They call him Louie as he arm-wrestles in the local pub, a few days
before the premiere of the Ninth Symphony. He has Beethoven's head,
but Ed Harris' body. Harris is in excellent shape, as he walks around
half-naked, frequently, but Beethoven is close to his Maker (who shouts
at him, he says, that's why he went deaf). Confused? But this was the
Agnieszka Holland's new film, "Copying Beethoven," is proof positive
that a Polish director (even the one responsible for "Europa Europa"),
making a movie in Hungary about a German composer who lived in Vienna,
can be every bit as clueless and preposterous as anyone in Hollywood...
or even Bollywood.
How about this 15-minute central scene: the premiere of that famous Ninth
("building a bridge to the future of music," says L. van Harris) was
actually conducted by Helen Hunt-lookalike Diane Kruger, playing Anna Holtz,
who incidentally copied all the parts for the fourth movement overnight, and
improved the score by changing it to "what Beethoven really meant."
(Half-naked Harris smiles appreciatively in acknowledging Anna's superior
On that fateful night, in 1824, this remarkable young woman (created of
whole cloth in the script by Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson,
co-writers of "Nixon") was facing Beethoven, crouching among the musicians,
conducting the work, and Beethoven just followed her, miming. All the
way through. That's why Beethoven gave her a copy of the score, with a
warm inscription. This was after Beethoven mooned the extremely young
and talented copyist-muse-conductor (Kruger is 30 but she passes for the
required 23), by way of talking about the Moonlight Sonata, following
that up with a Depak Chokra moment of touchy-feely (albeit nonsexual)
exposition about music being God's language.
The irresponsibly fictionalized "Amadeus" was an exercise in realism in
comparison - and it was simply a much better film. "Copying Beethoven"
is shot through with incongruities, and I don't mean just from a
musicological point of view. A long opening sequence, of Anna riding a
coach to Beethoven's deathbed, is full of Dickensian characters, extras
with all the rich soil of Hungary on their faces, shown in quick, nervous
intercutting that makes the viewer dizzy. What's the point? Hard to
say. You could ask the audience at the Toronto Film Festival who gave
it a standing ovation, supposedly.
Harris ("Jackson Pollock") Beethoven vacillates between being a plausibly
rude bastard; a kind, enlightened sage; a village idiot; a stunningly,
improbably prescient artist ("no key," he dictates music to the unbelieving
Anna, "you don't need a key"), leapfrogging more than a century without
breaking sweat; and somebody who discovers nature's pastorale that will
form the Sixth Symphony well after completing the Ninth.
What's even more galling than this fictional, trivialized Beethoven is
the fictional, all-perfect Anna. Kruger offers a brave performance, but
no talent can overcome the Swiss-cheese script.
Although it may make more sense to get your Ninth fix from "Clockwork
Orange," there IS music is "Copying Beethoven," and it is well-performed,
even if the sound is contemporary - to us, not to two centuries ago. If
you wait for the credits, there is a big surprise there. The orchestra
is the Kecskemet Symphony, conducted by Laszlo Gerhat. What? Who?,
you say, but how do you think I, a Hungarian, feel, never having heard
of the existence of the orchestra! Kecskemet is a small town, of some
100,000 residents, the birthplace of Zoltan Kodaly - and also home to a
first-class Symphony. Not a total loss then, this "Copying Beethoven"...
although it's sad that there is no appropriate film here to accompany
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