In Search of Mozart

The music is sublime, but the words keep getting in the way. Documaker Phil Grabsky takes a respectfully genteel if not downright worshipful approach to his subject throughout "In Search of Mozart," a beautifully lensed but ploddingly paced tribute.

With: Julian Rachlin, Jonathan Miller, Imogen Cooper
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson.

The music is sublime, but the words keep getting in the way. Documaker Phil Grabsky takes a respectfully genteel if not downright worshipful approach to his subject throughout “In Search of Mozart,” a beautifully lensed but ploddingly paced tribute that provides talking-head interviews and dramatic readings of old letters as the prosaic counterpart to a virtually nonstop soundtrack of the composer’s greatest hits. Even the most devoted classical music aficionados likely will enjoy this doc most when they’re able to provide their own intermissions by hitting the pause button.

When he’s not traipsing across Europe to dutifully film locations where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart worked, played and lived, Grabsky offers testimonials from a diverse array of musicians (many of whom also perform), historians and musicologists.

Occasionally, the interviewees are amusing and/or insightful. Violinist Julian Rachlin matter-of-factly notes that Mozart “must have been crazy to some extent.” But conductor Jonathan Miller begs to differ, asserting that, as was the case with Shakespeare, Mozart’s prodigiousness “seems to be associated with a perfectly normal psychological existence.” Music historian Imogen Cooper marvels at the “cheeky response” of piano to orchestra during the opening strains of Piano Concerto No. 9 in E Flat.

Long before the midway point, however, the sheer volume of verbiage becomes oppressive and repetitive. As experts debate whether Mozart intended this sonata as a tribute to his late mother or that opera as an attack on his demanding father, doc resembles nothing so much as a routine Biography Channel profile with a really terrific score. Even so, some auds may be more than willing to accept the didacticism in exchange for so many sterling performances of that music.

It’s worth noting that much of “In Search of Mozart” seems designed to debunk “Amadeus,” Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play (later an Oscar-winning film). Miller argues that Mozart was no more excessive in his scatological humor than many of his contemporaries. And the closing credits emphasize: “He was not poisoned. Nor was he a pauper when he died.” So there.

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In Search of Mozart

Production: A Direct Cinema release of a Seventh Art Prods. production. Produced, directed, written by Phil Grabsky.

Crew: Camera (color), Grabsky; editor, Phil Reynolds; sound, Simon Farmer, Grabsky; associate producer, Nicky Thomas. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, June 28, 2007. Running time: 128 MIN.

With: With: Julian Rachlin, Jonathan Miller, Imogen Cooper
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson.

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