The best thing The King’s Speech ever did was remind people that Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is a brilliant piece of music.
Yes, it’s a good movie. Well-scripted, well-acted. But without that majestic second movement boosting the oratory at the end, it’s just another serviceable biopic.
Which leads me to wonder why filmmakers don’t use the strains of the immortal Ludwig van—or, for that matter, any great classical composer—more often.
Sure, that second from the Seventh had a precedent—John Boorman’s confused and often frustrating sci-fier Zardoz. And there’s no shortage of Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange.
But there’s a host of cinematically appropriate works out there by classical masters, and it’s a marvel that Hollywood hasn’t mined this trove thoroughly.
Schubert lieder. Stravinsky ballets. Brahms symphonies.
Boorman at least had the right idea, and his use of Wagner’s Parsifal and Götterdämmerung in his Arthurian epic Excalibur made up for his Zardozian miscues. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola also hit the mark with their application of Cavalleria Rusticana in Raging Bull and The Godfather Part III, respectively. Even Woody Allen rang true with all that heady S. Prokofiev in Love and Death—though it assuredly was in homage to the master musician’s collaborations with Eisenstein.
I want to see more directors do this. There’s plenty of classical pieces out there that can have a symbiotic effect: enhancing a motion picture considerably while renewing interest in the music. It would be deserved interest, too, and perhaps save these works from being confined solely to connoisseurs’ quarters. Plus, it would expose more folks to these compositions, sell more soundtracks and prevent people from thinking Alex North’s scores should’ve replaced the tunes in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Would every film have the impact The King’s Speech had? No. But it would be a smart beginning, and the potential benefits are significant.
As long as Hollywood doesn’t get its hands on any Mahler symphonies, that is.