Okay-to-good, but not great

Movies about composers tend to miss the point.

Richard Burton as Richard Wagner.
  • Richard Burton as Richard Wagner.

Gary Oldman as Beethoven

Gary Oldman as Beethoven

If Amadeus is the only great composer movie, what about some others that are good? I’m not sure there are any that are good-to-great but there are a few that are okay-to-good.

Immortal Beloved comes up as an okay-to-good movie. The problem is that its central theme is trying to figure out which woman Beethoven didn't end up with.

Who cares? He didn't end up being with any of three women concerned. Who was his Immortal Beloved? No one cares. It's his music that we care about and love.

In Amadeus, Salieri tries to block Mozart's music, the one thing we love Mozart for. That gets us involved.

Trying to track down some mystery woman that history has forgotten using Beethoven's music as a soundtrack is not a great movie. You see, the thing about Beethoven is his music.

The one scene that works beautifully in the movie is the representation of Beethoven's sublimation of the pain and suffering of his childhood into the Ode to Joy, but it comes almost as an afterthought.

Another okay movie is Wagner, the four-part miniseries starting Richard Burton as Richard Wagner. The problem here is that Richard Burton is terrible. Not just terrible, but boring. It’s a very uncomfortable performance to witness at times.

Both Beethoven and Wagner were overbearing, somewhat nasty, and yet immensely charismatic. Wagner had Nietzsche as one of his disciples. Think about that. One of the most fiercely independent minds in history spent a good amount of time worshiping at the church of Wagner. This charisma is in Wagner’s music but it’s not in this 10-hour movie.

The movie uses Wagner’s music completely out of sequence, and oftentimes uses music to underscore a scene that Wagner wasn’t to compose until 30 years later. I get that the director is trying to show that the seeds of Wagner's music were in his political and personal life. However, using the conclusion of The Ring, in the movie timeline, before Wagner had composed Tristan, is silly.

Wagner didn’t have the ability to conclude The Ring until he completed Tristan. Wagner took 12 years off from writing The Ring during which time he composed Tristan and Meistersinger.

Through out the movie, Wagner’s music is presented in “bleeding chunks” with no relationship to when the music was composed and no relationship between what the music is about versus what is happening in the movie.

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Yeah… it's hard to believe Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved" was a peasant girl with whom he fornicated. That movie had a high production value, but the point was difficult to ascertain.

I wonder if making a movie about a composer is an impossible task. How do tell a pictorial tale about inner genius? Consequently, we get a bunch of ancillary and probably apocryphal stuff about their personal lives.

Have you seen Impromptu? Hugh Grant as Chopin?

As mentioned http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2014/aug/19/classical-greatest-classical-composer-movie/#comments Amadeus does it because the music is the story, the music is the star. Salieri thwarts Mozart's music and also tries to claim the Requiem as his own. Think about that scene when Mozart is dictating to Salieri. It's riveting but the dialogue is almost gibberish to the musically uninitiated...talking about e flat major and whatnot. But we get the music, we get it.

I haven't seen Impromptu.

Impromptu was very good, as I recall.

I saw a documentary on Wagner in the past year--he was thoroughly horrifying and careerist, but he did write some good music.

If you've got an extra hour and 50 minutes and you can understand mumbly Brits then this clip is worth it. Although John Tomlinson officially blows his O-ring out singing Wagner.


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