In Search of Mozart

January 25th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

More than anything else, filmmakers and studios want to sell you tickets. And in today’s media-saturated world, where content providers jostle for your eyes and ears, the mother lode has been to grab your attention in the shortest space possible.

Computer animation perfected the one-word pitch; Aliens! Volcanoes! Tornadoes! Comets! Asteroids! A new dawn in moviemaking, CGI gave us the lot — for the first time ever, directors could put on the screen exactly what they saw in their minds. No cheesy miniatures, no guys in suits and no bad lighting to hide the sticky tape and wires. The old 50’s genres like sci fi and disaster movies never looked so good.

That is until movie audiences were (as usual) given far too much of a good thing, and accountants in production meetings throughout 1996-99 just wouldn’t stop saying to themselves ‘what natural disaster haven’t we covered that some hack can direct and we can sell in a single word?’

Nothing’s really changed. They’re still after the one word pitch, and after so long squeezing every drop of cash out of the word ‘disaster’, now filmmakers are doing the same thing with the word ‘documentary’. Blame Michael Moore if you like (everybody does, for at least something), but since Bowling for Columbine, docos are hotter than a spa bath full of starlets.

You wouldn’t imagine a small, quiet film like In Search of Mozart to be accused of cashing in, but something about it just makes you think that a producer somewhere really wanted to do a documentary, no matter what.

It marks the first example so far that — like the disaster films of the late 90’s — documentaries have gone too far. No, historians haven’t unearthed a sordid history of ribald secrets about the Viennese composer and child prodigy. If they had, it would have made the film much more interesting.

As an informative piece, it’s well presented, lucid and well structured. But any movie is inherently visual, and here’s the problem with talking about people who lived before TV news crews could be on the scene in minutes; there’s nothing to see. We cut from the camera panning up another painting of some guy in a wig and pantaloons to stock footage of a horse and cart going through the snow, then to some crazy-looking historian or conductor (several apparently trying to grow their hair just like Mozart), then back again, then again, again and again.

It really shouldn’t have been a movie. Mozart has a lot of admirers (can a 19th century classical composer be said to have ‘fans’) — even many people reading this very magazine would have an appreciation of classical music and an interest in its history.

But it would have been no less interesting watching narrator Juliet (Truly, Madly, Deeply) Stevenson read a book. In fact, it would be better to read it yourself. A movie just isn’t the medium to tell a story when you have nothing to show for it.

You might be interested in Mozart’s life and times and you just might get something out of this film, but you’d save a lot of time if you could just listen to an .mp3 of it instead.

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