Urban Cinefile
"After I read his books I feel like I have a fist indentation in my solar plexus "  -director Darren Aronofsky about his adaptation of Requiem for a Dream from a Hubert Selby Jr novel
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In this exclusive Insider Briefing, Phil Grabsky explains why – despite the hardships and hassles - he couldn’t help himself making another In Search of … movie; after Mozart, he searched for Beethoven (recording 55 performances!) - and was surprised at what he found.

There's a phrase isn't there? Once bitten, twice shy... Well, having made In Search Of Mozart, I was rightly a bit hesitant about repeating what is an extremely difficult process. No wonder it hasn't been done before! But I couldn't help myself - if musicians and conductors were agreeing with me that Mozart was one of the greatest composers, indeed creative people, in history and yet maybe Beethoven was better, I just had to know more.... And, two years later, here we are: In Search Of Beethoven, by hook and by crook, brings together the world's leading performers and experts on Beethoven to reveal new insights into this legendary composer.

"capture the raw energy of these world-class artists"

The line-up of performers and interviewees includes Gianandrea Noseda, Sir Roger Norrington, Riccardo Chailly, Claudio Abbado, Fabio Luisi, Frans Brüggen, Ronald Brautigam, Hélčne Grimaud, Vadim Repin, Janine Jansen, Paul Lewis, Lars Vogt, and Emanuel Ax among others. The film is narrated by Juliet Stevenson and young RSC actor David Dawson. Immodestly I have to say it's a cast list of my dreams. And through them, the film takes a comprehensive look at the composer's life through his musical output, chronologically marrying it to Beethoven’s biography and letters.

I travelled across Europe and North America to interview historians and musicians between rehearsals and performances. It was a struggle, up against all sorts of budgetary problems, filming difficulties, permission nightmares but in the end we managed to catch a pretty remarkable 55 performances for the film - and once again capture the raw energy of these world-class artists.

"a Beethoven that will surprise you"

It includes exclusive footage of Claudio Abbado's critically-acclaimed performance of Beethoven's opera Fidelio. There are further performances from Frans Brüggen's Orchestra of the 18th Century, the Salzburg Camerata with Sir Roger Norrington, Leipzig Gewandhaus with Riccardo Chailly, Vienna Symphony with Fabio Luisi, violinists Vadim Repin, Janine Jansen or pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Ronald Brautigam, Jonathan Biss, Emanuel Ax, Lars Vogt and cellist Alban Gerhardt all revealing their unique approach and share their passions. The Endellion String Quartet gave exclusive access to film a number of complete Beethoven quartets. These musicians are of course the stars of the show in one way but it is Beethoven's quite extraordinary music that drives the film along.

More than that though, I wanted to know just who he really was; I wanted to address the romantic myth that Beethoven was a heroic, tormented figure battling to overcome his tragic fate, struck down by deafness, who searched for his 'immortal beloved' but remained unmarried. I wanted to delve beyond the image of the tortured, cantankerous, unhinged personality, to reveal just what was the truth - and along the way I did discover a Beethoven that will surprise you. He is not what you imagine. Not what I imagined. To find the real man, I went back to the letters, the locations and of course the music. There are so many stories that get repeated endlessly but where do they come from? It didn't take long to realise that much has been exaggerated and distorted. (Ed: “…you will be enthralled by this fabulous and insightful doco that humanises the man behind the genius,” says Louise.)

I think that's why musicians gave me such great access - because they too wanted to know just who was the man whose music they have played since picking up their instruments as children. It's so easy to fall for the legends and myths - and perhaps no composers illustrate that more than Mozart and Beethoven. Naturally one can listen to Beethoven's music without knowing a thing about him and, frankly, if you have hot blood in your veins, you will, no matter your age, be stunned. But the more one learns about him, his times, his contemporaries and so forth, the more impressive the music becomes.

"a passion for what I do"

These are extremely tough films to make and I only achieve it - with my trusty team - because I am a cinematographer too that shoots my own films, because I give myself the time to make these films, and because I absolutely have a passion for what I do. At times when I'm struggling along onto a night train in Europe with 5 cases of High Definition camera gear, I wonder if it's worth it, but when I turn the camera on right next to a pianist like Emanual Ax or a violinist like Janine Jansen , it's all worth it. So much so, that - between you and me - I've just started another one....

Published October 8, 2009

Email this article

Phil Grabsky


In Search of Beethoven opens nationally October 22, 2009
Sessions and venues:

Director Phil Grabsky will be touring Australian cinemas during October 2009 to present his new film and answer questions:

Noosa Cinemas, Qld, Oct 12
Palace Barracks, Qld, Oct 13
Cremorne Orpheum, Sydney, Oct 14
Avoca Beach, NSW, Oct 15
Carlton Nova, Vic, Oct 18
State Hobart, Tas, Oct, 19
East End, Adelaide, SA, Oct 21
Cinema Paradiso, Perth, WA, Oct 24

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020