in this, but gracefully stepped aside when he learned that Gary Oldman was successful in being cast. A tear usually wells up in my eyes when I hear the Largo from `The "Ghost" Trio' played in the garden, which is by far my favourite Beethoven piece and close to being one of my favourite music pieces of all time.
I guess it must be noted that Anton Schindler, who, before his own death in 1864, published the first 'large volume biography' of Herr Beethoven in 1840. Schindler was unfortunately accused of white-washing history for the sake of hiding his friends vice and licentious behaviour. Thankfully, enough information survived to paint a better picture, but regarding Schindler's text, one shouldn't throw away the baby with the bath water.
The use of multiple narration should also be noted. It's wonderful to hear all of the main characters, including the aging Hotel Frau, Nanette Streicherová, warmly and richly recounting their portions. All weaving such an enthralling and engrossing tale that you just can't look away. I must also note, that Frau "Striecher", as he spelt it, was a person who Beethoven had much correspondence with through the years and considered a friend. I think the narration is something that hardly ever gets mentioned regarding this film, but film narration is a tricky beast that is difficult to pull off and often fails. The writing here does this medium justice and is seamless in 'Immortal Beloved'.
I will admit that the first time I saw this in the theatre, I was brought to tears multiple times. Consequently, when I purchased the DVD, I was equally moved on multiple occasions by so many aspects of this film that they're just to dense to list. Of this, I will spare you.
I have included the eulogy in the beginning of the review, as I believe it is an integral portion of information when understanding the life of Beethoven. It is no mistake or mystery that Bernard Rose puts this at the very beginning as well, because if you listen carefully to the text, the intonation and timing of Jeroen Krabbe's delivery of it, you learn the intent and the real story that Rose is about to unfold for you. This is a real masterpiece of filmmaking in every sense of the phrase and will hold the spot as the most memorable film about Beethoven for some time to come. It will take a strong performance to best it.
If Bernard Rose chose Franz Grillpazer's eulogy as the theme to `Immortal Beloved', which does seem to be the case, I don't think that we can slight him for this, as history has now documented the truth that Anton Shindler's Beethoven is imagined, while Grillpazer's flawed, tormented and misanthropic friend once lived and breathed. I don't think it's inappropriate for Bernard to have made this choice, as he has been castigated for, simply because - Grillpazer was a friend and an acquaintance, he was a neighbor and a roommate, he was someone who had casually listened to Beethoven play (a fact that destroyed their friendship) and someone who had discussed operatic collaborations with the Maestro as well.
I wouldn't take Franz Grillpazer's words as the gospel, but I would come to assume that they were accurate from his point of view, from the point of view of history and also heartfelt.
Having read almost every biography on Beethoven printed in English, I find Bernard Rose's Beethoven incredibly plausible and at least true to the spirit and temperament of Beethoven (and may I say, also in fact). The idea that he never chased a half-naked woman because he was "a prude" is absurd. Yes, he was a prude, but he was also known to be lecherous and doting when it came to women, he would most definitely chased half-naked women anywhere. Read Maynard Solomon's Beethoven, or his essays and then read Thayer's Life of Beethoven, a two volume set, and you'll see a vast difference. Perspective and personal bias are always inescapable.
This is probably one of my top three favourite films of all time. Thanks, Bernard.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Oldman Film - Always A Good Idea
Jean Mills | Aliso Viejo, Ca. USA | 02/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film has everything I love in it. Beautiful music, beautiful costuming, beautiful locations, beautiful performances, a wonderful screenwriter and director. No one can really complain about the few inaccuracies and yes flaws in this film surely. It amazes me how there can be so many people disappointed in this regard. If you need absolute accuracy, watch a documentary or read a history book. I love films based on real people and events, and I don't mind that there are things "made up" in these films. After all, no one was "there" to repeat dialogue word for word. There must be a lot of fill-in material and you just hope you'll be lucky enough to have someone like Gary Oldman chosen to play the starring role. If you are, you cannot go wrong. You must enjoy period pieces as well as classical music however to enjoy this film.