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" Corpsicle "
— Kathleen Quinlan, Event Horizon

MRQE Top Critic

The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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Director Phil Grabsky has tasked himself with a formidable job: compress the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart into a two hour narrative despite it being a suitable subject for a Ken Burns style super-documentary. Admittedly Grabsky is helped by the unfortunate fact that Mozart lived to be only 35 years old. And yet Grabsky could have spent the two hours considering almost any of Mozart’s 600+ compositions... and even then hard-core Mozart fans would complain he left something out (of course, hard core fans will always do that anyway).

Nevertheless, In Search Of Mozart is a first rate introduction to the great composer but perhaps not as good an introduction to classical music. This is not Grabsky’s fault as there is an annoying catch-22 to understanding and enjoying classical music in that you have to know a little something before you learn anything. Since this is Mozart 101, Grabsky jumps in at the point where the viewer may know a concerto from a symphony but may not know that Mozart composed his first work at age 5 or that his father Leopold Mozart was an accomplished composer himself.

it's great to see Mozart experts debunk much of what transpires in the Oscar-winning Amadeus
it’s great to see Mozart experts debunk much of what transpires in the Oscar-winning Amadeus

Like any survey class, Grabsky moves us quickly down the gallery of Mozart’s life and work (next slide please) but he shows a deft hand at sorting out what we pause to see and hear. Portraits of Mozart I’d never seen before are interspersed with talking heads of musicians and scholars giving brief descriptions of what we are hearing and demonstrations of Mozart’s compositions. One thing that I liked about Grabsky’s filmmaking is his staging of the live people in the same light and coloring of the 18th century portraits. This gives a life to the old paintings that might not have been there otherwise. The musicians interviewed also show an enthusiasm for Mozart’s work that is infectious, and that too enlivens the film.

Grabsky sets Mozart’s work in the context of the events of his life. Here Mozart is a child on tour and here he is a young man who’s mother has just died. But time constraints of the film allow only a snippet of music to be sampled and it is difficult to make a meaningful association of a particular work with a place and time... unless you already know the work. There’s that catch-22 again. What does come across is that Mozart was a child prodigy, a diligent worker, devoted husband and father and a genuine human being.

But what to do when the little you do know about Mozart might not be true? Looming over In Search Of Mozart is Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus, a brilliant film and loving presentation of Mozart and his music but also largely a fiction. In the accompanying interview, Grabsky admits that, “.... like most people my only knowledge of Mozart was from Amadeus...” and he wonders what events led Mozart to become... well... Mozart. He says, “... I wanted to make the film that I would have wanted to watch at the beginning of my project.” In this I think that he’s succeeded.

One thing I would have liked to have seen covered is the traditional catalog system for Mozart’s work, the Köchel numbers. Created after Mozart’s death by Ludwig von Köchel, they are often used as a shorthand method of naming his compositions. Since the ‘K.’ numbers are used in the film, it might have been useful information.

In Search Of Mozart is a wonderful film for anyone who’s beginning to explore classical music but might be a bit choppy for someone who knows the difference between classical and symphonic music. Still you have to start somewhere and you would be hard pressed to find a better place to start than the life and music of Mozart.

DVD Extras

A pleasant interview with director Grabsky... not critical to understanding the film but informative.

Picture And Sound

Both very good. As noted above, cinematography is well done.

How to Use This DVD

This is the kind of DVD you expect to find at the library, where, let’s face it, most of the good stuff is anyway.