Saturday, May 21, 2016

Copying Beethoven

Year 8, Day 142 - 5/21/16 - Movie #2,341

BEFORE: No movie yesterday, I gave myself the night off because I spent the better part of Thursday moving furniture around, since one of my bosses is moving her animation studio.  This will be the 6th time I've moved (or helped move) an animation studio, and I'm not as young as I used to be (who is?) so this sort of thing now takes a lot out of me.  I figured that if I started a movie and relaxed, I'd fall asleep right away and that would be a pointless exercise, so in that case it's better for me to skip a day and pick up fresh the next night.  I fall behind in the annual count this way, but once I get back on track this will force a war movie to line up with Memorial Day, so I'm fine with that.   

Ed Harris carries over from "Enemy at the Gates".

THE PLOT:  A fictionalized account of the last year of Beethoven's life.

AFTER: It makes sense that if "Amadeus" won Best Picture years ago for its portrayal of the life of Mozart that someone would take the same tack with "Lovely Ludwig Van" (as they called him in "A Clockwork Orange").  The difference is, I don't remember hearing about this won winning any similar awards, or even being nominated for one.  

Clearly, it's a tougher row to hoe.  If you believe the movies, Mozart was wild, spirited, fun-loving, brilliant, talented, a bit egotistical, while Beethoven?  He was German.  And by that I mean he was dour, ill-tempered, fanatically religious, probably OCD, way WAY egotistical, insensitive to other people's feelings, and probably an intense genius as well.  Maybe it's a bit of a circular argument to point to his music like his 9th Symphony as proof of genius, but what else have we got?  Oh, yeah, just 8 other symphonies, about 50 sonatas, some concerti, one opera, and a metric ton of chamber music.  

But considering his personality and temperament (musical pun intended), how do you explain someone like this writing something called "Ode to Joy"?  Was that meant to be ironic?  Or did Beethoven name the piece because of an unending search for something that eludes most Germans, namely joy?  (BTW, I'm free to make fun of Germans because I'm of mostly German descent, was raised by two German grandmothers and I know quite a few Germans now, so to me all the stereotypes are true.  But don't you try this at home...)

Also, why was there no 10th Symphony, and come on, Ludwig, don't go using death as an excuse, where's that German work ethic?  Ten is such a nice round number, compared to 9, it's the first two-digit number AND the basis for our entire counting system.  (Although, nine is a perfect square, I can get behind that.  Leave 'em wanting more, right?)  The film suggests here that after writing the Ninth, Beethoven struggled for a while but couldn't come up with something else on that level.  Well, of course, after that if he played someone a melody or a motif people would naturally say, "Hmm, it's OKAY, but it's clearly not as good as the Ninth, now, is it?"  

We also learn that Beethoven must have HATED chorus singers - why else would he make them stand there, all during the Ninth symphony, for nearly two hours, waiting for their cue?  Seriously, you stand for too long on those risers, and if your legs lock you can cut off the blood supply to your brain - I've seen chorus singers faint on more than one occasion because of that.  

But mainly people want to know about Ludwig's hearing - how did he compose the Ninth Symphony when he was almost completely deaf?  The suggestion here is a female "copyist", meaning someone who transcribes music, making proper notations and breaking apart the symphony to make sheet music for the various instruments - and it's impossible now to see a scene with one without thinking of Mozart dictating music to Salieri in that other film.  But let's focus - Anna Holtz, his copyist, also functioned as sort of a human metronome, if this film is to believed, when Beethoven conducted his Ninth, which he himself could not hear.  I debate whether such a thing is possible, not because she was a woman but because she had not trained as a conductor, and that's much different from being a copyist.  So we're led to believe that she was either innately talented at it, or she picked it up on the fly, but either way the overall effect is that her movements were controlling his, evoking the way that Remy the rat controlled the chef in the animated film "Ratatouille".  

I'm sure many music fans would cry foul at this portrayal, but then, what's the accepted reasoning behind Beethoven's ability to conduct while deaf?  Are we just going to assume that he could feel the vibrations from the orchestra and translate them into pitched sounds, or that he faked his way through?  Certainly a topic for discussion, and this may require some investigation.  But I can't help but see repeats of the themes from "Whiplash" in the relationship between Ludwig and Anna - the abusive conductor, sure, but also the submissive, the person who keeps coming back for more abuse, more or less of their own free will.  

Which brings me back to animation, and my twenty-plus year relationship with a man also generally regarded as a genius in his field, but also someone who's often impractical and occasionally high-strung.  And yet I keep coming back, suffering the occasional putdown or admission of my own failures, just to continue the opportunity to be twenty feet from stardom.  I believe that I'm good at my job, but to keep it I need to know what to say and when not to say it, because any disagreement with the boss can sometimes be taken as a sign of personal betrayal.   And thus has developed an often uneasy alliance, two people living in a form of symbiosis, moving forward together but still in different directions.  But within the alliance, a form of trust, where he can hand me a sheet paper with a nearly illegible blog entry and say, "You know, if you see a way to make it better, go ahead..."  

But that trust has its limits, if I notice a small mistake in an animated film that's one thing, but a large mistake, with regards to plot or structure, it's taken as if I'm saying "This is a bad film," so I've learned to not do that, it's overreaching. And if it IS a bad film, well, I certainly can't say that either.  Depending on what stage the production is at, and how costly a mistake would be to fix, I've heard responses that range from "That's not a mistake," to "Nobody's going to notice that," (Umm, I noticed...) to "You know, I kind of like that mistake."  Never, EVER has the response been, "Wow, thanks for catching that, I'll fix it right away. Hey, you saved the film!"  

Wait, what were we talking about?  Oh, yeah, Beethoven.  You might ask why people chose to even be near him when he was such a dick, especially his neighbors who got their soup ruined every time he poured a chamber pot of water over his head to wake himself up.  But if they moved, well then they wouldn't be the first people to hear the new Beethoven masterpiece, now, would they?  Any why would his assistant stay with him, when she had to do such burdensome tasks as bathing the maestro, and that's not a euphemism.  Well, that's the real question, isn't it?

Also starring Diane Kruger (last seen in "Joyeux Noel"), Matthew Goode (last seen in "The Imitation Game"), Phyllida Law (last seen in "Emma"), Joe Anderson (last seen in "Amelia"), Ralph Riach, Nicholas Jones. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 ear horns

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