Monday, February 11, 2008

Love never dies --

-- it just gets recast in the next film post.

It's cold as hell outside, and since the kids will be off to school shortly and work isn't an issue today chez Randal, I figured the wife and I would spend some quality time by romping around the house in a state of undress, misbehaving ourselves.

Thanks to snowy conditions and a ridiculous wind chill, the schools are of course closed, thereby putting the kibosh on our lusty plans. Hence, the permitting of our lunatic offspring to sleep in so I can type this post about a timely flick my sometimes-better-half and I both enjoy -- moi, through my nigh inexhaustible reservoir of syrupy ridiculousness, and her, through constant exposure to my toxic sap. That sounds a wee bit odd, doesn't it. Anyway...

Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest -- for me, the greatest -- composers in the history of human civilization, a pinnacle of profound creative genius. He was also a thoroughly unpleasant man, rude, obstinate, churlish, and thus unquestionably unfamiliar with any concept of love, right? You couldn't be more wrong. He certainly fell in and out of that emotion like the rest of us mere mortals and among the mostly unrequited pining stands out one woman known only to posterity as his Immortal Beloved.

With the incomparable Gary Oldman offering a masterful portrayal of the man himself, writer and director Bernard Rose, despite taking liberties -- albeit plausible ones in an alternate universe kind of way -- with the historical record, crafts a beautiful and moving tale of a love just out of reach.

The film opens with the funeral procession of Beethoven, which was indeed attended by over 20,000 Viennese. Shortly thereafter, we are in a room where the composer's secretary, Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé), is going through his papers. The question of the hour is who gets the music and the money that Beethoven left behind. Since it was stipulated in his will that everything was to be split among his two brothers -- one of whom, Kaspar, is dead -- then it's evident that Karl is to receive the musical and pecuniary remains. Why is there even a discussion in the first place?

Because of you-know-who, that's why. A letter carefully tucked away in a nondescript cabinet, perhaps never sent, carries his final, deathbed will and testament, a final wish that supersedes whatever legalese previously existed. All possessions will go 'to my immortal beloved.'

Despite years of research that have led to various and sundry theories, it's likely, barring the discovery of some heretofore unknown remnant of Beethoven's writings, that we'll never know the identity of this woman. Within the film, Schindler remarks that Beethoven never spoke in detail of such a person, thus hasn't a clue as to who she is and yet, despite the protestations of Beethoven's surviving brother, is determined to find her, the rightful heir to the Beethoven estate, such as it was.

Schindler's first stop is at the palatial estate of Countess Giulietta von Gallenberg (Valeria Golino) where she proceeds, via flashback, to tell us that she was "the great love of Louis' life."

In scoring the film, Rose made an obvious, yet brilliant choice: the music of Beethoven himself. The scene when Countess Guicciardi and her father observe the ever more deaf composer at the piano is spellbinding (trust me -- watch it with your significant other instead of via the YouTube below). Struggling to hear the notes, making a godawful racket, Beethoven places his ear upon the wood. The sad, mellifluous sounds of the Moonlight sonata fill the room as he lifts his head back into the air, the steps of the Countess moving nervously and lovingly towards him. Her hand so close to touching his shoulder as he strikes a heartbreaking chord, tears down her cheeks, she hesitates - well, I'll just let you watch for yourself.

Coming to realize that she wasn't the one, Schindler next tracks down Anna Marie Erdödy (Isabella Rossellini), once a countess adrift in European high society, now home in her native Hungary. She recounts her initial meeting with the composer, a concert where "the world learned of his deafness."

When you see the film, wonder no longer -- that is indeed Oldman himself fingering the fiendishly difficult cadenza of the Emperor concerto. Ouch. Beethoven comes to stay with the Countess and here, while observing preparations for the premiere of the Kreutzer violin sonata, the maestro explains to Schindler the secret of music:

"Music is a dreadful thing."

Is Anna the one? Perhaps, perhaps not. There is one final avenue to explore. No, of course I'm not going to tell you who it is, but here's a bit of the Ninth symphony from a scene near the end of the film.

Come on, you welled up at least a smidgen during the Ode to Joy, didn't you, you cold-hearted bastard. Okay, maybe it was just me.

To be passably familiar with Beethoven's life adds a bit of extra zest to the twist -- no, it's not The Crying Game-esque -- but is not required as the film is wonderfully acted, the score is obviously beautiful and the backdrop of love tries its damnedest to refuse the inviting welcome into mawkish territory -- and to my perception, generally succeeds. On the other hand, if you're a die-hard über-realist to whom all that isn't gritty is by definition maudlin, you'll probably disagree, and Satan help you if that's the case.

Lastly, I would submit that instead of music, love is the dreadful thing, all the more so when one is as passionate as Beethoven was about his art; those passions cannot help but spill over into every facet of life. If you harbor any schmaltz-like tendencies as I, then I can do nothing but recommend this film in the highest.


pissed off patricia said...

Whew, I thought another cake order was coming when I began to read this.

Now my curiousity is on overload.

Mary Ellen said...

Wow---this looks like an excellent movie! I remember when it was being advertised that I thought I'd like to see it, but it got past me, I guess. I'll rent in next weekend. I'm a big fan of Ludwig (we were on a first name basis, ya know-I'm a lot older than you think.)

I'm featuring Blue's over at my place.

Mary Ellen said...

Oh...I forgot. I tagged you with a meme again. Sorry, but it needed to be done.

Kerry said...

Perhaps you will like this film about
Beethoven's Ninth as well.


kerry candaele
venice, ca

Anthony Cartouche said...

I figured the wife and I would spend some quality time by romping around the house in a state of undress, misbehaving ourselves.


FranIAm said...

That was a great fucking movie and now I am compelled to watch it again.

Sorry about the snow day.

Hopes dashed...

Mary Ellen said...

Oh yeah..I forgot about the romping around naked part of your post. Is that what I get to do when my last kid leaves for college this spring? I was thinking about getting a job instead. Hmmmm...job? or sex? What to do...what to do....

Dean Wormer said...

I haven't seen that film but on your recommendation I will catch it shortly.

Good job selling the movie, btw. Nice review!

Randal Graves said...

POP, oh no, I'm saving the baking for tomorrow - it's funny, I actually detest birthdays. It's just a convenient way to put little effort into a post!

And I think you'll enjoy the movie. It's quite groovy.

ME, now is your chance to rectify that egregious error! You don't look too bad for being over 200, but a meme? Yikes, do I even want to know what it's about?

AC, that's what she said. I thought it was "woo." Turned out to be "ew."

Fran, yay, someone else has actually seen it! And that's okay, can always find time for that later on!

ME, well, if you get a job, the sex will have to wait until the evening. If you don't, then I'll be right on over.

dean, thank you sir, and it truly is a good movie. Of course, if anyone hates it after following my recommendation, well, I can't be held responsible. ;-)

Freida Bee said...

I am sorry your plans to romp around in states of undress were dashed. You should sell this movie (or another) to your children and limit your romping to a locked space anyway. I know, not as much fun, but... well, you're a big boy; you know what I mean.

ME- Sex or work? Hmmm?

Oh, and I shall watch this movie ASAP!

okjimm said...

"Lastly, I would submit that instead of music, love is the dreadful thing, all the more so when one is as passionate........

...those passions cannot help but spill over into every facet of life."

Gees, that was really neat. Seriously. Truly. Sincerely.

"If you harbor any schmaltz-like tendencies as I....."

Ok, so you admit you are not perfect. ME will say a prayer for you.....

okjimm said...

" is the dreadful thing, ..... passions cannot help but spill over into every facet of life."

I just don't want you to think I was goofing......that was really beautiful. I can't stop thinking about it.

dguzman said...

Your passion for classical music is touching, Randal. I didn't know what this movie was about, but now I might have to add it to the old queue...

La Belette Rouge said...

I haven't seen this film either. I am putting it in my Netflix que. Hope you really put mine in your cue this time--and don't forget Blue( another Francophile must see).
The only classical musical movie I have seen was Amadeus. Love that!!! Poor Solieri!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Eh, I could take it or leave it. I thought it was a bit long.

DCup said...

Hey, I just watched this the other day on HBO? Don't remember. It was actually good enough that I tore my eyes away from the blogs to watch and not just listening.

But the listening was good, too.

Great movie. But then, I'm a total sap for period costume dramas.

Suzi Riot said...

Oh, I have such a soft spot for that film, despite the melodrama - maybe even because of? And there's the crush that I've had on Gary Oldman since I was 15. (Sid and Nancy.) That 9th Symphony scene is just wonderful.

If someone were to threaten me into choosing my favorite composer to both play and listen to, it would be Beethoven. The 9th Symphony is my third favorite work of his. I'm partial to his piano compositions - I love playing the Appassionata best of all.

Now I gotta go watch it!

Spartacus said...

RG - consider me deprived. I never saw the movie, but I'll have to catch on HBO when it comes around again. BTW, you're right. Even a g-d atheist like me gets a bit verklempt over Ode To Joy. Now, as for the naked romping, do it anyway...a little psychological scarring never hurt anyone.

Randal Graves said...

FB, I have enough problems trying to get my kids to listen to Beethoven. Getting them to watch a fictional movie about the dude? If I can sell that, I can sell an invasion of Iran.

okjimm, thanks, I think? ;-)

dguzman, plus I'm a sucker for a smidgen of melodrama now and then between slices of cold, hard reality.

LBR, I promise that I will sign up for Netflix as soon as I remember. ;-) And people really did think Salieri was a complete murderous wackjob after that movie and he really wasn't.

dr. monkey, at least you watched it. I haven't met too many that have.

dcup, there's certainly nothing wrong with those types of films.

suzi, now that I think about it, there might be more of that than I initially recalled. Probably because I don't mind.

Man, trying to pick the top handful of Beethoven, yikes. You would need to put a gun to my head. The Seventh is certainly up there, that's for sure.

spartacus, I hear ya. It's one of those few moments where you can easily - and naively, unfortunately - believe in a better existence for humanity as a whole. We know better, but it's a nice feeling, nonetheless.

I don't want to scar them too much to where they constantly bother me when I'm an old man!

Tom Harper said...

Gary Oldman is pretty versatile. Anyone who can portray Sid Vicious AND Beethoven is one hell of an actor.

Who Hijacked Our Country

okjimm said...

I was serious. It was a great thought with a great use of language. And it kinda hit a nerve. Which is what it is supposed to.

Randal Graves said...

tom, exactly. Versatile is an overused term, but he certainly is.

okjimm, then I truly do thank you.