Mozart in Amadeus
West Side Story
(Some of the commentary is by Roger Ebert)
(Classic Film, 1984)
Milos Forman's "Amadeus" is not about the genius of Mozart but about the envy of his rival Salieri, whose curse was to have the talent of a third-rate composer but the ear of a first-rate music lover. Mozart could compose so joyously that he seemed, Salieri complained, to be "taking dictation from God." "Amadeus" swept the Academy Award. When you consider that 98 percent of the American public never listens to a classical music station, it is astonishing that Mozart became for a time a best-seller. The movie's success is partly explained by its strategy of portraying Mozart not as a paragon whose greatness is a burden to us all, but as a goofy proto-hippie with a high-pitched giggle, an overfondness for drink, and a buxom wife who liked to chase him on all fours. This is not a vulgarization of Mozart, but a way of dramatizing that true geniuses rarely take their own work seriously, because it comes so easily for them.
(Music: "Symphony No 25 In G Minor" "Symphony No 29 In A" "Serenade For Wind Instruments" "Serenade For Strings" "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" "Mass In C Minor" "Requiem Mass" "Concerto In B Flat For Piano And Orchestra" "Concerto In E Flat For Piano And Orchestra" "Concerto In D Minor For Piano And Orchestra" "Sinfonia Concertante In E Flat For Violin, Viola And Orchestra" "Harpsichord Solo" "Six German Dances No 1" "Stabat Mater")
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (Classic Film, 1951)
Classic musical film with George Gershwin's music and dancers Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Winner of numerous Academy Awards.
" I saw "An American in Paris" on its first release when I was still at school and fell in love with it straightaway. It makes beautiful use of some of the best music and songs by the composer, George Gershwin, and features two great (Gene Kelly & Leslie Caron) dancers. The supporting cast of Oscar Levant (as quirky as ever), Georges Guetary (why didn't he make more movies ?) and Nina Foch (brilliant in an unsympathetic role) are at the top of their form. The closing ballet, superbly choreographed to the title music, makes excellent use of the sights and sounds of Paris and of the images of impressionist and post-impressionist artists. If you love Paris, see this movie. If you've never been to Paris in your life, see it. But see it!"
OF A MURDER (Classic Film, 1959)
Director Otto Preminger. Stars James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, George C. Scott. "By far one of the best movies on this entire list, I include it here because of the Duke Ellington score and orchestral performance. It is not a jazz movie but the jazz in the movie is outstanding. Many years later, Terance Blanchard included the main theme from the film in his wonderful album concerning jazz in films."
The film is a labor of love by a British producer named Don Boyd, who convinced 10 different directors to interpret 10 famous arias in any style they chose. The result is uneven, of course, but stimulating and sometimes outrageous, as such diverse talents as Robert Altman, Ken Russell, and Jean-Luc Godard go to work. You could almost call "Aria" the first MTV version of opera.
SONATA (Classic Film, 1978)
As a tour de force of screen acting, Autumn Sonata stands unchallenged as the finest work of Ingmar Bergman’s last few years as a movie director. Fanny and Alexander may have won the Oscars, but Autumn Sonata represents Bergman’s chamber cinema at its exquisite peak. The “dream team” pairing of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann adds a searing, ultimately poignant quality to the film’s psychological struggle between mother and daughter. Music performs a compelling role in this magnificent film.
(Music: Bach: Sarabande from Cello Suite No. 4; Chopin: Prelude, Op. 28 No. 2; Handel: Recorder Sonata, Op 1, No. 11; Schumann: Aufschwung;
Schumann: Piano Concerto, 3rd mvt.)
Director Clint Eastwood. Stars Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker. Could have been the best jazz movie of all time but jazz lover Eastwood spends too much time on Charlie Parker's drug and personal problems and not enough time on his effect on the jazz world. Whitaker is wonderful and the music really is Parker. I know Bird destroyed his life but he gave birth to a whole new concept that is still living today: Be-Bop.
The Blues is a documentary film series produced by Martin Scorsese, dedicated to the history of blues music. In each of the seven episodes, a different director explores a stage in the development of the blues.
MCFERRIN & FRIENDS—SWINGING BACH (2000)
Taped in the splendidly baroque Market Square of Leipzig, with an enormous, tightly packed audience, this concert is dedicated to the proposition that the music of Bach "is still vital, is still contemporary, and is still very much universal."
"It has this magical quality about it," says an emcee, "that just makes it swing." His point is demonstrated not only in traditional orchestral performances by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and soloists, but in arrangements that substitute brass instruments and saxophones for violins or organ pipes, in three different styles of scat-singing to Bach's melodies (most beautifully Bobby McFerrin's), and in arrangements for Jacques Loussier's jazz trio and the postmodern Turtle Island String Quartet. Through it all, Bach triumphs! --Joe McLellan
[Music: Concerto in D major, BWV 972, 1st movement, Allegro (German Brass); Orchestral Suite No.1 in C major, BWV 1066, Bouree I/II (The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, Christian Gansch); Fugue No. 5 in D major, from the "Well-Tempered Clavier" (Jacques Loussier Trio); Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV 1043, Vivace (Gil Shaham, Adele Anthony, The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, Christian Gansch); Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 5 (German Brass); Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068, Air etc.]
IN THE SKY (Classic Film, 1943)
This exquisite first film by Vincente Minnelli just came out on DVD along with another all-Black musical of the period starring Lena Horne, "Stormy Weather". Stars Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and his orchestra. Not an incredibly great story line, the forces of good and evil fight for the soul of Mr. Anderson and it is told in a racist way. But the music is truly great and just seeing Lena, Louis and Duke in a movie is worth watching it.
This is an engrossing, partly fictional film by Franco Zeffirelli made in loving tribute to his longtime friend, opera diva Maria Callas. The film cast includes Jeremy Irons as an impresario trying to give Callas a comeback and Joan Plowright, as a journalist friend. Callas herself is played with fiery passion by Fanny Ardant. Included are arias with Callas singing. The visual style is all Zeffirelli, and it is interesting that the opera-within-the-film is not skimped on; these scenes look sumptuous. Callas was famous in a way no other 20th century opera singer was famous, and she deserved her fame, not only for the toll she paid through her celebrated liaison with Aristotle Onassis but also because her voice was called the voice of the century, and quite rightly.
Opera films are traditionally not successful but Bizet's Carmen is what movies are all about. Cheer! As Bizet's towering masterpiece blazes across the screen! Cry bravo! To passion, romance, adventure! From the bullrings of Spain to the innermost recesses of her gypsy heart, Carmen drives men mad and immortalizes herself as a romantic legend! Thrill! To the golden voice of Placido Domingo, and the tempestuous screen debut of the smouldering Julia Migenes-Johnson!
DESIRE FOR LOVE (2003)
The film was created by director Jerzy Antczak and based on the life story of the famous Polish pianist and composer Frideric Chopin. The plot covers the affair between Chopin and feminist writer George Sand. Chopin's music is integral to the film - with pianist Jannusz playing more than 77 compositions. Two versions of the film were shot - in Polish and English, with British actors later lip-syncing the dialogue.
Director Antczak spent 25 years writing the screenplay and six years raising the budget for the film. The film was screened at the Houston Film Festival in 2003 and won the Gold Award for Best Cinematography and the Platinum Award for Best Drama.
CHOREOGRAPHY By BALANCHINE, Part I (1977)
The first of a two-part special honoring the celebrated choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine. Includes performances of ballets such as Ravel's "Tzigane," Hindemith's "The Four Temperaments," and one inspired by Mozart's "Divertimento No. 15."
THE COMPETITION*** (1981)
The movie is about a big international competition in San Francisco among six world-class pianists who are fighting for a $20,000 first prize and a two-year concert contract. With Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving. There is, of course, a lot of music in this movie, in addition to all the scenes of romance, backstage butterflies, international intrigue, and self-examination. And The Competition does an extraordinary job of persuading us that the actors are really playing their own pianos. Dreyfuss, Irving, and the rest really look as if they're playing, and it took them four months of daily rehearsal to learn to fake it so well.
"Copying Beethoven" is a dramatic film directed by Agnieszka Holland which depicts a fictional take on the triumphs and heartaches of Beethoven's last year of life. A fictionalised exploration of Beethoven's life in his final days working on his Nineth Symphony in 1824. The composer, played by Ed Harris, is racing to finish his new symphony. However, it has been years since his last success and he is plagued by deafness, loneliness and personal trauma. There are a number of misrepresentations in the film including that Beethoven was hard of hearing but not completely deaf which, in fact, he was. However, Beethoven being turned to see the applause at the performance is absolutely true.
TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000)
Composer Tan Dun's impressive work effortlessly combines classical music with strong Asian influences. With the help of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Dun paints a vivid picture with a minimal sound. From the heart-pounding drums to solo cello, listeners are taken on a journey through the rich culture of the movie. Apart from the "pop" style songs concluding the CD, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack is absolutely captivating.
Screen adapatation of Mozart's greatest opera. Don Giovanni, the infamous womanizer, makes one conquest after another until the ghost of Donna Anna's father, the Commendatore, (whom Giovanni killed) makes his appearance. He offers Giovanni one last chance to repent for his multitudinious improprieties. The Don will not change his ways so, he is sucked down into hell by evil spirits in one of the greatest moments in opera. High drama, hysterical comedy, magnificent music!
DR. ROBERT SCHUMANN (1999)
An unconventional presentation of the life story of the composer Robert Schumann, focusing on his romantic struggle with his own private demons, his love for Clara and the history of his suffering.
Fame is a genuine treasure, moving and entertaining, a movie that understands being a teen-ager. Fame is all New York City. It's populated by rich kids, ghetto kids, kids with real talent, and kids with mothers who think they have real talent. They all go into the hopper, into a high school of kids who are worked harder because they're "special"—even if they're secretly not so sure they're so special.
FANTASIA (Classic Film, 1991 remake of 1940 film)
The incomparable Disney classic with conductor Leopold Stokowski..
(Music: Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; Beethoven: Symphony No. 6;
Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice; Mussorgsky: Night on the Bare Mountain;
Ponchielli: Dance of the Hours; Schubert: Ave Maria; Stravinsky: Rite of Spring; Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers, from Nutcracker)
FARINELLI IL CASTRATO
"Farinelli Il Castrato" is about the most famous of all baroque castrato singers, Farinelli. The film was released by Sony Pictures Classics in 1994 and stars Stefano Dionisi in the title role. Although Dionisi provided the speaking voice, Farinelli's singing voice was provided by soprano Ewa Malas-Godlewska and countertenor Derek Lee Ragin who were recorded separately then digitally merged to recreate the sound of a castrato. Based on real life events, some dramatic license is taken with the story. The film was directed by Belgian Gerard Corbiau. Its musical director was the French harpsichordist and conductor, Christophe Rousset. In 1995 it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.
(Music: Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo)
GLENN MILLER STORY (1953)
Directed by Anthony Mann. Stars Jimmy Stewart, June Allison, Charle Drake, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa. Stewart plays one of America's heroes who lost his life during WWII. Photographed in color, the film is a time trip to those years, when Glenn Miller's band ruled the record charts and anchored the airwaves. The film beautifully captures Miller's spirit and follows his life story with reasonable fidelity. It is one of the most charming and touching musical biography.
GREAT CARUSO (1951)
The Great Caruso was made by MGM and directed by Richard Thorpe. The film is a highly fictionalized biography of the life of tenor Enrico Caruso and stars Mario Lanza as Caruso and Ann Blyth as his wife. It also features a large number of Metropolitan Opera stars, notably soprano Dorothy Kirsten, Blanche Thebom, Nicola Moscona and along with others. The film was an enormous commercial success based largely on Lanza's performance.
HILARY AND JACKIE****
Jacqueline du Pre (Hilary Watson) was one of the most gifted cellists of her time, and her brilliant marriage to the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim was a celebrated musical and romantic liaison. Hilary du Pre, her older sister, played the flute and might perhaps have been as gifted as her sister. This is an extraordinary film about riding the tiger of genius, and how that cuts through conventional rules and invests the rider with special license. That Jackie's long illness and too-young death were tragic there is no doubt, but she played such beautiful music that it is our tragedy as well as hers. And yet to those close to the story, there is always another side and more personal feelings. "Hilary and Jackie" directed by Anand Tucker, is based on a memoir written by Hilary and her brother Piers du Pre, and it is unusually knowing for a biopic.
(Music: Bach: Cello Suite No. 1, Prelude & Gigue; Bach: Cello Suite No. 3, Prelude;
Bach: Cello Suite No. 6, Gavotte; Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 7, "Archduke";
Brahms: Cello Sonata No. 2, 2nd mvt.; Dvorák: Cello Concerto, 2nd mvt.;
Elgar: Cello Concerto Franck: Cello Sonata; Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major, 3rd mvt.;
Schumann: Fantasy Piece No. 1)
IMMORTAL BELOVED (1994)
`Immortal Beloved,' written and directed by Bernard Rose, examines the man behind the music in a dramatization focusing on the mystery behind a letter-- written by Beethoven-- found among his effects after his death in 1827. The letter bears no name or address, but was written to a woman to whom he refers as his `immortal beloved,' with nary a clue as to her identity. But in his final will, it is she to whom he bequeaths his estate, and it therefore falls to Beethoven's secretary, Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe), to unravel the mystery and discover her identity. And as Schindler pursues his quest, a portrait of Beethoven, in his most human aspect, emerges. Reminiscent of the approach taken by Orson Welles with `Citizen Kane,' Rose presents a riveting study of the enigmatic genius that was Beethoven.
(Beethoven's music: Für Elise; Piano Sonata No. 8; Symphony No. 5, 1st mvt.; Symphony No. 6.; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 9; Violin Concerto
Impromptu is a 1991 movie starring Hugh Grant as composer Frederic Chopin and Judy Davis as George Sand. It won the Audience Favorite at the Houston WorldFest Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.
JOUEUR DE VIOLON:The Violin Player (1994)
This European drama, set in Paris, follows a brilliant musician as he suddenly forsakes his career, to live and love amongst the common populace. Armand is the violinist who yearns to experience that life and to share his music with everyone, not just the wealthy and the elite. He leaves the glittering world of classical music without a backward glance and takes up residence in the Paris metro where he is surrounded by beggars and tramps. There he meets and becomes friends with Lydia, a metro employee.
(Music: Bach: Chaconne, from Partita No. 2; Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 9;
Mozart: String Quartet No. 19, 1st mvt.)
LADY SINGS THE BLUES*** (1972)
Diana Ross had been cast to play Billie Holiday. LADY SINGS THE BLUES has most of the cliches we expect—but do we really mind cliches in a movie like this? I don't think so.
Leadbelly is known to everyone who knows American folk music. He wrote "The Midnight Special," "Rock Island Line," "Take this Hammer" and hundreds of other songs. Near the end of his life, he was cheered in Carnegie Hall. The movie doesn't go in for shallow explanations and motivations. Instead, it follows its hero (played with great strength by Roger E. Mosely) down long roads and through long years and allows the music to speak for itself.
Lisztomania is a film drawn from a biography of Franz Liszt. Depicting the flamboyant Liszt as the first classical pop star, Lisztomania features then-contemporary rock star Roger Daltrey in the leading role. The film is derived in part from an actual "kiss-and-tell" book, Nelida, by Marie d'Agoult, about her affair with Liszt.
The term "Lisztomania" was coined by the German romantic literary figure Heinrich Heine to describe the massive public response to Liszt's virtuosic piano performances. There were screaming women and concerts were often standing room only. Rick Wakeman, from the progressive rock band Yes, composed the music for the movie, exposing new pieces and making arrangements of Liszt and Wagner's ones, showing his amazing playing skills. He also appears in the movie as Thor. Other rock celebrities appear in the movie as The Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr, who appears as the Pope.
THE MAGIC BOW (1946)
This movie is a costume drama about the famous Italian violinist/composer, Nicolo Paganini. The Film on a basic level, is a rags to riches tale and also includes a love story. Stewart Granger stars in the film & it should be noted that the violin tracks were played by violin virtuoso, Yehudi Menuhin.
(Music: Beethoven, Violina Concerto; Paganini, Caprice #20 & Violin Concertos 1 & 2)
Ingmar Bergman has never before made a movie so warm, happy and innocent as this version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" And along the way, while remaining faithful to the spirit (if not always the precise story line) of "The Magic Flute," he succeeds in making it into a movie. I can't recall another opera film I've seen in which that happened. This must be the most delightful film ever made from an opera.
Directed by Ken Russell, the film is based on the life of composer Gustav Mahler and begins on a train journey with Mahler (Robert Powell) and his wife Alma (Georgina Hale) confronting their failing marriage. The story is then recounted in flashback and takes one through Mahler's turbulent childhood, his brother's suicide, and the death of his young daughter. The film also takes us through his relationship with Cosima Wagner, wife of Richard Wagner, and explores Mahler's music.
MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955)
Dir. Otto Preminger. Stars Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak. Great on two fronts: Sinatra's portrayal of a junkie musician who kicks the habit the hard way and the wonderful Elmer Bernstein jazz score. Now that drug movies and television shows are churned out on a regular basis, this movie looks a little old fashioned but it didn't in 1955. Powerful movie.
MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS*** (1995)
"Mr. Holland's Opus" tells the story of 30 years in the life of a high school music teacher named Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), who takes the job in the first place as a temporary measure. His real work, he believes, is to compose music. Teaching is just a way to pay some bills. He realizes only gradually that it is, in fact, his destiny. God knows the school needs a music teacher. At his first meeting with the high school orchestra, he finds they play badly. How badly? I didn't recognize the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (By the end of the film, a successor to this orchestra has so improved that it sounds for all the world like a Hollywood recording stage filled with professional session musicians under the baton of Michael Kamen.)
BETTER BLUES (1990)
Directed by Spike Lee, the film opens with Bleek as a child learning to play the trumpet. His friends want him to come out to play, but his mother insists he finish his lessons. Bleek grows into adulthood and forms his own band - The Bleek Gilliam Quartet. The story is of Bleek's and Shadow's friendly rivalry on stage which spills into their professional relationship and threatens to tear their quartet apart.
MUSIC LOVERS (1970)
The film is about 19th century Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as conceived by director Ken Russell. This is one of a series of Russell's films about the lives of classical composers, often from an idiosyncratic standpoint. Others include Elgar, Mahler, and Lisztmania. Focusing on Tchaikovsky's reputed homosexuality, it tells the story of his musical life refracted through his childhood memories of the violent death of his mother and his frustrated marriage to Antonina Milyukova. The film has been criticized as an inaccurate depiction of the life of the composer, but remains an exhilarating fantasia and contains many fine sequences. However, keep to the encyclopaedia if you want a proper history of Tchaikovsky's life.
(Music: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Piano Concerto #1)
Satajit Ray's film is about genteel poverty, the story of a man who has been compared to King Lear because of his pride, stubbornness, and the way he loses everything that matters. His life centers on music, on giving expensive concerts to show off his music room. He lives to flaunt what remains of his wealth, and much of the film is told in flashback centering on two concerts given in the room. Ray made many fine films. The Apu trilogy and "The Music Room" rank highest.
AND DAY (1946)
"Night and Day" is about American composer and songwriter, Cole Porter. Starring Cary Grant in the lead role, the film features many Cole favorites.
Whatever the facts may have been, the screenplay writers here have chosen to interpret the end of dancer Nijinsky's dazzling career and his descent into madness, as being caused by the end of his romantic relationship with the Russian ballet impresario, Diaghilev. (The two are played by actors Alan Bates and George De La Pena.) The ballet reconstructions are excellent and the costumes superb. Performances are strong, Herbert Ross was a terrific choice to direct the film, having been a professional ballet director and choreographer, and the film has a superb sense of period and great style.
(Music: Debussy, Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun; Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade; Stravinsky, Rite of Spring)
The life of Schubert
One of the great musical films with the famous danced dream sequence choreographed by Agnes DeMille.
The title is an understatement, and so is the film. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" tells the story of a Polish Jew, a classical musician, who survived the Holocaust through stoicism and good luck. This is not a thriller, and avoids any temptation to crank up suspense or sentiment; it is the pianist's witness to what he saw and what happened to him. The film is based on the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was playing Chopin on a Warsaw radio station when the first German bombs fell.
AND BESS (1959)
A stellar line-up of African-American actors and musical stars helped to bring DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin's classic opera to the screen in this lavishly-produced adaptation. Porgy (Sidney Poitier) is a crippled man living in the shantytown of Catfish Row who has fallen in love with Bess (Dorothy Dandridge), a beautiful but troubled woman addicted to drugs. Bess is already being courted by several men, including Crown (Brock Peters), a muscular laborer, and Sportin' Life (Sammy Davis, Jr.), a sharp-suited hipster who deals narcotics. Crown gets in a fist fight with Robbins (Joel Fluellen) and ends up killing him; Crown goes on the lam, and Bess, needing companionship, takes up with Porgy. However, Crown soon returns, and Porgy kills him in a subsequent altercation, forcing him to hide from the police. Meanwhile, the fickle Bess follows Sportin' Life in search of the bright lights of New York City. Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Ivan Dixon, and Clarence Muse also highlight the cast; Robert McFerrin provided the singing voice of Porgy, and Adele Addison dubbed in Bess' musical numbers.
"Ray" is a biographical film focusing on thirty years in the life of legendary rhythm and blues musician, Ray Charles. The independently-produced film starred Jamie Foxx in the title role and he received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Ray has a lot going against him, but his music grabs people. With the staunch support of his determined single mother, he develops the fierce resolve, wit and incredible talent that would eventually enable him to overcome not only racism and the cruel prejudices against the blind, but also to discover his own sound which revolutionized American popular music. However, as Ray's unprecedented fame grew, so did his weakness for drugs and women, until they threatened to strip away the very things he held most dear. Ray is the story of Ray Charles' meteoric rise from humble beginnings, his successful struggle to excel in a sighted world and his eventual defeat by his personal demons.
SHOES (Classic Film, 1948)
"The Red Shoes," is justifiably the most popular movie ever made about ballet and one of the most enigmatic movies about anything. One story could be a Hollywood musical; the other story is darker and more guarded. Moira Shearer, who was 21 when she was cast, was at the time with the Sadlers' Wells Company, dancing in the shadow of the young Margot Fonteyn. The art direction won an Oscar, mostly because of the ballet dream scene & there was also an Oscar for the music. See it!
THE RED VIOLIN**** (1999)
There is a kind of ideal beauty that reduces us all to yearning for perfection. "The Red Violin'' is about that yearning. It traces the story of a violin (``the single most perfect acoustical machine I've ever seen,'' says a restorer) from its maker in 17th century Italy to an auction room in modern Montreal. The violin passes from the rich to the poor, from Italy to Poland to England to China to Canada. It produces music so beautiful that it makes you want to cry. A brief outline doesn't begin to suggest the intelligence and appeal of the film.
(Note: Violinist Joshua Bell performs the music.)
Dir. Bertrand Tavernier. Stars Dexter Gordon, Franqois Chizet, Gabrielle Haker, Herbie Hancock. This may be the best movie ever made about jazz and it's from a French director. This is the story of an ex-patriot tenor sax jazz player who moves to Paris and is practically adopted by a young jazz fan. The saxman has a drinking problem but his friend even helps him with that. This story is based on such greats as Bud Powell and Lester Young and real life sax player Gordon does an incredible job of acting (or was he just playing himself?) The Herbie Hancock score is beautiful and perfect to set the tone of the film. Truly a masterpiece.
`Shine,'' based on the true story of an Australian pianist who was an international prodigy, suffered a breakdown and has gradually been able to piece himself back together. The musician's name is David Helfgott. His life story is not exactly as it is shown here, but close enough. David's piano playing is at first a skill that comes naturally to him; only later does it become an art, a way of self-expression. What is terrifying for him is that the better he gets, the closer he comes to expressing feelings that his father has charged with enormous guilt. The ``Rach 3'' (Rachmaninoff Concerto #3) is a tumult of emotion, and what happens is that David cannot perform it without being destroyed by the feelings it releases.
(Music: Chopin: Polonaise No. 6 & Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 "Raindrop"; Liszt: Un sospiro; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 & Prelude in C Sharp Minor; Vivaldi: Gloria)
IN THE RAIN**** (Classic Film, 1998)
The image that everyone remembers from "Singing in the Rain" has Gene Kellly, dressed in a yellow slicker, hanging from a lamp-post and swinging his umbrella in the wild joy of new love, probably the most joyous musical sequence ever filmed. "Singing in the Rain" has been voted one of the greatest films of all time in international critics' polls, and is routinely called the greatest of all the Hollywood musicals.
Vaguely based on the life of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson himself, STORMY WEATHER offers the story of a WWI vet who falls in love with a singer--and under her influence goes into show business, only to find that their careers draw them in different directions. As a story, it is pretty slim stuff... but as a collection of musical turns by some of the early 1940s best black talent, it simply can't be beat.
Robinson was, of course, one of the truly great dancers of his era and he is a constant joy to watch. A very young and remarkably beautiful Lena Horne also offers several songs, including one that she would go on to perform with increasing sophistication and ultimately make entirely her own: the title tune "Stormy Weather." In addition to Calloway and Horne, STORMY WEATHER offers great performances by such under-filmed artists as Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, Fats Waller (performing his signature tune, "Ain't Misbehaving"), the brilliant Nicholas Brothers, and Ada Brown, as well as the popular comic actor Dooley Wilson. Expect nothing from the story or production values, but you won't be disappointed by this rare glimpse at some truly remarkable talents.
SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD**** (1993)
The film was inspired by Bach's Goldberg Variations, famously recorded by Gould, and is a series of brief vignettes suggesting variations on the actor's life. Glenn Gould (1932-1982) became one of the great concert pianists of his time, and then, on April 10, 1964, without advance notice, he gave his last concert and refused to perform in public ever again. That was not the end of his career but the beginning of an extraordinary second career, in which he channeled all of his efforts into making recordings. A fascinating film.
LE MATINS DU MONDE ('All the Mornings of the World') (1991)
Tous le Matins Du Monde won seven Cesars, the French Oscars, and it's easy to understand why. It's the perfect French film, with splendid narration, gorgeous costumes, great interiors, and the not surprising impeccable acting from its leads (including Gerard Depardieu). What helps this film emerge from the rest is the way music is used to enhance the story and the way the soundtrack and cinematography take advantage of the film's main message, the relationship between music, love, and love for music.
The soundtrack is magnificent and greatly emphasized given the subject matter. The CD became one of the best sellers for soundtracks in France. The interiors and costumes look stunning, recreating 1600's. Tous Le Matin Du Monde is not only a beautiful story about love and music, but also a great experience for the eyes and the ears.
(Music: Marais— Tombeau - Le Badinage - Sonnerie etc.)
Franco Zeffirelli's dazzlingly cinematic 1982 film of Giuseppe Verdi's 1853 opera "La Traviata" is one of cinema's greatest combinations of filmmaking and musical performance. The movie offers extravagant sets, magnificent costumes, and charming locations, and the performances are of the highest caliber. Furthermore, the superstar singers are competent film actors as well, particularly stars Teresa Stratas and Plácido Domingo.
THE TURNING POINT (1977)
For anyone who's ever enjoyed a dance performance, this is a must-see. Mikhail Baryshnikov, recently-defected and at the absolute peak of his extrahuman abilities, is nothing short of breathtaking in this film. Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Tom Skerrit, and Anthony Zerbe are, as we'd expect, excellent. The 18-year-old Leslie Browne is lovely, and a fine dancer. I'm particularly fond of Alexandra Danilova, one of ballet's immortals, as the matriarchal Madame Dhakarova. In the scene where she's coaching a much-younger woman on the Don Quixote pas de deux, she performs the role not only more correctly, but also more playfully and flirtatiously than her student. It's a treat to see.
SIDE STORY (1961)
" West Side Story" was named the best picture of 1961 and won 10 Academy Awards and placed No. 41 in the American Film Institute's list of the greatest films of all time. The music is by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins, famously inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Robbins' perfectionism and Bernstein's unconventional rhy-thms created a genuinely new kind of movie dancing. The musical style is based on hard-hitting big band jazz and Latin-beat music like the mambo. Popular dance music had not settled exclusively on rock and roll yet when this work was being written.
WHITE NIGHTS (1985)
The plot of White Nights is well-planned, the script neatly written and two dancers- Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines - carry this featurel. The end result is a touching, funny drama with a romantic edge. It is, therefore, a good film in its own right. But the real reason to see it is for the spectacular dancing of Baryshnikov. Gregory Hines is a wonderful second-lead (and has been much underused in films since), providing a sparring partner for Baryshnikov both in dance - as jazz/tap dancer vs ballet dancer - and to the benefit of the script. Isabella Rosselini plays a damsel in distress, complementing the duo and providing the romantic angle. And as for the dancing ... well, Baryshnikov was 37 then and I have never seen such athleticism and agility in a dancer of that age. Such expressive emotions come through his steps that he needs no words.
(Music: Bach, Passacaglia in c minor)
MAN WITH A HORN (1950)
Dir. Michael Curtiz. Stars Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Hoagy Carmichael. Inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, this movie is about a jazz musician's twin compulsions: jazz and booze. Kirk Douglas does a great job of acting while Harry James does the real trumpet playing. Bacall and Day compete for what is left of Douglas after the music and liquor. Well written and acted.