Wonders Are Many: The Making of "Doctor Atomic"
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The spectacular opening to Jon Else's critically acclaimed WONDERS ARE MANY - nuclear blast after blast in the desert, under the ocean, high in space - intimates what is to follow: a profound and triumphant fusing of art and science, humanity and technology, destruction and creation.
WONDERS ARE MANY: THE MAKING OF DOCTOR ATOMIC traces a dazzling double-helix trajectory: one thread follows composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars as they work to create Doctor Atomic, the strange and beautiful opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the first atomic bomb; the other recounts the actual historical events that underpin the stage drama. Masterfully interwoven with recently declassified footage of nuclear testing in the deserts of the Southwest and the frenetic backstage action of the San Francisco Opera, the film creates an explosive vortex of performers and physicists, past and present, all of which is anchored by the enigmatic figure of Oppenheimer and channeled into high art by the creative power of Adams and Sellars.
A magnificent pastiche of potent elements, WONDERS ARE MANY allows us to see history - and ourselves - in a new light: we learn the humanity in science; the regret in discovery; and, unforgettably, the law that "matter can be neither created nor destroyed," but only transformed.
- Filmmaker Audio Commentary
- Filmmaker Biography
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Top customer reviews
In any case, I highly recommend purchase of the DVD release of the Netherlands Opera presentation of the full opera with the original cast, direction, and scenery. Adams: Doctor Atomic The DVD of the opera includes brief comments by the lead singers and a long interview with Sellers, who directed the opera. The Netherlands production also includes significant changes made by John Adams after the San Francisco premiere. The MET production will most likely appear on DVD sometime in 2009. I recommend the Netherlands DVD as a first choice.
What a fascinating film this is. It comes at you from two interesting perspectives as both historical documentary and a major art project. In easily digestable format director Jon Else combines interviews, rehearsal footage and commentary by the cast and creators of Doctor Atomic - weaving in the story of the development of the atom bomb and the Manhattan Project. All of it is narrated by the mellow voice of Eric Owens, the baritone who has sung (I beleive) every performance of the role of General Groves.
The marriage of these two stories into a cohesive whole works wonders itself, as a perfect balance is struck between following the creation of a new opera and the history of nuclear physics involved in creating the bomb. For those whom this sounds bizarre, to say the least, let me say, I can't think of anyone who's interest would not be held - or even riveted by the manner in which its done.
There is fascinating interview footage with Oppenheimer himself, disturbing shots and clips of bombs testings (not easy to watch) and one truly gets a sense of the project as well as a sense of the bizarre community that occupied Trinity. It was interesting as well to see and hear the singers approaching their music in the first rehearsals, taking suggestions from the composer who was still very much working on the piece, changing things as they went along. Peter Sellars can bother some folk, but his infectiousness and thoughtfulness clearly command the respect of all of his cast members, as well as the composer himself.
Especially moving for me was seeing Finley rehearsing his big first act aria for the first time . . . this piece simply destroying me every time. To hear his own connection with it, how he wishes it had been something he had actually written, speaks volumes about his identification with the piece. It's overwhelming.
It is unnerving watching film clips of bombs 60 years ago - then seeing life- sized props being brought into the War Memorial Opera House (the name of the building really taking an unusually strong symbolism here).
There was some REAL backstage drama which I remembered reading about when it happened, but since forgotten (til now, of course!). Tom Randle - a favorite of many of ours - and portraying Robert Wilson in the opera was let go a little more than a week before opening night, replaced by his understudy, Thomas Glenn. The scene of Randle reading the announcement is one of those horrifying things every performer dreads.
I can't stress enough how unusual a movie this is - very powerful on all accounts. If I've a gripe it's only a wish for some extras, deleted scenes, photo galleries, more bio material, etc. Other than that, it's one amazing movie.
The opera, hence this documentary, covers the Manhattan Project, focusing on the final days leading up to the detonation of a nuclear bomb in New Mexico in 1945.
I found it enlightening, as it was an interesting and informative story that gives you a "behinds the scenes" look at the making of this opera, but in the end is really much more than that, providing an education on the development of the nuclear bomb.
Not being an opera buff, I cannot comment on the operatic portions other to say they were pleasant and would not deter me from watching the DVD again. All in all, interesting viewing and certainly educational.