Beethoven’s Opus 131 as Soap Opera

 DATELINE: MOVIE MUSIC MASHUP

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With the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we had on our list one of his lesser-known movie roles in A Late Quartet.

It seems altogether fitting and proper that we review that little known and recent film as indicative of his career.

He plays a New York classical violinist, second violin in his quartet for 25 years, stifled by other members and too timid to strike out as a soloist.

Hoffman’s performance is dead on as an artist subservient to his art. He is ably supported by Christopher Walken as the leader of the quartet and dynamic force that starts to lose a battle with Parkinson’s Disease and chooses to give up his career as soon as possible.

The dramas around classical musicians are well-known to those who have had the pleasure to socialize with them. With Walken setting the stage with quotations from T.S. Elliot to start the film, we have something not quite for everybody, but especially for those with a taste for quality drama, solid acting, and sensitive writing.

We have always had a weakness for movies that use classical music as a backdrop—whether it’s Humoresque with Joan Crawford or Nijinsky with Alan Bates.

Such films are an acquired taste, savoring the metaphor of great composers as a sound track. We aren’t sure Beethoven or Wagner would approve, but they might recognize the breed.

Alas, the film screenplay borrows heavily from a play called Opus about the same music and a quartet in turmoil. No credit is given, but is surely due.

If this isn’t plagiarism, it is odd coincidence. One big change was to eliminate the gay character in favor of a female violinist. Odd, indeed. It seems as disconcerting as Hoffman’s death.

 

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