A documentary by Kerry Candaele. Rating unavailable.
Every kind of music has its Beatles, and central European classical and romantic forms had theirs in Ludwig van Beethoven, who transformed everything that came before into a kind of fervent futurism that still sounds fresh today.
It’s no stretch to say that the biggest B (apologies to Bach and Brahms) has long been associated with revolutionary movements. His Symphony No. 3, now known as the Eroica, was famously dedicated to Napoleon, until the French emperor went all Trumpalistic and old Ludwig hastily scratched out the dedication. Six symphonies later, the Ninth would be the by-then-deaf composer’s ultimate statement on universal brotherhood.
It’s been an aspirational soundtrack to democratic upheavals ever since. Vancouver-born, California-raised filmmaker Kerry Candaele previously produced docs on retail and wartime profiteering, plus the short that inspired A League of Their Own. For his feature-directing debut, he packs a lot into his 80 minutes, slightly longer than the work and appropriately divided into four movements. It’s bookended by Billy Bragg’s audacious revamp of the Friedrich Schiller poem anchoring the uplifting work.
Although some segment connections are tenuous, there are rewarding visits to China, Chile, and Germany, where we hear from witnesses involved in the Tiananmen Square uprising, resistance to Gen. Pinochet’s Kissinger-sponsored torture state, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, respectively—all of which involved public playing of the Ninth, and especially its “Ode to Joy” section and boisterous finale. A separate journey to Japan reveals an almost religious devotion to the piece, with annual December performances sometimes including choruses of 5,000 people or more.
The film rarely lets you contemplate the music without competition from strong images, and another five or so minutes could have offered background to the work itself. But like Beethoven’s, this Ninth leaves you wanting more.