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Archive for June 27th, 2018

(UK 1962 60m) DVD1/2

Aka. Elgar – Portrait of a Composer

We walk like ghosts

p  Humphrey Burton  d  Ken Russell  w  Ken Russell, Huw Wheldon  ph  Kenneth Higgins  ed  Alan Tyrer  m  Edward Elgar

Peter Brett, Rowena Gregory, George McGrath, Huw Wheldon (narrator),

It seems strange to think that when Ken Russell’s groundbreaking and career pointing dramatised documentary went out in 1962, the lives of composers on screen was limited to cinematic biopics such as the awful A Song to Remember and Gance’s moody Un Grand Amour de Beethoven.  Half a century on we can look back and see it as a watershed; without it we wouldn’t have had the other Russell composer pieces on large and small screen that would occupy most of his work for the next decade or so.  

Elgar was different to what would follow.  The Debussy Film had the irreverence that would characterise, and to some flaw, The Music Lovers and Lisztomania, while Song of Summer – Deliustook a look at the composer that would look ahead to his Mahler.  Elgar was more than any of these, but watching it fifty years on, with its strait-laced account of a man unable to make a name for himself in pompous late Victorian and Edwardian England, it reads remarkably like the spoof documentaries so common today.  What it succeeds in doing is dextrously mixing still photos and newsreel and early film footage with silent tableaux recreations, all accompanied by the great man’s music to create a symphonic melding of music and visuals, including rolling tracking shots of Elgar as a boy on a pony or a man on a boneshaker moving through the Malverns.  It not only gets to the heart of Elgar, to whom, as Wheldon’s narration tells us, “musicis in the air…all around me”, but in doing so he also succeeds in creating a quite literal family album of Britain at the height of its imperial power and at the start of its imperial decline.  The composer is seen to be an artist in tune with the mood of the time, but in a country whose hierarchy are out of step with it, a composer who is feted in Germany but not at home, and who came to taste a bitter irony in the years that followed, almost prophesying the cataclysmic doom to come with the death of Edward VII.  Here was a man who wrote the most patriotic of all British pieces, only to loathe what it had come to represent, abhor the idea of his country at war with the country he held such affection for and gratitude towards, given honours that meant little to him and which he had buried with his wife in her coffin.  (more…)

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