Thursday, July 10, 2008

Movie Review: Immortal Beloved

The last time I saw Immortal Beloved was when it came out in the theaters in 1995--jeez, 13 years ago! Time does fly, doesn't it? I don't recall the film being quite as good as the other "big composer" film in my lifetime, Amadeus, which covered the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. So what possessed me to pick it up now? Confession: it was an impulse buy, driven by a new Barnes & Noble in the neighborhood (two miles closer to me, anyway), a fresh 20% off coupon, limited funds, and the absence of my intended purchase in the store (Gotham Night, which was nowhere near as culturally uplifting, but what the hell).

So what can one say about a film one hasn't seen in 13 years? Well, first, I found it much more involving upon a second viewing. This film, like Amadeus, does have a "frame story" with a lot of flashbacks showing different parts of Beethoven's life. In truth, it owes a great deal of its filmmaking structure to Citizen Kane, with its shifting viewpoints of a single character. In fact, its structure is almost a spot-on match, when one considers that the story begins with Beethoven's death, followed by a single man--his secretary, not a reporter--trying to find out something crucial about the composer's past. Instead of "Rosebud," we have a letter addressed to Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved," a mysterious woman to whom he has left everything.

The remainder of the story follows the secretary as he pursues several women who might be "the one." Along the way, we learn something of Beethoven's behavior, his politics (he was a [French] Republican at the time of the Napoleanic Wars before Napolean had himself declared Emperor), his personal relationships, his deafness, and how all of these are reflected in his music. For me, that was the true genius of this movie, in addition to Gary Oldman's truly stunning portrayal of the irrascible Beethoven. Now this is--like Amadeus--just a story. It has some grounding in reality, though I confess I know too little about LvB to know for certain how much is reality and costume drama and how much is BS and 20th century psychoanalysis (but then I repeat myself). Be that as it may, there are some truly inspired moments in this movie, most especially the depiction of the Ode to Joy, which comes as close as one can to attempting to depict a state of mind through both music and visuals.

So give this movie a watch if you haven't seen it in awhile, then throw in Amadeus another night. They might just be stories, but they're also great stories about what can go into making music.

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