Still Life from Quimper

Still Life from Quimper
A shot of an almost-completed still life needlepoint

Welcome to my Blog

So very happy you came to visit. Now, pull up a chair, pour a glass of your favorite beverage, and read on about adventures in needlework.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blogosphere Movie Review

OK, it's now time for me to officially blog about something non-needlework related:  movies.  I'm a huge movie fan and occasionally become obsessed about movies, needing to see a movie more than a gazillion times:  The Bad News Bears (1976 version), Jaws (just so I could get over the fear - I saw it when I was 10 years old, for cryin' out loud!), The Empire Strikes Back (the last good Star Wars movie), Man in the Iron Mask (hey, it wasn't Titanic - and it was a very, very good movie with a good message), and of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In our efforts to cut back expenses and for time commitment, and because I have not been able to watch a lot of movies over the years, I signed up for NetFlix a year and a half ago.  On the whole, it's been good and I love updating my list during the Oscars and Golden Globes.

I won't go into here the problems with too-often-viewed DVD's.  The skipping, the scratches, the having to pause during the airship scene of Stardust and effectively missing the entire Robert DeNiro cameo.  No, we won't discuss those problems here.  And I will say - we bought a DVD cleaner kit and a machine cleaner DVD and that seems to have cleared up most of the rental DVD problems.  That, and letting NetFlix know that a disk is damaged.  It's still not the same as sinking into a movie and letting it take you somewhere, but I'm learning to keep a half-seen movie in my brain somewhere and switch it back on when the replacement DVD arrives.

No, what I'm wanting to review here in more than 2000 words (the number allowed on my Netflix review) is the last movie I saw through Netflix:  Copying Beethoven.  I love Beethoven and was brought up on the famous story of how he conducted the 9th Symphony (with help from the Concertmaster), how he hung his head in sadness because he could not hear the applause, and how the Concertmaster turned him around to see the great response from the audience.  I play Beethoven, not like I once did before The Shop, but I still have the 1st Piano Sonata open and I work on it every few weeks.  I played the Pathetique in college and tinkered a bit with the Moonlight Sonata.  So I love his music and once had a complete tape collection of all 9 symphonies.  

And as far as movie adaptations of famous composers' lives go, I know that there will be a bit of artistic license.  Of course we know that W.A. Mozart was probably not as out of control as he was shown in Amadeus, he had many students, he had several children, and his wife saw to their musical education after his death.  But how do you portray a late 18th Century court with all of its intrigues and intricacies to an audience who is not part of that world any more?  When the Chamberlain saw to the ruler's chamber(pot) as well as to the ruler's schedule?  When putting the left shoe on the monarch signified a lowering of your standing at court from the courtier who put the right shoe on the monarch?  (Real stuff here - I'm not making this up!)  Well, you give Tim Hulce free rein with his laugh, you dramatize the antagonism between Mozart and Salieri, and you show a court where an outsider does not fit in.  Fine and good.  The costumes were beyond reproach, the acting was impeccable, and you get the sense of the genius of Mozart when you see Salieri fall to his knees while he is reading "the first and only copies of this music; it was like he was taking dictation from God."  

And a knitting note here:  you do not ever, ever knit on the cable-knit sweater at the point of the sleeve decreases when you finally watch the Director's Cut of Amadeus.  In fact, you do not knit on the cable sweater when you watch this movie.  Ever.  No matter that it was a movie obsession (see above) and you've seen the original more times than any sane, normal person would.  You will have to work twice as hard to repair the damage you made when you realize that you should have started the sleeve decreases 12 rows ago.  On a cable pattern.  Cable sweaters and lace shawls should never be knit during Amadeus or a Bette Davis murder mystery.  'Nuff said.

As far as Beethoven's life on film, I saw Immortal Beloved when it was on the big screen and I was still taking piano lessons.  My teacher informed me that Beethoven's brother was not the only person he had a falling out with (he had fallings out with everybody in his life), and his nephew could never have been his son.  Still, it is a brilliant movie despite its historical shortcomings, and the big-screen performance of the 9th moved me to tears.  And the tragic love story was heart-rending.  It really really was, and I was willing to grant the writers and directors with a great deal of artistic license that made the story more emotional.

But on to Copying Beethoven - there really is a movie review here!  While I thought the costumes and sets were quite accurate, I was appalled by the movie.  The plot is basically that a young woman is sent to Beethoven's home to be his copyist for the music before the premier of the 9th Symphony, and they form a close relationship.  I watched it to the performance of the 9th, but stopped the movie at that point and sent it back unwatched, and here's why:
  • We know historically that Beethoven used an earphone to hear better, especially earlier in his deafness.  But during the last years of his life, he communicated with others using a slate and a book.  Those still exist, somewhere.  Nowhere in the movie does Beethoven write on his slate or in his book when he is communicating.
  • He is shown with a (probably historically accurate) metal contraption strapped around his head that he used to hear the piano-forte better.  The only time we see him using the ear phone is once while he's in his local tavern.  Not talking with others in his home or on the street, just once in the tavern.
  • Beethoven did not read lips.  As far as I know, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, lip-reading did not become a normal and wide-spread way for the deaf to communicate with the hearing community until after Alexander Graham Bell began to work with the deaf, and it is doubtful that the older, impatient, agitated, ill-tempered Beethoven would have worked out an early 19th century form of lip-reading.
  • And we, the movie audience, are to believe that 4 days before the premier of the magnificent 9th Symphony, Beethoven had 1 copyist to prepare all of the music for all of the instruments, voices, and soloists?
  • And that the orchestra, chorus, and soloists got the premier performance perfect with only 3 days of rehearsals?  One of the most demanding pieces of music then written and one that no one could imagine could even happen, with a full chorus singing with the orchestra?  And the soloists get their parts spot on?  And the timpani, and the horns, and the strings?  They know when to come in exactly for the effect Beethoven wanted?  With 3 days of rehearsals? 
  • The young copyist leads Beethoven in his conducting from the well of the orchestra because she is so familiar with the music.  Huh?  Any professional conductors want to take this one on?  As an appreciator of live classical music, it takes much, much more than familiarity with the music to be able to conduct:  it takes years of training and practice, not just a familiarity with a piece of music.  Were that the case, I'd be the perfect person to conduct "Pictures at an Exhibition."
  • It is doubtful that Beethoven would have been familiar with the phrase comparing a woman giving a speech with a dancing bear.  While Samuel Johnson said it, it was much more a Victorian era saying and was more popular later in the 19th century.
  • It is also doubtful that Beethoven would have bathed in front of his female copyist or that he would have mooned her.  Just sayin'.
So, that said, if you want to watch Copying Beethoven because you love Ed Harris' movies (and he does an excellent job of portraying B's ill temper and anger), or you want to see the struggle of women wanting to devote their lives to music (still as important then as it is now), then by all means rent it.  And you may not be as persnickity as I am about these things.  But if you are a music fan or request some level of historical accuracy, then please know that the little things causing you to cringe from time to time during this movie are probably covered above.  Have a back-up movie just in case, and make sure that if you want to throw something at the TV screen that it's just popcorn.

Thanks again for reading the rant, and I think things will slow down enough in the new year for a few more blog posts than you've seen lately!