In Search Of Beethoven (U)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner15/04/2009

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 138 mins

Exhaustive and exhausting Beethoven documentary, enlivened by a decent selection of talking heads and over 50 musical performances.

What's it all about?
In Search of Beethoven is award-winning filmmaker Phil Grabsky's follow-up to his 2006 documentary In Search of Mozart. Applying the logic of if it ain't broke, don't fix it, Grabsky sticks to the same rigorous format, intercutting several knowledgeable talking heads (including composers, historians, musicians, conductors, music experts and, for want of a better word, Beethoven geeks) with excerpts from Beethoven's letters (read by David Dawson) and footage from over 50 musical performances.

The effect of this is to work through each piece of music chronologically and contextualise it with Beethoven's personal life at the time. In doing so, the film digs beneath the standard Beethoven myths and offers more Beethoven facts than you ever thought possible, such as the fact that he once briefly owned a horse.

The Good
Grabsky has assembled a splendid array of talking heads, some of whom emerge as likeable personalities in their own right, such as the pianist who confesses that Fur Elise is “actually a little bit irritating” or the historian who insists that Beethoven should be ranked “near the top of the greatest drinking composers”. Similarly, Beethoven's letters are unexpectedly entertaining, containing lines such as: “My servant has been quite different since I threw those books at her head”.

The approach works remarkably well and it's genuinely fascinating to discover the personal and political background to each piece of music, particularly when the film examines Beethoven's complex feelings towards Napoleon.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is its arse-numbing running time, clocking in at almost two and a half hours and ensuring that even the most demanding Beethoven fan will be Beethovened out by the end. Similarly, it's a shame that Grabsky can't find room for a few clips of Beethoven biopic performances, such as Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved or Ed Harris in Copying Beethoven.

Worth seeing?
In Search of Beethoven is a well made, impeccably researched documentary that's both exhaustive and exhausting in equal measure.

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Content updated: 21/08/2018 11:23

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