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The Extra is Better Than the Main Show!!!
on June 12, 2008
Despite the fact that this BBC documentary/drama is extremely watchable, it is also extremely flawed. Great life, great music - how can one go wrong? Well, our guide through Russia and Tchaikovsky's life - conductor Charles Hazelwood - takes one stroll too many, pops up a bit too often with many banal commentaries and if I had to watch him conduct one more time, I probably would have had to put the DVD on pause and take a break. (Come to think of it, in the recreations of Tchaikovsky's life, why are there no scenes of Ed Stoppard as the famous composer conducting? Maybe Hazelwood did not want to share his beloved baton? As to Ed Stoppard, his performance - unlike Tchaikovsky's music - is decidedly one-note.) Anyway, too much Hazelwood, no mention of T's extended family, no info as to his wife's eventual sad fate, no account of T's early suicide attempt (hauntingly captured in Ken Russell's biopic),not a wisper of "The Nutcracker" and no exploration of the mystery of how T actually died. The filmed flashback takes his brother's account as gospel, even though his recollections are historically suspect (as pointed out in this disc's terrific extra). As to the filmed flashbacks, they are extremely reminiscent of scenes from Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers" - as another reviewer here perfectly pointed out. The movie with Richard Chamberlain (despite some historical inaccuracies and compressions) is actually a much better take on Tchaikovsky than is this BBC production. The Russell film had it all: great performances, more insight into the creative process, full exploration of T's tortured marriage and unique relationship with his widowed patron, and a great shot of a living, exhilerated, conducing T in springtime turning in one cut into a frozen statue atop a pedestal in the snow, a cut which speaks volumes about the nature of fame. It is a cut as awesome in its way as the jump from Moonwatcher's skyward flung bone to a spaceship in moon orbit in "2001." Plus...the movie didn't have Hazelwood strolling in and out and hamming it up for the cameras whilst conducting. Now, what I much preferred on the disc in question was the extra! The 1993 Omnibus "Who Killed Tchaikovsky" was much more interesting and illuminating than the more current BBC production, the main feast on this disc. The ending shot at Tchaikovsky's grave in the "extra" is, in itself, worth the price of the DVD. It is absolutely moving and utterly Tchaikovsky-esque and left me shaken. I won't reveal what this closing shot of the extra is, simply know that it, like the scene referred to earlier in the Russell film, silently (wordlessly) speaks volumes through visuals and music. So, in summation, the extra on the disc is better than the main feature and "The Music Lovers" is likewise much better. One final note: in the Hazelwood production, none of the interviewed Russian music students and dancers and singers has anything very interesting or original to say about Tchaikovsky - although in the one scene shot in a bar, you can see that the musicians do love their beer! I got thirsty myself watching that scene! But not thirsty for a cholera-tainted glass of water.