Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The man should remain obscure

Cézanne: Portraits of a Life (Exhibition on Screen / DVD)

In a letter to Joachim Gasquet from 1896, the painter Cézanne expounded a manifesto of the hidden author that set the tone for modern recluses from Greta Garbo to J. D. Salinger:
All my life I have worked to earn my living, but I thought one could paint well without attracting attention to one’s private life. Certainly an artist wishes to improve himself intellectually as much as possible, but the man should remain obscure. The pleasure must be found in the study (of the work).
Director Phil Grabsky takes advantage of the traveling exhibit Cézanne: Portraits of a Life (Washington's National Gallery, Paris's Musée D'Orsay and London's National Portrait Gallery), with its pictures of professional colleagues, friends and family members, and especially self-portraits, to push back against this dictum, all to excellent effect. The film has superb commentary by three countries' worth of experts, fascinating insights from the painter's grandson Philippe, and Grabsky's usual effective mix of locations (especially Le Jas de Bouffan in Aix, where Cézanne painted for many years, now empty and very, very sad) and high definition video of the paintings, filmed in his always un-hackneyed way.

Grabsky captures Cézanne
Like all great directors Phil Grabsky is a story-teller. There's one final piece to the story in this film, which I think might be Grabsky's best so far: the absolutely outstanding voice acting of Brian Cox. This fine actor fully inhabits Cézanne through his readings of the letters, from the excitement and frustration of his early years to the achingly sad final letters to his son Paul, just before his death. One doesn't expect this high level of tragedy from an art documentary, but that's what we get from these fine artists. Highly recommended for viewing in your local cinema. I'll link to the DVD when it's released (due June 15, 2018).

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