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In Search of Beethoven - documentary DVD / composer biography DVD review
IN SEARCH OF BEETHOVEN Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 3 stars
Featuring: Alban Gerhardt, Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss, Juliet Stevenson, Roger Norrington
Director: Phil Grabsky   Distributor: Microcinema
DVD release: 27 April 2010   Runtime: 139 min. (2 discs)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC, Widescreen
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.77:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo - English), Subtitles (Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish), Short In the edit room, Complete movements, Deleted scenes, Interview w/ director Phil Grabsky

Phil Grabsky, the director who also went In Search of Mozart, went hunting for Beethoven - and found him.

Alas, he trampled the poor guy to death. This too-long film is laden with laudatory comments from the 65 or so interviews spliced together to make the film. The stars of classical music are all here, including Sir Roger Norrington, Claudio Abbado, Fabio Luisi, Ronald Brautigam, Hélène Grimaud and Emanuel Ax.

We get a strong sense of what Beethoven's life must have been like from the interviews, and it must have been hell. From lovelessness to deafness, it seems Beethoven couldn't catch a break. And that, we are led to believe, made him the great composer he was.

Perhaps. It's hard to judge from this film where the truth might lie. The bare biographical facts - e.g., Beethoven lived in such and such a place in such and such a year - are so bogged down by the passionate outcries of those interviewed that it's hard to establish a baseline for the film's credibility.

The film is not helped by trying to sample every one of Beethoven's compositions, or so it seems is the intent. It's like one of those Longines Symphonette samplers that sell on late-night TV: get 50 classic classical hits on one CD.

A film biography that tries to cram in everything including the kitchen sink is bound to seriously damage its material. There just ain't room in there for that much stuff, so things get squashed out of shape and mashed together so that they all start to appear the same.

It's a shame Grabsky took the kitchen sink approach. Back in the 1950s and '60s, Leonard Bernstein produced TV shows for Omnibus, several of which focused at length on a single piece of music and yet still managed to also unfold the great composer's life in considerable depth.

Narrative is often better served by a single focal point, as it anchors us to the story in ways that the "first this, then that" approach simply cannot. The DVD is still worth the price of admission, however, as the second disc has complete movements of several pieces, rather than annoying snippets.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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