Title: Music of the Heart
Release Date: 1999
Nationality and Language: USA, English
Running time: 123 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Distributor and Production Company: Miramax
Director; Writer: Wes Craven
Cast: Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan
Technical: Standard, dolby digital
Relevance to HPPUB site: Music education
Review: Wes Craven is perhaps best known for horror films (he is even helping out Project Greenlight make “Feast”), but here he directs a feel-good story of a music teacher in the inner city, specifically East Harlem in New York City. The film is inspired by the documentary “Small Wonders” and is based on the life of Roberta Guaspari. Just once in a while there is a taste of the familiar Wes Craven, as with the lines referring to throwing up.
As the film opens, Roberta is a single mom whose husband has left her. She aspires to teach inner city kids music, and is turned away from a permanent job by principal Angela Bassett. She brings in her kids, whom she has taught, and gets a trial job as a substitute.
Here is the place to note the nature of the film. It provides the requisite crises and rooting interests in the heroine, and the emotional tone and “heart” of the film are not particularly subtle. (The film is bifurcated by a ten year hiatus where she has built up the East Harlem Violin Program but is threatened then with loss of funding—and the simple solution, in plot terms, is a benefit concert (a Fiddlefest in 1993), with the help of Itzhak Perlman, at Carnegie Hall. There are a few other side ventures, as when her sons try to help her find another husband)
But really this movie is a docudrama about the issues of inner-city teaching and the importance of music education. Plot in a film like this sometimes comes across as bit contrived and subservient to ideas and message. Here, the issues are varied and hard to stitch together. In my first year of substitute teaching I have been a guest in chorus, band and dance classes—and my music background was nine years of piano, which is a solo exercise. For the music teacher the challenge is to get the kids to learn the discipline to play and work together. That is tough until about seventh or eighth grade. People write Ph. D. dissertations on how to do this. Also, it’s unlikely that someone would remain a substitute doing this for years (maybe not in the inner cities); with substitutes, short term substitutes often do very little subject-matter teaching, but some strapped school districts use well-qualified long term substitutes in critical positions (or they may teach in situations like maternity leave).
For the heroine in the film, however, there was more. In the early scenes, she is also providing individualized teaching on basic violin musicianship. She also has to be a tough disciplinarian, which many substitutes (including me) are not. She has to deal with political correctness, as one mother who complains that her son will be playing “white man’s music,” and with the idea of some boys that music is for sissies. She prevails through all of that with her people skills, developed in her own child rearing, and that is a very important point.
The range of talent and motivation is public school music classes (chorus, band or orchestra) is especially varied. The best classes often have student conductors and perform regularly, and sometimes even have (high school) students who may sing or play commercially. As with actors in the movies, students who perform regularly (whether in music or drama) in public are often the most mature. (Minor-aged movie actors are often taught by private tutoring companies (like Donnell Barnes) paid for by studios and are often very capable academically, like home-schooled students—that would make an interesting movie subject in itself). Music education generally correlates to improved performance in other areas, especially science and math (since music is founded in mathematical relationships between tones). This would make an interesting thesis for a documentary.
There is a lot of music quoted in the film, and the most important excerpt is probably the first movement from the J.S. Bach Concerto for Two Violins (“Double Concerto”) in d Minor. I’ve always wondered who the form of Bach concerto movements would mesh with the sonata form soon developed by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.
The Chorus (The Choir; Les Choristers) (2004, Miramax/Pathe/Canal, dir. Christopher Barratier, 95 min, PG-13) is another film, from France, about a music teacher. Here the story is framed from the current day (with the Miramax New York skyline), where Pierre Morhange (Jacque Perrin) is a great conductor, and recalls, upon learning of the death of an old teacher, how his music teacher in a French boarding school for troubled boys back in the 1940s gave him his opportunity for greatness and fame, but most of all for music. Then the young Pierre (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) was a charismatic cutup as a kid, and a gifted soprano (but he looks old enough for middle school). One day an unbecoming middle aged man (and failed musician) Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) takes a job as a live-in “supervisor” at the boarding school. He has to learn to discipline the kids quickly, and they call him “Baldy” (maybe like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons—that’s what kids call me when I substitute). The living-in part makes the job rather intimate, but this was common in previous generations. Clement uses his ace in the hole, teaching the boys voice—and it is amazing how well they sing, especially Pierre. There are several small subplots (one with a particularly troubled teenager who was to be the baritone) that get truncated and dead-end too much, including a dormitory fire that conveniently gets “Baldy” fired from this job for breaking the rules. The music has great lilt and is often orchestra-accompanied, as if this film were almost a musical—when in actuality the boys would have to sing a cappella. The film does make the point that music very often helps students learn discipline in other areas. “Baldy” gets to compose the music for the kids—satisfying a long-sought ambition (just as in Mr. Holland’s Opus), yet never seeks fame later in life, and is “satisfied” to teach. There is an important conversation with Pierre’s mother (Marie Bunel) in which she wants her son to learn a “real trade.” But the rest is history.
A technical note on the subtitles: “deserts” (not “desserts”) is the correct spelling when talking about what one “deserves.”
Ladies in Lavender (2005, Roadside/Sundance/Scala, dir. Charles Dance) was another hit at the DC International Film Festival in 2005, as the closing night gala event. Two elderly sisters Ursula and Janet (Judi Dench and Maggie Smith) living on the chilly Cornish coast in 1936 find a young man lying on the beach and take care of him, nursing him back from a broken ankle and exposure. He, Andrea Marowski (Daniel Bruhl) is from Germany, and pretty soon he demonstrates his talent for playing the violin, and he may in fact be a musical star. He meets Olga Daniloff (Natascha McElhone), a painter, and starts a bit of a romance. This attracts attention, particularly of the police, in the time of political tensions and approaching war with Germany. Daniel is very gentle and tender but no wimp, as he plays a joke on the girls while swimming in the cold water. Eventually he leaves with Olga, but shows up in a concert performance of Pablo Sarsate’s violin fantasy. Joshua Bell does the actual violin playing.
A couple more big films about music are particularly well known. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995, Hollywood Pictures, dir. Stephen Herek) features Richard Dreyfuss as Glenn Holland, who aspires to change the world as a composer with his music-of-the-spheres symphony but pays the rent as a high school orchestra teacher. Eventually, he gets to have his students perform his masterpiece, which, when played, seems structurally rather flawed as a symphonic overture.
Amadeus (1984, Orion Pictures, dir. Milos Forman) won best picture as I recall that year, and presents a dramatic biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (acted by Tom Hulce), probably the most gifted musical prodigy who ever lived. Really! The story is told by rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). Salieri’s music sometimes does sound perfunctory by comparison (I have a few concerti on CD’s, rarely played). There are scenes were Mozart (making himself obnoxious by normal social standards of deportment) makes fun of the less gifted by improvising music that comes out perfect. The story of how he composed his Requiem occupies the film toward the end.
Mahler (1974, Mayfair, dir. Ken Russell) presents Robert Powell as symphonist Gustav Mahler, and covers the major issues of his life (the tension between Judaism and Catholicism, his relationship with his wife Alma and his obsession with eventual death, particularly of children (Kindertotenlieder). But another film, Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia) (1971, Warner Brothers, dir. by Lucino Visconti, based on the novel by Thomas Mann) is a loose adaptation of the story of Gustav Mahler (in the novel, named as Gustav von Aschenbach), played by Dirk Bogarde, who visits Venetian beach resort during a cholera epidemic and becomes infatuated with a teenage young man Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), following him around. The suggestion that Mahler was homosexual is probably objectively dubious at best, even given his sensitivity. Benjamin Britten also adopted the Mann novel to an opera by that name, and I saw in the 1970s at the Met in New York. The opera ends in an ashen manner that recalls the first movement of the Mahler Ninth.
Tchaikowsky, however, may very well have practiced homosexuality actively. Ken Russell made a film about him in 1970, The Music Lovers (United Artists), in which Richard Chamberlain (Dr. Kildare; The Thorn Birds) plays the melancholic composer (at least that’s how religious right author Tim La Haye portrays him – “he was happiest when he was sad” – just witness the empty triumph at the end of the fantasy overture to Romeo and Juliet). There is a line in the film where the composer says something like, “I wanted marriage without a wife!” (Or is it the other way around?)
Fantasia (1940, Disney, dir. James Algar and Samuel Armstrong, re-released in Imax in 2000 as “Fantasia/2000”, 75 min, G) with additional direction by Gaetan Brizzi) is the famous Disney fantasy based on abstract animation and classical symphonic music conducted by Leopold Stokowski. A variety of famous orchestral pieces are included, such as part of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony (No. 6 in F Major – a “girl friend” told me in 1971 that music was my “drug” while we listened to this on a Parliament recording!), Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours,” Saint-Saens and “Carnival of the Animals,” Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and Paul Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprenctive.” The film provides a good tour for students on program music.
Shine (1996, Fine Line Features, dir. Scott Hicks) is the semi-true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, who has to resist his (Holocaust survivor) father’s refusal to let his pursue a piano career. Helfgott is played by Alex Rafalowicz, Noah Taylor, and Geoffrey Rush. There is a late film climax where he plays Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto (Op. 30 d-min), and seems to black out in the finale. The concerto (especially the first movement cadenza –with it’s chordal bombastic Ossia, which he practices earlier) is passionate and the viewer does not want to have his enjoyment of the music interrupted by the storytelling. That is always an issue in using romantic classical music in the background of a film for emotional effect. Then Helfgott will have his breakdown, and sadly lose a lot of ability, now capable of just little salon enjoyments. The music score has other Rachmaninoff (the c#-min prelude), Vivali (the Gloria), and Liszt (the Hungarian Rhapsody #2). Helfgott’s story reminds me of my abandonment of piano as a possible career once I entered college (for science – this was the Cold War and draft era—although another story would ensue) with a lifetime of collecting classical recordings and CDs, and a short stint of organ lessons, and now a little bit of computer composing. Remember, a major plotline of TheWB’s Everwood is teenager Ephram’s trying to get in to Julliard as a piano prodigy.
The Beat that My Heart Skipped (“De battre mon coeur s’est arrête”) (2005, Wellspring/Why Not Productions, dir. Jacques Audiard, R, 108 min, based on a film Fingers (1978), Brut Productions, written and directed by James Toback) is an intriguing film noir where a young man, well, 28 and past his best chances, wants to recover his lost piano career. The trouble is that he (Thomas Seyr, played by Romain Duris) works as a repo man/ hit man / debt collector (sorry, he doesn’t follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, FDCPA) for his dad (Niels Arestrup). He takes piano lessons from Liao Lin (Linh Dan Pham), and gradually builds back his playing, particularly with a Bach Toccata in e minor. He even monitors his playing on various computers. In the meantime, a crisis builds as a hit job schedule conflicts with his audition. He makes the audition and chokes, but then two years later there is a payoff. Liao is apparently quite accomplished in concerts and it appears they have married. He has one last debt to collect. Duris is quite spectacular in the film, very lean, virile and male, often practicing piano in various stages of bodily display. Too bad that he smokes; that’s depressing. This compelling film (it looked like HD video to me, but well sharp and clear, regular flat aspect ratio) does remind one of the plot of TheWB series Everwood, in which teen prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith) evaporates from his audition opportunity because of a deep rift with his father.
Ballets russes (2005, Zeitgeist, dir. Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine, 118 min, PG) is a documentary history of the “Russian Ballet” which was started in the 1920s in Europe by Russian “refugees” from the Russian Revolution. The most famous choreographic name was Diagalev. The practice of adapting major symphonic works for ballet came into being. In the 1930s a fight in England split the group into the “Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo”, and the “Original” Ballet Russe. It would survive WWII, and prosper somewhat in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, and one group would go to South America. The ballet died out in 1962. Many of its original members (such as Marc Platt) appear in the film, and many teach ballet today in many cities. There was one African-American cast member, who was hired quietly and removed from some shows in the late 1950s after threats from the Ku Klux Klan on tours in the South. Occasionally, younger students are shown in present day classes, and there are many early clips of the 40s and 50s performances. There is not a lot of attention to what it is like to train for ballet as a career. Music includes Chopin’s Les Sylphides, Berlioz, Offenbach, Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, and Stravinsky’s Firebird, which closes out the movie. At one point, there is use of the haunting drumbeat from Britten’s Violin Concerto. The triumphant conclusion of Tchaikowsky’s Fitfth Symphony is played. Relatively little of the music used by Ballets russes, however, was originally written for ballet or dance. Hollywood took interest in ballet companies in the 1940s, with the films Spanish Fiesta (1942, Warner Bros. dir. Jean Negulesco, a short of 19 min, a ballet to Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Capriccio Espagnole”) and a similar “The Gay Parisian” based on Offenbach’s ballet (same director, Warner Bros., 20 min, often called “La Gaite Parisienne”, no pun intended by the name). One of the cast members did go into business making gay-oriented movies in the 1970s.
I had a teacher in middle school (1958) for mixed chorus who had composed a piece called “Ballet Music.” I goaded her into playing it for the class once.
White Knights (1985, Columbia, dir. Taylor Hackford, PG-13, 136 min) was a stirring film about expatriate ballet dancer Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is forced to land on a plane in Soviet territory. The KGB uses public disinformation to convince everyone that he is severely injured, and he is looked after by black American Raymond (Gregory Hines) who has married a Russian Darya (Isabella Rossellini). Raymond will have to decide whether to help Nikolai escape. The movie has stirring music and a great ending.
Music from the Inside Out (2004, Emerging Filmmakers, dir. Daniel Anker, 97 min) is showing in a limited platform release in art theaters in early 2006. This is a documentary based on interviews with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, many of the material collected abroad on tours in Europe and Asia (including China), filmed on location in digital video. The musicians often talk about their experience balancing their expression as individual musicians with the importance of playing together in a group. There are some interesting oddities, such as the neck mark visible on many violinists, the excursion into quarter tones in Muslim music (there is an episode where Israeli and Palestinian musicians cooperate), with a melodic result that is effective. One horn player (Adam Unsworth) runs the Philadelphia marathon. The music includes the Beethoven Coriolan Overture and later the first movement of the Eroica (the famous dissonance passage); the Schubert Quintet and “Great” C Major Symphony, and during the closing credits, the finale of the Brahms First Symphony. Unfortunately, the credits end without allowing the triumphant coda of the finale to be played; I suggested from the audience (at Landmark E Street in Washington [the Sat night show sold out] when the director was present) that he just play the entire conclusion after the credits for emotional climax.
Raise Your Voice (2004, New Line, dir. Sean McNamara, 103 min, PG) Just before graduating from high school in Flagstaff, AZ, Terri Fletcher (Hilary Duff) performs some songs and her brother Paul (Jason Ritter) burns a DVD of her singing and secretly mails it to a music academy in Los Angeles. After Paul is grounded by his authoritarian father (David Keith), he and his sister go joyriding; Paul runs a red light and is killed in a wreck with a truck. Hilary recovers, and under guise of visiting an aunt in Palm Desert, goes to LA to the summer camp, studying voice. She befriends Brit songwriter student Jay Corgan (Oliver James), who sees her through grief, helps her hide out from her father, and get over stage fright brought on when the stage lights remind her of the car wreck. There are some of music topics covered, like perfect pitch. One of the other female students plays the last movement of the Beethoven Tempest Sonata in a climactic scene (that work had a cameo with the character Ephram in Everwood late in 2004; earlier Ephram had played the Appassionata). A Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody appears, as does some of Handel's Messiah, and some good old rock and disco. This is definitely a "feel good" film.
Washington CWTV station WDCW showed this film Thanksgiving night 2007 as a last minute replacement for repeat episodes of "Smallville" and "Supernatural."
Only the Strong Survive (2002, Miramax, dir. Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker, 95 min, PG-13) was shown in the 2006 DC International Film Festival as a free seniors’ benefit. This documentary recalls the rhythm and blues stars of the 70s, especially Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Jerry Butler, Chi-Lights, Cala Thomas, Mary Wilson, Ann Peebles, and Rufus Thomas. There is one scene where an African American artist is told, “you signed a recording contract before you had the right to vote.” The Darwinian or Spencerian title contradicts the gentle nature of this film. From a DVD projection, the DV film had only a 1:33 to 1 aspect ratio and needed to open up.
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2006, Strand/Corazon, dir. Fatih Akin, 90 min) imparts a detailed video tour of Istanbul (Constantinople), both sides of the Bosporus. The bridge is shown a lot, and much of the time you are not sure if you are in Asia or Europe. (There is one field trip west almost to the Greek or Bulgarian border -- Romania is north of Bulgaria.) This film is about the popular music of the city. Early on, there is discussion of meter: how western music is often in 2/4, 3/4, or 4/4 with compound time based on triplets of these. Turkish music is often in odd meters, even 5/8, or perhaps 9/8 but as 2+2+2+3 rather than three triplets. There is one major political observation: that Kurdish music had been banned in Istanbul -- until around 1990, only lyrics in European languages were allowed. The European Union changes all of this, but the possibility of Kurdish independence was always a testy political problem in what is otherwise the Islamic world's most progressive and pluralistic state. At one point, the musical form "arabesque," as being derived from Arab culture, is discussed (as with Debussy's famous composition). With Baba Zula, Orient Expressions, Replikas, Istanbul Style Breakers.
American Masters: Leonard Bernstein (2006, PBS) is a biography of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, with a few fascinating asides. One of the most interesting is the discussion of his championship of Mahler, and of all of the symphonies. (Bruno Walter had typically performed only 1-5, and 9). Hitler had actually banned Mahler. There is a tape shown of a live concert by the Israel Philharmonic in Jerusalem of the ending of the Mahler Second, shortly after winning the 1967 war, an event with obvious political and religious meaning. Most of Bernstein's own compositions are presented, especially the Kaddish Symphony, Chicester Psalms, and the controversial Mass of 1970, which J. Edgar Hoover fantasized as composed to embarrass Nixon, with its use of Donna Nobic Pecam! West Side Story, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet with feuding families replaced by NYC street gangs, and Candide were among two of his most successful operas, but West Side Story was considered violent and controversial in the 50s. Although Bernstein wrote tuneful music in a time of atonality and experimentation, he would use expressionistic techniques (following late Mahler) when they added to his emotional effect. A later CD of Candide with end with a tremendous orchestral climax that seems out of place in a lighter opera. Late in his life, Bernstein had an intimate relationship with another man and separated form Felicia, but he always needed a full family life. His opera "A Quiet Place," a sequel to "Trouble in Tahiti," deals in part with a father's having to deal with a son's homosexuality. Near the end of the film, the closing moments of Bernstein's famous 1989 Christmas Day concert of Beethoven's Ninth in Berlin's Freedom Plaza (named after his performance) after the Berlin Wall fell under years of Reagan's pressure.
American Masters: Glass: A Portrait in Twelve Parts (2009, Kino/PBS, dir. Scott Hicks, 116 min, Germany). Blogger.
Copying Beethoven (2006, MGM, dir. Agnieszka Holland, wr. Stephen J. Rivele and Christoper Wilkinson, USA/Hungary, 106 min, PG-13). The title sounds almost like a statement in a computer program, but it actually refers to the work done by Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) as she copy-edited Beethoven's scribbly manuscripts for publication and performance. That was the way they did things in the early 19th Century, 175 years before personal computers. She works for him in the last three years of his life, first getting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony into shape, and then some cerebral works, like the Grosse Fugue in B-flat, which Beethoven said made ugliness into beauty, the arpeggiatic variations of the "Arioso" from the last Piano Sonata, and finally the Lydian mode slow movement of the A minor Quartet, which Beethoven says has "no key." Now Ludwig Van Beethoven is played by a roughshod Ed Harris, whom Anna sometimes has to tend to (even scrubbing his hairy chest in one scene). Of course, he lives like a pig. When he bathes by pouring water over himself, the water leaks to the apartment below. He claims that, in his deafness (probably induced by syphilis) God speaks to him music, and he must write it down. This closure gives him the right to judge other people, including Anna's architect boyfriend Martin Bauer (Matthew Goode), whose model of a large cantilever bridge he hacks to pieces as evidence of his "superiority" at a public showing. (No, he has no right to do this; libertarianism respects The Harm Principle.) Mr. Bauer would have to go blind to be elevated to Beethoven's moral stature. Hah! This is an odd way to look at a "disability"; many times, introverted people just want to be left alone to do their work and not be asked to act like public role models. Joe Anderson plays Ludwig's indebted nephew, Karl. Most of the time Ludwig talks as though he could hear fine, and his deafness is simulated only once, in a scene where the Ninth Symphony is performed by what looks like a chamber orchestra and choir. The music is one reason to see the movie, but the score constantly interrupts the music and telescopes it, bypassing some of the greatest strettos where Beethoven established is outstanding use of harmonic tension. Compared to "Amadeus" this is a bit of a claustrophobic and dark film, even though it likewise opens up into CinemaScope.
(Recall that a significant episode of Everwood in Season 2 involved Ephram's learning the finale of the Appassionata Sonata overnight, which cannot be done. One Beethoven-like (well, not quite) piece allegedly by Ms. Holz is presented; the ability of women to compose was still barely respected. Amy Beach (with her stirring Gaelic Symphony and piano concerto) would come almost a century later.
Beethoven (1992, Universal, dir. Brian Levant, 87 min, PG) is a kids' family film about a shaggy St. Bernard named Beethoven, whose veterinarian wants to kill him. Plenty of physical comedy that anticipates the "dozen" movies.
The Magic Flute ("Trollflojten", "Die Zauberflote", 1975, Surrogate, dir. Ingmar Bergman, 180 min) is a loose adaptation of Mozart's famous opera, which did get shown in arthouse movie theaters. The story, about the meaning of marriage, has always been considered symbolic and philosophical. The E-flat major overture is majestic late Mozart. Kenneth Branagh has a remake due in 2006.
Avenue Montaigne ("Fauteuils d'orchestre" (aka "Orchestra Seats", 2006, dir. Daniele Thompson, wr. with Christopher Thompson, ThinkFilm/Studio Canal, 107 min, PG-13, France). A working class girl Jessica (Cecile de France) talks her way into a waiter's job in a restaurant that caters to the showbiz class and didn't hire women before. Soon she meets a soap opera star Catherine (Valerie Lemercier) who aspires to act in a Feydeau comedy, an heir (Christopher Thompson) whose father is auctioning off his art collection, but most interestingly, a concert pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel), who finds that his concert career is ruining his marriage. The music part was most interesting. Lefort looks like a football player rather than an "artist", and we first see him rehearsing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. He plays the Liszt 3rd Consolation at an informal recital for cancer patients. Later, there is a scene when he plays some of the wintry Allegretto finale from Beethoven's tempest sonata. In the movie's climax, he plays the concerto in concert, and at a critical point in the finale, he "stripteases" down to his undershirt, to rebel against the stuffy conventions of concert performance. He has shared the with both Jessica and then his wife that he is tired of the concert life and wants to teach instead, and build a family.
The subplot of the concert pianist presents a curious twist to a situation developed on TheWB series Everwood from 2002-2005, where teenage prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith) looses his chance to go to Julliard to study as a concert pianist because of a hidden pregnancy after he sleeps with an older female college student to "become a man"; this movie presents that tragic situation in retrograde. In that series, Ephram (Gregory Smith) once plays the Appassionata sonata, and on a message board I suggested that they have him play some of the Tempest. Six months later, he actually did play the graceful phrase opening the Allegretto. I wonder if Chris Thompson (the writer) knew about all of this; there are so many parallels that he must have been familiar with Everwood.
Sydney Pollack makes some pointed conversations (like the cingular ad "is my directing interfering with your phone call?") -- he wants to make a movie of Simone de Bouvier and explore the tortuous inferences of existentialism, which he mentions explicitly. The movie moves from one character to another as a kind of Robert Altman rondeau, and Jessica begins to have ideas that fame could become her own currency some day. But there is the issue of existentialism!
The Red Shoes (1948, J. Arthur Rank / Criterion, dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 137 min, PG-13, UK, fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, music by Brian Easdale). "The Red Shoes" fairy tale is about a ballerina whose shoes keep dancing after she dies. The story in the movie is ambitious, and combines music, ballet, and a love triangle. Composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring), of the ballet that will star Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) falls in love with her, creating a potentially tragic love triangle with autocratic ballet company impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). She marries Craster and must deal with the scorn of Lermontov, who questions whether dancing is really her blood. It is. There is a fantastic middle sequence where the "Red Shoes" ballet is presented (in Monte Carlo), with special effects that would work today on a Las Vegas stage. There is a curious scene early where Craster performs a piano study that he wants to craft into an opera, and Lermontov says "it's not as good to have to steal as to be stolen from." It seems that Craster's music is derivative of music that has been heard before (composers worry about that), and then he is hired to rewrite the music of the Red Shoes ballet. The film is set in London (at Covent Gardens) and Monte Carlo.
The Red Violin (1998, Lions Gate, dir. Francois Girard, Italy/Quebec, 131 min, PG-13) Samuel L. Jackson plays an art connoissuer who researches as mysterious 17th century violin at a Montreal auction, with back stories in several countries (including Communist China) over several centuries. Score by John Corigliano. A monumental film about music. Blogger.
Deception (1946, Warner Bros. dir. Irving Rapper, based on a play by Louis Verneuil, 112 min). The movie starts with cellist Karel Novak (Paul Henreid) playing the conclusion of the Haydn cello Concerto in D, and romanticising it to the point that it sounds like 19th century music (not exactly Beethoven). Wife Christine Radcliffe (Bette Davis), however, (besides giving music lessons) has been having an affair with composer Alexander Hollenius (Claude Raine). The movie ends with a rendition from the Korngold concerto. Other music includes a passage from the first movement of Schubert's Unfinished. There's also a rather vulgar jazz setting of Wagner's "Here Comes the Bride." Then, at a dinner party she starts to play the first movement of the Beethoven Appasionata sonata, with a lot of sudden tempo changes and virtuosity. She interrupts her own performance. Later the orchestra picks it up. Could that scene have inspired TheWB to have Ephram Brown play the last movement of that work in a critical episode of Everwood? (2003) It's rather strange that she tells Karel that she is giving Hollenius lessons when he is already an established composer -- that makes sense in the conservatory or university world, but not in noir romance. Pretty soon the composer is messing up the rehearsals for Karel. You know any character that Bette Davis plays, will do something naughty, and wind up in the gas chamber. Not to be confused with another film from Fox by the same name in 2008.
Once (2006, Fox Searchlight / Summit / Samson, dir. John Carney, 95 min, PG-13, Ireland) pairs a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) with an amateur pianist (Marketa Irglova). The meet on the street, develop a friendship (platonic) and tell their story through music. The movie is a mini-musical. There are some interesting moments as far as the music as concerned, such as when they rent a studio (and she negotiates the rental down, Trump-Apprentice like). And early on, she plays her composition, a melodious lamentation in g minor that reminds me of the slow movement of an unpublished piano concerto written by a friend during that lost 1961 semester at William and Mary. The melody might be related to some Irish folk song (the kind used by Sir Charles Stanford in his symphonies). But most of the music is his subway-exit kind, singing with guitar (broken), and tends to be repetitious. (I'm reminded of Joshua Bell's recent experiment in the Washington DC Metro). Becoming a successful musician is a topic for film, but obviously very difficult. The Everwood series on TheWB had explored these issues with the character Ephram far more successfully.
La Vie en Rose ("La Mome", 2007, Picturehouse / Legende, dir. Olivier Dahan, 140 min, PG-13, France) is a biography of singer Edith Piaf (Marion Cottilard). As the movie opens, it is 1959 and she is giving a night-club concert with a small orchestra, when she collapses. The film tells her life story, back to 1918 (in a town called Belleville -- remember "The Triplets of Belleville"), in flashbacks with occasional scenes in the present, going to 1963 when she dies of liver failure apparently related to drug use. The very last song on her deathbed "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No Regrets") provides an emotional climax. Some of the sequences seem to compress time in a way that is narratively confusing, but the film still has a powerful emotional impact, and the soundtrack is stunning. There are interesting points implied, as when a woman offers to compose for her. Offering to compose for an individual is interesting, although I think it used to be common, and symphony orchestras do commission works specifically for them.
Vitus (2006, Sony Pictures Classics, Vitusfilm GMBH, dir. Fredi M. Muri, 122 min, PG, Germany) This is the ultimate fantasy trip of kid success. A boy prodigy in Switzerland quickly impresses his parents with his piano and intellectual gifts. But even at six he resents the way his benevolent parents and teachers manipulate him (his mother is determined to make him a concert pianist) and turns to his grandfather, who is teaching him the manly skills of carpentry and the idea of learning to fly. At 12 (Teo Gheorghiu), he fakes an accident so he can pretend to be "normal" (the way Clark Kent wants to be normal in the Pilot of Smallville). He sandbags chess games, tests at an IQ of 120 instead of 180 and goes to normal school and makes friends. But he hones all of his skills, including playing Liszt rhapsodies and Bach partitas, around his grandfather. When he overhears his father talk about the demise of his company, he gets on the Internet, sets up an account and sells the company short, and then buys it back, so his father becomes the owner. (Is that insider trading?) After his grandfather dies he "steals" the plane to fly to his first concert, where he performs the Schumann a minor piano concerto -- almost the entire finale is played at the end of the movie, bringing to triumph but lengthening it.
I took nine years of piano, but never quite made the commitment. My father used to say music should be an avocation. I started out college majoring in chemistry and would switch to math, and that is a long story. These were the days of the Cold War and the fear of becoming cannon fodder. Yet it seems a bit cowardly in a way not to so what I should have done out of that kind of fear. It seems now that everyone has to pay his dues, and be ready to balance his karma if his name comes up. Artists have to pay their dues. In this movie, Vitus (maybe like Di Caprio as Hughes) becomes an aviator. Sebastian Junger cut down pine trees. Tudor (below) got a black belt. I didn't do anything like that, and it is now something I regret. Like me, Vitus, in the movie, appears to be an only child, and morally it's a good thing that he gets everything right in the end, given all the effort and attention that he gets.
Joshua (2007, Fox Searchlight / ATO, dir. George Raitliff, 106 min, R). Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) is a nine year old prodigy, especially with music. In a family scene in the New York City "Trump" penthouse early on, supposedly to celebrate the arrival of a baby girl as the boy's sister, Jacob is playing the A-flat minor "funeral march" from Beethoven's 12th Piano Sonata, with his music teacher Ned (Dallas Roberts) alongside. The grandparents ask why he won't play a gospel hymn. Soon there is a bit of a quarrel with the father Brad (Sam Rockwell) saying he wants his kids to make up their own minds about religion. His wife Abby (Vera Farmiga) is Jewish. Then someone starts playing "Twinkle little star" (Mozart wrote variations on it) on the piano, and suddenly Joshua vomits. It sets the tone for what will come. On the surface, this sounds like a horror film about sibling rivalry, as Joshua no longer gets to monopolize attention. As the bad things happen, it seems to Joshua brings things down, but maybe not -- there could be a lot more going on. About twenty minutes later, there is a recital scene with kids, and Joshua, who was probably supposed to play the Beethoven, plays the Twinkle theme, adding random top notes of his own. The father makes the comment that he is playing all the notes of the twelve-tone scale. But then Josh collapses from the "stage fright." Eventually, there are other "suspects" and one can guess who they are. At one point, his father (after they "take him to see somebody" -- actually, the psychologist visits the home and makes a disturbing discovery) wants to send him away where he will learn real boy things -- in this case, skiing. Now with prodigies, it is a good idea that they learn secondary "real life" physical activities. The script has an interesting metaphor on the phrase "being born again," which Joshua says he want. The very ending, I guess it makes sense, in a warped kind of way -- as a triple metaphor.
Nomadic Tx ((“Nomadak Tx”), 2007, Barton Films, dir. Raul de la Fuente, 85 min, NR but sug, PG, widescreen HD digital video, Spain/Euskadi). Two Basque musicians who play the percussion instrument called the txalaparta travel nomadic areas of the world, teaching other indigenous peoples to make their own instruments and develop music. With Pablo Iraburu and Oreka Tx. Blogspot link. Compare to "War Dance" (link below).
The Violin ("El Violin", 2006, FilmMovement, dir. Francisco Vargas, Mexico/Spain, UR but would be R, 98 min) is a touching story about an old man with a violin and his family resisting invaders in the countryside. Blogger entry here.
Fugitive Pieces (2007, Samuel Goldwyn, dir. Jeremy Podeswa, 108 min, Canada, Yiddish, Polish, Greek and German with subtitles, R) A little boy fond of piano lessons escapes the Nazi invasion of his parent's home, and is found by archeologist Athos (Rabe Serbedzija). He learns to write journals and eventually writes a bestseller "Bearing False Witness" about the Nazi occupation after coming of age in Canada. He befriends another young classical musician and colelge student Ben (Ed Stoppard) and falls in love, revisiting his roots in Poland and Greece and reconstructing his life. There is a lot of piano music by Beethoven (Moonlight), Brahms (an Intermezzo), and Satie, as well as folk music.
All that Jazz (1979, 20th Century Fox / Columbia, dir. Bob Fosse, 123 min, R) The writer and director creates a character Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) based on himself as a wild-living dancer. The music mixes jazz, pop, and Vivaldi (showing the cassette deck) with rather erotic and well choreographed dance numbers. His lifestyle catches up with him, with angina pectoris. The doctors decide on coronary bypass surgery, putting him in the zipper club with Dave Letterman. Actually, he's much worse off than that. The hospital sequence gets quite psychedelic, and humiliating (for the character) with all that body shaving, and open-heart surgery on camera, followed by comments about his scar. He has been ruined. Later, in his near-death (in fact, real death) experience, he imagines break dancing and lets the girls open him up to his scar. The end credits play the exhilarating theme song from There's No Business Like Show Business (below).
Across the Universe (2007, Columbia / Revolution, dir. Julie Taymor, 137 min, UK, PG-13, Cinemascope) is a fascinating musical sung to Beatles music and depicting America and Britain during the Vietnam era. Jude (Jim Sturgess), a struggling artist who (partly because of family obligations) works on the docks as a longshoreman in Liverpool England, falls for American girl Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) as they explore the upheaval together. There is a fascinating sequence where her brother Max (Joe Anderson) gets drafted. He tries to get out by claiming he is gay (as in Randy Shilts's Conducting Unbecoming) and the induction center says the only thing that gets him out is flat feet. The choreography of the draft sequence is fascinating: Max walks down a long tunnel where Army men strip his clothes off and subject him to humiliating alien medical examinations, all with homoerotic implications (or perhaps suggestive of alien abductions), including electrocardiography on his hairy chest. Some of the stuff really doesn't happen. The Army owns your body. Occasionally there are radio or TV spots on the "progress" of the War. There are sequences where the gore of Vietnam are interlaced with artistry back home, with disconcerting effect.
U2 3D (2008, National Geographic / 3uality, dir. Catherine Owens, Mark Pellington, Imax 3-D, 85 min, PG-13, Ireland) is a live rock concert from Buenos Aries (with clips from Santiago and Melbourne) and a theme of human rights. With Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Muller Jr., "The Edge". Blogger.
Billy Budd (1988 / 1951 / Imagine, dir. Barrie Gavin, music by Benjamin Britten, novella by Herman Melville) DVD of opera, link here. The modern subtext would compare to the debate on gays in the military.
Peter Grimes (1981 / 1945 / Warner Bros. / Kultur, dir. John Vernon, UK, 155 min) Benjamin Britten's opera about a 19th Century fisherman accused of killing two apprentices; the subtext is that of suspected sex offenders and vigilantism (as is a problem in contemporary America), although that is played down in the actual opera to symbolism. Blogger review.
Cavalleria Rusticana (1982 / 1890, Unitel, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, opera by Pietro Mascagni / Italy, 70 min,) and Pagliacci (1982 / 1892, Unitel, dir. Franco Zefirelli, opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo, Italy, 72 min). The typical twin-bill of operas. Bothe operas resulted in legal disputes, and Pagliacci explores the mixing of a story in a comedy play with real life, where an actor cannot accept the implications of the character he plays in real life. Both are conducted by Georges Pretre, with the La Scala orchestra, and Placido Domingo stars in both. Blogger.
La Damnation de Faust (1999 / 1845, Constantin ), opera by Hector Berlioz, performed by the San Sebastian, Spain opera. Blogger.
La Boheme (2008, Emerging, dir. Robert Dornhelm, Austria) aired on PBS in December 2009. Blogger.
I'm Not There (2007, The Weinstein Company, Endgame Productions, Killer Films, John Goldwyn Productions (Samuel Goldwyn Films?), dir. Todd Haynes, 135 min, R) is an experimental and rhapsodic "biography" of Bob Dylan, played by seven actors all using different pseudonyms (sometimes the names of famous people), including an African American Marcus Carl Franklin as Woody, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere (acting in a western) and Cate Blanchette (yes, acting in transgender fashion) playing Jude. Much of the film is in black and white, sometimes grainy and video-like, other times sharp and almost 3-D like, as in the garden scenes where the vegetation seems so real that you mind fills in the green. There is a fascinating bathroom boudoir scene with a shiny black floor that could work only in black and white. The film is also 2.35 to 1, making the black and white especially overpowering (as in "Hud") with a sense of depth and perspective in many scenes.
The film jumps back and forth and covers a lot of history, such as moments from the Civil Rights movement and the end of the Vietnam War (Nixon's January 1973 speech is excerpted). The script contains a lot of "inevitable epigrams" in common speech, such as once when Jude says "never create anything; it will follow you for the rest of your life," and that it is best to remain unknown and keep a low profile. Of course, if so, Dylan did not live up to his own "teachings."
Planet B-Boy (2008, Elephant Eye, prod. Mondo Paradiso, dir. Benson Lee, 85 min, NR but can be G, Germany/ South Korea) is a documentary about a break dancing tournament in Germany, with "teams" from all over the world, and some of Pachelbel's music, Asian style. Blogger.
August Rush (2007, Warner Bros., dir. Kirsten Sheridan, wr. Nick Castle & James V. Hart, story by Paul and Nick Castro, 100 min, PG). The basic premise is that a boy of about 12 (who calls himself by the movie title and is played by Freddie Highmore) uses his genetically hardwired musical gifts to get a podium and attract his birth parents. Thinking in one direction, it reminds me of the show Smallville and Clark's longing for his "real" parents. Another way to look at this is as a kind of Charles Dickens tale along the lines of Oliver Twist (below). But the most interesting thing is the deployment of the musical gifts himself, and the way these gifts are inherited from parents, not just through upbringing but even genes themselves. Music, they say, has to be in your blood, and August says that music is more important to him than food.
The story seems a little contrived. About a dozen years before a cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) met guitar-singer Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). They have a fling and conceive August. But she has a difficult childbirth, and out of personal problems her father (William Sadler) fakes the baby's death and sends him away to live the life of an orphan. The movie says that the boy is born on Dec. 17, which is Beethoven's birthday. In the end, the movie might also be considered a "pro-life" argument.
On the streets (after bouncing around in orphanages and trying to convince social workers of the reality of his parents) he learns music and attracts a pimp-like promoter Maxwell "Wizard" Wallace (Robin Williams). But soon he comes into contact with a woman who teaches him to read music (we always wonder why the natural key is C rather than A) and soon he is improvising post-romantic music on an organ with modern pop elements embedded. In a stretch of the plot of the Everwood show, he get into Julliard's program for prodigies. The orchestra is going to play is composition "August Rush: Rhapsody in C Major" at a New York Central Park free concert, a move that the boy hopes will attract his real parents. In an episode that stretches the movie and strains credibility, Maxwell takes him out of Julliard and August agrees that Maxwell is his "father." He "escapes" through the bowels of the NYC subway system and makes it just in time to play his ten minute piece. Now his mother is performing Elgar's e minor cello concerto in the concert, and his father is riding a cab through the city when he hears the music that curiously he just knows only his biological son could have written.
The actual tone poem or rhapsody composed by Mark Mancina (it sounded like D Major, not C) is indeed a curious mixture of styles, with a lot of virtuoso string playing and a descending figure of adjacent notes as a main theme.
The story is sweet and definitely "feel good" but seems a but contrived. Real life stories about music and other arts are sometimes even more fascinating. Art can at least predict life. That leads to the next short.
Trois Coleurs: ("Trzy Kolory") A trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski and co-written with Krysztof Piesiewicz, from Miramax DVD. The three colors match those of the French flag. Bleu (1993) presents Julie (Juliet Binoche) wife of a famous composer Patrie de Courcy, who has died in a tragic car accident (that is quite skillfully filmed with foreshadowings and a scene in the tunnels, made befroe Princess Di). She tries suicide, and becomes schizoid, trying to separate her self from others. She destroys the notes of the unfinished work "The Unity of Europe," which would have been very significant in the politics of European unification. She eventually learns of his affair and child, and he may even have had a gay life. The music (Zbigniew Preisner) itself is riveting, but plays as a dirge, seeming to vacillate between triple (sarabande) and quadruple meters, somewhat baroque, adding chorus at the end. "Bilary" (White) (1994) has a gentle Polish immigrant hairdresser Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) humiliated when his wife (Jule Delpy) takes him to divorce court in Paris for not being able to get it up in bed. He even vomits after the hearing. He goes back to Poland, is destitute for a while, but meets up with old pals and starts a business to trick his wife back to Poland to try to scrape some funny money. He fakes a death, and finds out he has some interest in her after all, especially once she is framed and in Polish prison. The concept is an odd morality play indeed. There is a Polish folk song played by string quartet, and there is an image where blueprints are made to look like sheet music. "Rouge" (1994) In this film, a retired judge in Geneva (Jean-Louis Trintiginant) spies on people, including Valentine Dussault (Irene Jacob) who gets drawn into a life with him, as well as people he may have wronged. The course leads to a mini-Titanic on the English Channel.
The Double Life of Veronique ("La Double Vie de Veronique", Miramax / Sideral, dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 97 min) Irene Jacob plays Veronique, a voice student in France, and Weronika, an opera singer on Poland. They seem to be doubles (dopplegangers), or different incarnations of the same soul, and they glimpse each other once. When the Polish self collapses and dies in concert, the French student, in poor health, gives up on singing. One of the most "existential" film concepts ever. The impressive music score is by Zbigniew Preisner. The film is filled with subtle effects, as the French cathedral and town buckling in the train window, and the contrasts between life in Communist Poland and in (free) France (although the film was made outside Poland, the first of tis director's to be done so). The Polish singer is based on a minor character from Decalogue 9.
The DVD for this film comes with four shorts from WFDIF. The first "The Musicians" ("Muzycanci", 1960, dir. Kazimierz Karzbasz, 10 min) starts in a kind of iron foundry and quickly shows the Musicians playing in a factory orchestra with an elderly conductor. The other three are by Kieslowski, and are Factory ("Fabryka", 17 min, 1970), which again recalls Mosolov as a bureaucracy implodes, Hospital ("Szpital", 22 min) where doctors don't practice much infection control and use hammers on patients' knees; and "Railway Station" ("Dworzec") a comedy about security cameras and traveler voyeurism.
The Visitor (2008, Overture, dir. Thomas McCarthy, 108 min), a fable about hospitality involving a college professor, widowed after marriage to a concert pianist, and a illegal alien from Palestine. Blogger.
The Band's Visit ("Bikur Ha-Tizmoret”, 2007, Sony Pictures Classics / Sophie Dulac, dir. Eran Kolirin, 88 min, Israel, PG-13) has a policeman's band from Egypt stranded in an isolated desert town in Israel, forcing the people to interact in tender ways. The music itself is lean and simple. (One of the characters is called "Schubert," who wrote no concerti.) Blogger.
The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio ("L'orchestra di Piazza Vittorio", 2006, Lucky Red, dir. by Agostino Ferrente, 93 min, Italy) documents the formation of a neighborbood folk orchestra in Rome to save a neighborhood theater. Blogger link here.
Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (2007, Forward Entertainment, dir. Matt Wolf), a biography of avant garde the East Village cellist and composer, whose music bridged serial atonality with song and disco. Blogger discussion here.
Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (2008, PBS/Washington Square, dir. Robert Levi, 85 min) is a biography of jazz composer and Duke Ellington's "alter ego". Blogger here.
Johnny Cash!: The Man, His World, His Music. (1969, Verite, dir. Robert Elfstrom). This documentary follows the real Cash through his country music career, and performances, like at the Old Opry. He speaks of the "speckled bird" as the Church.
CNN: Notes on North Korea (2008) with Christiane Amanpour, about the visit to North Korea of the New York Philharmonic. Blogger.
The Singing Revolution (2008, Mountain View, dir. James Trusty, Maureen Castle Trusty, narr. Linda Hunt, orig. music by John Kusiak, 94 min) This is a documentary about the loss of independence of Estonia to the Soviets during WWII, and its regaining at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the role of popular music folksong festivals. Blogger.
Call + Response (2008, Fair Trade Films, dir. wr music by Justin Dillon) documentary about global slavery with "Concert to End Slavery." Blogger discussion.
An Education (2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Lone Scherfig, 99 min, PG-13, UK). A 16 year old prep school girl and cello student almost throws away her education for an affair with a middle aged real estate mouch played by Peter Sarsfgaard. Music of Elgar and Ravel in the score. Blogger.
Rachel Getting Married (2008, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Jonathan Demme, wr Jenny Lumet, 112 min, R). A girl in rehab "trashes" her sister's wedding on a visit, but the samba music in the score sets an interesting mood. Blogger discussion.
La Traviata: Love & Sacrifice: The Story of the Opera (2008, Kultur, dir. Marie Blanc Hemerline, 60 min), blogger.
The Turandot Project (2000, Zeitgeist, dir. Allan Miller). The Florentine production of Puccin's last opera is put on in Beijing. Blogger.
The Wayfarer's Journey: Listening to Mahler (2007, PBS, dir. Ruth Yorkin Drazen, 84 min), Richard Dreyfuss narrates. Blogger.
The Car Man (2001, Image, dir. Ross MacGibbon, 90 min, UK) is a TV-film of a stage ballet "adaptation" of Bizet's Carmen, very loosely taken from the plot with a lot of homoerotic overtones. Blogger.
Jacqueline Du Pre: A Portrait (2004, Arte Opus / Allegro, dir. Christopher Nupen, 2 hrs). A 40 minute documentary about the cellist's life (she died of multiple sclerosis at 42) is followed by performances of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor (with her husband Daniel Barenboim conducting) and a performance of the Beethoven Ghost Trio. Blogger.
Fitzcarraldo (1982, New World / Anchor Bay, dir. Werner Herzog, Germany, 158 min, PG-13) Klaus Kinski plays a rubber businessman in Peru who buys a boat and hauls it up a mountain to make enough money for his opera hall. Blogger.
Opera (1987, Westlake, dir. Dario Argento, R, Italy/UK) is a horror spoof centered around a performance of Verdi's Macbeth. Blogger.
Impromptu (1991, MGM/Orion, dir. James Lapine, 111 min, PG-13, France/UK) is a period piece about the affair between Chopin and George Sand, with Franz Liszt around. Blogger.
Old Man Bebo (2008, Babel, dir. Carlos Carcas, 110 min, Spain) is a biography of Cuban mambo musician and pianist Bebo Valdes. Blogger.
The Soloist (2009, Dreamworks / Universal, dir. Joe Wright, 109 min, PG-13). LA Times reporter Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) befriends street musician Nate Ayers (Jamie Foxx) and uncovers his talent and past troubled by mental illness. Blogger.
The Musical Instrument Maker of Williamsburg: A Tribute to Eighteenth Century Workmanship (1997, Colonial Willamsurg, dir. Gene Bjerk, 53 min) is a video about hand-making of a spinet and violin as done in the 18th Century in Colonial Willamsburg, link here.
Drummer’s Call: America’s Fife & Drum Tradition (2008, Colonial Williamsburg, dir. Michael Durling, 56 min) is a documentary about military fife & drum corps, in history and now in ceremony. Blogger discussion. Three shorts accompany the DVD: Corps Stories: Memories of the Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg (28 min), Fifty Years Afoot (stills, 11 min), Alumni 5.1 (5 min, a live performance).
Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (2009, Walt Disney, dir. Bruce Hendricks, 76 min). Blogger.
This Is It (2009, Columbia, dir, Kenny Ortega, 115 min, PG) Michael Jackson’s last dress rehearsal and auditions. Blogger.
The Music Instinct: Science and Song (2009, PBS, dir. Elena Mannes) examines the science behind human experience of music. Blogger. Also “Musical Minds” with Oliver Sacks on the same blog.
It Might Get Loud (2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Davis Guggenheim, 97 min), about three electric guitar players in Ireland, The Edge (U2), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), and Jack White (the White Stripes). Blogger.
(Untitled) (2009, Samuel Goldwyn, dir. Jonathan Parker, 96 min, R). A satire of art for its own sake, especially a composer (Adam Goldberg) of “noise” music. Blogger.
Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound (2009, PBS, dir. Mary Wharton). Blogger.
Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna (2009, Sundance, dir. George Scott, 85 min) Blogger.
Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 (2009, PBS, Dir. Ben Pines) about the Steinway plant in Queens. Blogger. Also reviewed there is PBS Independent Lens film “Between the Folds” by Vanessa Gould, about origami. Blogger.
Passing Strange (2009, Sundance Select/PBS, dir. Spike Lee) Film of Broadway musical by “Stew” and Heidi Rodewald. Blogger.
The Auditions (2008, PBS American Masters/Metropolitan Opera, dir. Susan Froemke, 110 min). Blogger.
La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009, Zipporah, dir. Frederick Wiseman, 158 min, France ) Blogger.
Water Flowing Together (2009, PBS Independent Lens, dir. Gwendolen Cates) biography of Navaho-Puerto Rican start of the NYC Ballet, retired at 40, Jock Soto, Blogger.
Crazy Heart (2009, Fox Searchlight, dir. Scott Cooper, novel by Thomas Cobb). Jeff Bridges plays a down-and-out alcoholic country and western singer finding rehabilitation. Blogger.
Seeger: The Power of Song (2007, The Weinstein Company, Genius,
dir. Jim Brown). Blogger. Also: (1) "How to Play the 5 String Banjo" BW 1955
Freedom Songs: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement (2009, PBS) followed a concert at the White House. Blogger.
The Last Song (2010, Touchstone, dir. Julie Robinson). A dying concert pianist gets a visit from his daughter from a divorce at a Georgia island, and self-discovery follows. Blogger.
Chloe (2010, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Atom Egoyan, Canada) A woman hires a hooker to check whether her husband is cheating, and her supermanlike son, who plays classical piano concerts and plays hockey, tries to save the family. Blogger.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009. Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Jan Kounen France, R), a relationship rescues Igor Stravinsky after the disastrous premier of “Rite of Spring.” Blogger.
Merle Haggard: Learning to Live With Myself (2010, PBS, American Masters). Blogger.
Beautiful Ohio (2005, TWC/IFC, dir. Chad Lowe, 90 min, PG-13) A teen pianist grows up in the “shadow” of a genius (and gay) older brother. Blogger. Set in beautiful Cleveland.
Le Concert (2009, TWC, dir. Radu Mihaileanu, France/Russia, PG-13, 120 min). A displaced conductor in Russia returns with his displaced orchestra. Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto plays the centerpiece. Blogger.
Mao’s Last Dancer (2010, Sameul Goldwyn/Roadshow, dir. Bruce Beresford, 123 min, R, Australia/China). A young dancer from Maoist China gets to perform in Houston and marries to escape Communism. Shows a performance of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps. Blogger.
Genius Within: The Secret Life of Glenn Gould (2009, White Pine, Michele Holezer and Peter Raymont). Blogger.
Black Swan (2010, Fox Searchlight, dir. Darren Aronofsky). Tchaikovswky’s “Swan Lake” maps to a competition between two present-day ballerinas. Natalie Portman. Blogger.
Tibet in Song (2010, Gude, dir. Ngawang Choephel) musicologist gets arrested by Chinese in Tibet trying to save Tibetan music. Blogger.
Liberace: Behind the Music (1988, Tango, dir. David Greener). Blogger.
Composing at Seventeen (2006, Washington Post, about Tudor Dominik Maican), at this blogspot link. There is an NPR link that presents some of his compositions, including the finale of the String Quartet #2, and an impressionistic piano piece "Where the Sea Meets the Sky" ("Ou la mer rencontre le ciel"; curiously there is an unrelated documentary film of the same name, below). See also "Pearls Before Breakfast", some Washington Post video of an impromptu unaccompanied violin concert by Joshua Bell, at this blogger link.
Julliard (a PBS documentary with Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer, James Levine; blogspot)
For a note about Antonio Vivaldi: A Prince of Venice (2006) see this blogger entry.
Related reviews: Taking Sides The Pianist, The Piano, The Piano Teacher Everwood Bee Season Billy Elliot / Center Stage Pride and Prejudice The Company Our Town (Aaron Copland's music); Show Business: The Road to Broadway The Triplets of Belleville Dancing in the Dark Moises Kaufman play 33 Variations (about Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, blogger)
Reservation Road (a tragedy befalls a child prodigy), Music Within War Dance (music in Uganda) We Are Together: The Children of Agape Choir (South Africa) Oliver Twist High School Musical etc. Hustle & Flow There's No Business Like Show Business Aimez-vous Brahms? Where Ocean Meets Sky The Eye The Plow that Broke the Plains The Night James Brown Saved Boston In the Name of God (music in Islam) Singing for Peace (Darfur) Kieslowski "Short Films"; The Decalogue; Don Giovanni ; Timothy Andres videos; Beautiful Girls