Sunday, January 25, 2009

Immortal Beloved

I just finished watching the 1994 movie "Immortal Beloved" and it has to be one of the best movies I've seen for awhile! It pretty much is a biographical puzzle. Beethoven after his death left a letter addressed to his "immortal beloved," with no hint as to who that person was. As a last testament this document may have been faulty, but as a biographical puzzle it was great, inspiring two centuries of fevered speculations, of which this film is the latest and most romantic and oh so sad.

I don't know if the movie has solved the puzzle of the unnamed beloved, but I care not, because it has done something more valuable: He has created a fantasy about Beethoven that evokes the same disturbing, ecstatic passion we hear in his music.

Beethoven is played in the film surprisingly by Gary Oldman, who at first seems an unlikely choice.Then we see that he is the right choice. He plays perfectly a man on the edge of madness, obsessed with women, even more obsessed with Karl (Marco Hofschneider), the young nephew he hopes to turn into a prodigy. He wages a lifelong campaign of hate against Karl's mother, Johanna (Johanna Ter Steege), telling his brother Caspar (Christopher Fulford) she is a foul slut. The movie proposes an interesting explanation of Beethoven's hatred of her and love for her son, one which sensible biographers will question, but that fits perfectly with the terms of the story.

Beethoven's deafness is a subject through much of the film, including a precious scene where the Rossellini character leads him from the stage after he grows confused during a public performance, and another in which he touches the wood of a pianoforte to hear the music through his fingers. He tried desperately to conceal his deafness, fearing it would destroy his livelihood, and in the movie they sometimes reproduces what he can hear: Low rumbles sounding something like the music of the whales.

Beethoven writes to Schindler (the one trying to find the "Immortal Beloved", at one point, arguing: "It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism." I rarely do anything close to movie reviews, the quote pretty much sums it up! I now have to find the soundtrack!!

"The vibrations on the air

are the breath

of God speaking to man's soul.

Music is the language of God.

We musicians are as closeto God as man can be.

We hear his voice.

We read his lips.

We give birth to the children

of God who sing his praise.

That's what musicians are.

And if we're not that, we're nothing."
Ludwig Van Beethoven

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