After the monotonous guide through history that was In Search of Mozart, Phil Grabsky’s follow-up In Search of Beethoven plays like a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the brain. Here, history isn’t some dead thing to be dissected from a distance—it’s alive, and gloriously so, like an animal bursting out of its cage. Like virtually any historical documentary crafted with educational purposes in mind, the mold is familiar: Present day footage of historically important locations, interviews, readings of preserved letters, and other choice documents are assembled into an audio/visual tapestry, here meant to illuminate the social context and personal experiences that led to the creation of some of the finest music yet made by man. Chalk it up to sheer filmmaking experience that what was so largely synthetic in Mozart now seems an organic force that grows deeper and richer on screen; compared to snooze-worthy History Channel productions commonplace in grade school lectures, Beethoven is like the Citizen Kane of the genre. Recalling the more intriguing moments of Mozart, the new doc doesn’t shy away from the messier details of Beethoven’s life, from his hardships with love to the often hilarious difficulties he presented as an apartment tenant. Punctuated by what seems like dozens of live performances of Beethoven’s work, the film is arguably misguided in its decision to focus more on the musicians in these sequences than the music itself. Such is a flaw both relative in nature and one most easily fixed; one need only close their eyes during these sequences, and let the music take you where it may.
- Seventh Art Productions
- 139 min
- Phil Grabsky
- Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss, Alban Gerhardt, Roger Norrington, Ilona Schmiel, Juliet Stevenson, Lars Vogt
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