In Search of Mozart

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Direct Cinema

NEW YORK -- More rewarding musically than cinematically, Phil Grabsky's exhaustive documentary chronicling the life and times of Mozart, made to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth, is more appropriate for the History Channel than theatrical release. Nonetheless, "In Search of Mozart" no doubt will secure a permanent niche among classical music buffs, with a long ancillary life to be expected. It is playing an exclusive theatrical engagement at New York's Cinema Village.

Most people's image of Mozart no doubt stems from the Oscar-winning film "Amadeus," the many historical inaccuracies of which this documentary takes great pains to point out.

Tracing the composer's life from his child-prodigy beginnings to his premature death -- not from poisoning -- at age 35, the film employs extensive excerpts from the composer's letters. It also features interviews with numerous music scholars, performers and figures like director Jonathan Miller, who provides an amusing explanation for Mozart's tendencies toward the scatological.

But what really gives this film its distinction are its musical excerpts from the composer's works, presented chronologically and performed by a gallery of classical music stars, including Lang Lang, Ian Bostridge, Renee Fleming, Magdalena Kozena, Janine Jansen and numerous renowned orchestras.

Featuring narration by British actress Juliet Stevenson, the film is somewhat drier than it needs to be and, running more than two hours, feels overextended. And the filmmaker often is at a loss to provide stimulating visuals to accompany the sublime music. Nonetheless, "In Search of Mozart" is a valuable cinematic history lesson for those unwilling to crack a book.
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