Setter’s ‘Spectives: Boy, Was ‘A Late Quartet’ Disappointing

YSetter Drawing for Blog 082613ou know a movie about classical music’s in trouble when you want to turn it off to listen to the tunes.

I felt that way about A Late Quartet, Yaron Zilberman’s should’ve-been-good film about the trials and tribulations of a long-standing string ensemble. Not that the actors, who included Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, weren’t up to the task; they were. It’s just that the script was really a problem. It broadcast like Chamber Music 101, with all-too-much expository material taking up some of the scenes, which often attempted to convey how quartets work, the roles of the performers, etc.

So in other words, viewers of the movie aren’t coming in to a conflict that’s already happening. They’re just at the introductory stages, and that was a problem for me … especially considering the fact that this ensemble was supposed to have been together for about 25 years. The credibility of the screenplay was further strained by the actions of Hoffman’s character, who suddenly wants to play first violin. That seemed strange to me; members of great ensembles should be comfortable with their roles — they work as a team, after all — and the idea that he now wants to shift to a more lead-type role after playing together for so long seemed off.

I always liked Hoffman as an actor, and this issue wasn’t his fault. Indeed, the actors tried their hardest. It’s just that the script seemed simplistic, and a movie about Beethoven’s quartets shouldn’t be. A film such as Un Coeur en Hiver treated the conflicts of musicians much more adroitly while including brilliant music (in that case, Ravel). In A Late Quartet, the music seemed to play second fiddle to the issues of the characters, and they weren’t interesting enough to warrant that.

If only they had the definition of a Beethoven quartet. If only.

Little-Known Operas That Should Never Be Filmed

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Pitching the Prowess of Classical Music

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613The 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.