Monday, September 11, 2006

Copying Beethoven

This film follows young Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger, who was in Toronto last year for the film Frankie) who is sent to the home of Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris) to be his copyist. Beethoven is attempting to finish the Ninth Symphony in time for its premiere a few days away. Anna quick proves herself to Beethoven by correcting some notes, changing them to what Beethoven really meant. Through her he finds the strength and inspiration to finish, and she finds a mentor for her own musical talents in a world that would just as soon see her in a convent.

Ed Harris plays another troubled, volatile creative genius, this time Beethoven instead of Jackson Pollock. While not necessarily on par with that film, Copying Beethoven does afford Harris the chance to portray the intense creative process behind Beethoven's music, and one of the most powerful moments in the film is when the chorus is heard from for the first time during the premiere of the Ninth Symphony.

While the story is largely fictional, it does serve as a vehicle to display Beethoven's musical genius as he attempts to guide Anna and advance past his works to new, unexplored musical depths. Probably the only thing that didn't completely work for me was the occasional anachronistic dialogue, but that is a small quibble in a good film.

Director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa, The Secret Garden, Julie Walking Home), Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, and co-screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson (Nixon, Ali) were at the screening and stayed for a Q&A after the film:

  • When asked about the story, Christopher Wilkinson said his hero is Jimi Hendrix, while co-writer Stephen J. Rivele's is Tolstoy, so they met at Beethoven. The story was something they always wanted to write.
  • Holland read the script and liked it, and took it to Ed Harris. He liked the script, and then Diane Kruger came to see Holland, and they liked her. But no one wanted to give them the money at the time; it probably took one to two years to get the funding.
  • For Holland, the hook was the Ninth Symphony sequence; it is the key to the story, and the music is the main character.
  • Holland's daughter, Kasia Adamik, was the second unit director on the film.
  • Harris said the similarity between Pollock and Beethoven is their need to create, and their compulsion to do it and get it out before they die. Doing Pollock gave him the confidence to be able to tackle an iconic figure like Beethoven. When Holland first sent him the script and told him if he wanted to do it she thought they could get it done, Harris replied he didn't know how the hell they were going to pull this one off. He added that he was glad Holland was the one to bring the script to him because of the trust he has in her.
  • Kruger said she never played the piano prior to this film, and that she still doesn't really. She added Harris excelled and he picked up the violin.
  • Harris said before the film he knew how to read music and had a sense of rhythm, but when he picked the actual score for the Ninth, he was overwhelmed. They started by breaking it down and he tried to understand as much as possible.
  • The performance of the Ninth had about 600 takes over three days.
  • Holland and Adamik worked together on the Ninth performance, starting with a rough cut of the music, then Adamik did storyboards, then they put it in the computer and animated it, so they knew exactly what shots they needed to do. The actual shoot involved three cameras.
  • The actors were so well prepared that Holland never had to do an additional take because of musical errors.
  • Towards the end, Holland had placed the cinematographer in the middle and had him spin around to get a shot; when she noticed he was dizzy, she stopped playback, but Harris continued to conduct the orchestra for several minutes until the end of the movement. One musician commented he had never experienced anything like that before.
  • Commenting on differences with an earlier copy of the script, Kruger mentioned that there were limits on the story and the character of Anna since she was fictional, that they couldn't portray her as some great composer when she didn't exist in real life.
  • When asked, Holland said she identified more with Beethoven than with the character of Anna.


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My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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