Dumb and dumbest | Bleader

Dumb and dumbest

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This'll be short 'n' sweet--or at least short ...

My vote for single dumbest idea I've seen in films in the last year or so goes to Agnieszka Holland's Copying Beethoven, wherein the classical maestro's mousy apprentice (Diane Kruger) purportedly shadow conducts (well, that's the conceit anyway) the Vienna premiere of B.'s Choral Symphony from inside the orchestra pit, the el primo composer/conductor himself--Ed Harris at the podium, gesticulating madly like some audience reject from the old 50s TV show So You Want to Lead a Band--absorbing her every prompt since, being deaf and all, he can't actually hear what's going down, yo! A couple things wrong with this, even as historical fabrication: first off, conducting's mainly a means of conveying information, sometimes in toto, sometimes in particular, to the orchestra's various sections--now strings, now brass or reeds, first left then right, diminuendo to crescendo, etc--as a precisely nuanced interpretive set. Where the conductor's specific gestures go is a critical factor here: it's not just a matter of plowing straight ahead, as a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. But that's how Copying Beethoven sees it--or worse: as plowing ahead in reverse, since everything the doppelganger does necessarily mirrors the conductor's own relation to the players: she's facing him, not the instrumental collective. Not that it matters much, since Kruger's literal-minded attentions invariably focus forward--as if the score alone were the issue, not how the various sections negotiate it at any given moment. So there's overview and breakup and omnidirectional attention, and conducting--at least the competent, professional kind--necessarily embraces 'em all. Which isn't the case here, where everything comes down to waving your arms around as frantically as you can.

What I'm wondering too is why B.--or, more to the point, the filmmakers--didn't just adopt the Evelyn Glennie approach: shoes off, and let the floorboards speak. No less ahistorical than the fantasy we've been stuck with, plus everything's in the physics, in the simpatico vibrations: who needs a doppelganger for that?

Coming up next: dumbest impersonation ever of a world chess champion in movies (and no, I don't mean J.R. Capablanca's appearing as himself in Pudovkin's '25 Chess Fever) ... but maybe I'll just sit on that one for a while.

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