MENUHIN - A Family Portrait
R. Raniga | Vancouver B.C. | 10/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I wanted to try and say a few words in defence of this film.
Writer/director Tony Palmer's work may already be familiar to you through some of his other musical documentaries ... like his profile of William Walton ("At The Haunted End of The Day") and documentaries on Callas, Benjamin Britten, Stravinsky ("Once, at a border"), Shostakovich and the eight or nine hour biopic "WAGNER" starring Richard Burton, among many others. He's been working in this field a long time.
Researched over a period of three years, This film "MENUHIN - A Family Portrait" was released with a companion book of the same title from 1991. For those looking for a concert or performance video, some of the other films that are no doubt listed or linked to on the same page as this review would be better recommended - I've found Bruno Monsaingeon's "YEHUDI MENUHIN: The Violin of the Century" to be particularly definitive.
What we have here is a psychological profile of some scope, giving the viewer a little-seen look into what it was like to grow up Menuhin; although Yehudi is the primary subject, it is really a study of how the parts all relate to the whole. In the preface to the book, Palmer says that it (like this film) has no one particular viewpoint to the exclusion of all others, even though we are certainly left with the impression that a 'golden childhood' is definitely not what was experienced by Yehudi and his sisters Hephzibah and Yaltah ... who were in effect the subject of a decades-long 'project' at the hands of their parents Moshe and Marutha, to hermetically raise a family of cultured, well-read, multi-lingual musical prodigies.
Family life was tense and troubled, even while Yehudi's incredible talents astounded the musical world. But with the disillusion of his first marriage in the 1940's, and a trip to Belsen with Benjamin Britten, his playing began to suffer and the violin was " ... no longer his friend." His claustrophobically protected upbringing had not prepared him for events which came to profoundly affect his playing, even as he had to continually wake up every morning and be "Yehudi Menuhin."
Throughout the course of the film we see interviews with Menuhin's children and other relatives that honestly deal with what was technically a family, yet remained dysfunctional in the extreme. Yet it is perhaps Yaltah that speaks most candidly by laying the primary bulk of the blame at the feet of mother Marutha ... and the film does in fact seem to almost require its climax of Yehudi's visit to her California home, where she was still living at the time the film was made.
Over the years family members have tried to come to terms with their own story; Yaltah's son Lionel Menuhin Rolfe in his book "THE MENUHINS - A Family Odyssey" and family patriarch Moshe's effort from 1984 "THE MENUHIN SAGA." Yehudi's own elegant book "UNFINISHED JOURNEY" addresses these issues somewhat of course, although not with the objective eye of the outsider that is provided here by Mr. Palmer.
It is hard to explain the inner workings of what makes an enormous talent like Yehudi Menuhin. His second wife Diana refers to him in the film not only as an institution, but as a 'bodhisattva'. Perhaps a more accurate classification (and one that would not be unfamiliar to Yehudi through his own practice of yoga) may even be that of a 'gandharva' ... an Indian term defined as that of a celestial singer and musician among the demigods ... because it is a truth that personalities like Yehudi don't just happen.
I'm personally giving the film five stars because I like these kinds of in-depth documentaries about artists that I enjoy. I like the insight into what makes them the finished product they are. As a sort of study guide that fleshes out this material a bit more fully, I would also recommend Mr. Palmer's companion book "MENUHIN: A Family Portrait" as well.
A One Sided View
J. Kelman | Shelburne VT USA | 11/11/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This series of interviews provides an interesting contrast to much of what we know of Yehudi Menuhin. At the time it was produced, I believe as a television program, Menuhin was a strong presence in Great Britain and his remarkable life was fairly well known. Mr. Palmer's work would seem to color his life with some disturbing psychological issues. One problem with the film is that Mr. Menuhin is continually being interrupted and cut-off. He can barely get a word in. Meanwhile discontented family members are interviewed at length and offer fairly negative views of Yehudi Menuhin's character. If this is the only place to learn about Yehudi Menuhin it would be a one-sided view. His rich life and accomplishments can be learned in his autobiography and a biography by Humphrey Burton. While this film is an interesting contrast to the full biographies, it would appear to be a distorted view if taken alone. Yes, and I'd love to have heard more music as well."
Do not buy this
Anton Dam | San Jose, CA | 03/13/2003
(1 out of 5 stars)
"When I bought this DVD, I thought I was buying a video of Menuhin playing the violin, but what I got was a story about Menuhin as a person and not a very good documentary at that. This focuses too much on Menuhin as a father, don't buy it."