Beethoven `love story’ hits one sour note after another

Beethoven `love story’ hits one sour note after another


THE PUBLIC, undoubtedly, will take Bernard Rose’s “Immortal Beloved” as a biography of Beethoven. Rose has gone so far as to call his film a true story encompassing a new theory about the identity of the Immortal Beloved, the mysterious, unnamed woman to whom Beethoven declared his love in a letter discovered among his effects.

That’s just silly. Like most docudramas, “Immortal Beloved” plays fast and loose with the facts. That doesn’t make it a bad movie. Other things do.

It lurches from one emotional climax to another, with little context or preparation to give them meaning. Banal, “great thoughts” platitudes pepper its dialogue. The story hangs on a tedious and wholly confected plot in which Beethoven’s secretary must find the Immortal Beloved in order to execute the maestro’s will.

Still, many otherwise sophisticated movie critics have praised this thing extravagantly. It must be tough to be a movie critic. Something comes along with no car crashes, fart jokes or machine guns, and it starts to look like Art.

Take Janet Maslin, for example, in The New York Times: Thanks to its hugely effective use of Beethoven’s most thrilling, tumultuous music, this film exerts . . . hypnotic power. . . . This filmmaker is so well attuned to his subject that he deliberately subjugates his imagery to the film’s soundtrack. Think of this as an extremely ambitious classical music video, with visual ideas that merely echo the moods of the music. The music tells its own story, and the music is glorious.

Well, it would be, if we could hear more than 32 bars of any one piece in any one stretch of time. The music is made to lurch from climax to climax in the same manner as the film. Think of this as an extremely artsy and manipulative classical music video, with musical ideas crudely ripped from context and tacked to visual images. This is Classic McNuggets, musical sound bites for short attention spans.

The worst thing about “Immortal Beloved,” though, is the way it trots out movie cliches that were hoary when Cornel Wilde was impersonating Chopin on the silver screen in 1946.

True, life always has something to do with art. That was especially the case with the Romantics. But even in their case, the suffering and the dark night of the soul were less important than the discipline and rigor in their music.

Discipline and rigor, however, might be beyond the ken of the movies. Decolletage and heaving bosoms, reverence for genius, towering rages, ovations and speculations about mystery lovers are easier to get at.

I suppose those things are about all we can expect from the movies, and yarns about those things are not necessarily bad. But don’t get the idea that they tell you anything about history, or music or Beethoven. “Immortal Beloved” is not biography, history or musicology.

It’s just a movie, and not a good one.

Copyright 1995

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