Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Roll over Beethoven: Ludwig Van and 'The King's Speech'

"This will make Beethoven!" boasted Walt Disney while he put the finishing touches on Fantasia (1940), with its 20-minute passage from the composer's Symphony No. 6 ("The Pastorale").

Roll over Beethoven: Ludwig Van and 'The King's Speech'

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Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven

"This will make Beethoven!" boasted Walt Disney while he put the finishing touches on Fantasia (1940), with its 20-minute passage from the composer's Symphony No. 6 ("The Pastorale").

There's a stronger argument to be made that Ludwig van makes The King's Speech, the inspirational film about the pathologist who helps King George VI overcome a crippling stutter. The film builds to the thrilling sequence, scored to the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, where the stammering sovereign delivers a powerful radio address to Britain and the Commonwealth, rallying his people to fight Fascism. It's a synergistic use of music and film -- the king's political drive harnessed to the music's rhythmic drive -- that's exhilarating and inspiring. Colin Firth is superlative as the king, but the Beethoven Symphony -- and his "Emperor" Piano Concerto used as the movie's coda, where the King and his family greet the crowd before Buckingham Palace -- are so stirring that the composer should be eligible for supporting actor  honors at the Oscars.

I would go as far to say that The King's Speech, which has a jaunty score by composer Alexandre Desplat, is the best use of Beethoven in the movies, more transporting even than  "The Pastorale" in Soylent Green (I don't want to spoil it, but it involves the passing of the character played by Edward G. Robinson), Symphony No. 9's "Ode to Joy" in A Clockwork Orange. (As to the Beethoven's 9th segment in the Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved with young Ludwig floating in a pond under a starry sky, let's just say that it's the first use of Ludwig van  in a music video.)

Peter Weir uses Beethoven's Choral Symphony in Dead Poet's Society to nice effect, showing students reciting poetry and throwing footballs set to its music.

Your favorite movie Beethoven? Let's agree: No jokes about the cinematic St. Bernard or the use of the disco "A Fifth of Beethoven" in Saturday Night Fever. Alternatively, your favorite use of a musical cue in film?

Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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