Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Immortal Beloved. Feature film. (1994, 120 mins) IMDB
ary Oldman plays Ludwig van Beethoven in a biopic about the composer and his unknown "immortal beloved," but is Oldman the star of this film or is the music?
The film opens with a pained and shrivelled Beethoven on his death bed. A thunderstorm roars. During his funeral, crowds gather in a frenzy. When the calm returns, his older brother produces a will in which he is named heir to the estate, Schindler, Beethoven's long-time secretary, finds letters addressed to my Immortal Beloved. Beethoven left everything to this person--whoever this unknown person is.
Schindler's search for this person creates the narrative for the film, and in doing so, he meets various women in Beethoven's life. We see it as the film flashes back to various points in Beethoven's life.
Like most people I recognize the music when I hear it. We've all heard his music even if we don't know who wrote it or what it's called. What was a revelation to me was the man himself. I knew very little about him and as I watched this film I wondered if what I was watching was a complete fabrication or based on his life. After a little bit of research, I discovered the names existed and events did happen, but for the most part the film is speculation and creation. It is after all a feature film, not a documentary.
Beethoven never married, had no known children. The film would like you to believe his nephew Karl was his son but that appears to be speculation.
His hearing difficulties are well-known, but I always thought it was in the last few years of his life. It affected him for many years longer. Imagine the anguish of being a composer with no hearing. Tap the key of a piano and it's as if you hadn't touched it.
In searching for the immortal beloved, Schindler meets with three different women who explain their interaction with Beethoven. Violent and compassionate. Indifferent. Egocentric. It's not hard to imagine why he lived an isolated life.
In the third act the filmmakers present the notion his sister-in-law is the one. There is no evidence in fact to substantiate this claim, but it's a film after all. Another writer and director could attempt the same story with the same premise and reach a different conclusion.
Oldman has an interesting line in the film which I've shortened.
"Music. What does it mean? It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer."
I don't know if Beethoven said that, he may have, but it represents the essence of what an artist is. It is someone who takes the images and sounds inside his head and presents them for others to read, view and hear. Artists are challenged and tormented by this endeavour: How to get what's up here out there for others to experience.
There's an irony in his life. He wrote one of greatest compositions in music: The Ode to Joy. That an atheist would write a triumphant piece of music that pays tribute to spirituality is ironic. But as an artist, he probably had no choice. He heard that music inside in his head and had to write it down. The result is music we can enjoy it to this day.
The music is the star of this film and pages of writing couldn't do it justice. You'll have to listen to it. Just listen to his music.
Posted 2009/04/08 at 21h39ET in Movie Commentary.