Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kerry Candaele's doc FOLLOWING THE NINTH: In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony

Who doesn't like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, particularly that final movement, with its evergreen "Ode to Joy." Hell, even Adolf Hitler loved it, using it to inspire his Nazi hordes. You won't learn about Hitler's love for this musical classic via FOLLOWING THE NINTH: In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony, however. No: For that bit of information, you'll have to see a much stronger, provocative and chal-lenging documentary, The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. Coincidentally enough, both movies open in New York City this Friday. For those who simply want to revel in the beauty of the Beethoven, while being fed reams of feel-good information and first-person testaments about how the symphony -- as Kerry Candaele (shown below), writer/producer/director of Following the Ninth, explains upfront -- "200 years after its writing, continues to inspire struggles for freedom, survival and healing during dark times," here's the film for you!

Yes, Beethoven's Ninth is a great piece of music. And the Pinochet regime of torture, murders and disappearance in Chile was a horror; China's student protests and the Tiananmen Square massacre, was a one-off jolt backward in that country's extra-long march toward some kind of freedom; while the post-WWII division of Germany into East and West, together with the construction of the infamous Berlin Wall was yet another, major slice of repression from Communism's Soviet leaders. But the documentary that results from the awkward conjoining of all these (plus a trip to Japan where, unless I missed something, there is no struggle for freedom but instead merely a festival honoring Beethoven's Ninth that occurs each December) is simply silly and wrong-headed.

The fact that in Chile and China protestors (shown above and below) were inspired by the symphony is worth an anecdote (just as Slavoj Zizek uses the Hitler/Ninth Symphony connection in The Pervert's Guide to Ideology) rather than a whole movie. Mr. Candaele forces the issue then comes to a kind of feel-good conclusion that I found almost insulting to Chile's followers of Allende who became victims of the Pinochet regime, as well as to the Chinese students.

The individual stories we hear from Chilean progressives and some of the Chinese students today are interesting and moving  -- there's a particularly surprising bit of information about one of our narrators who shares a history with the President of the Chilean Republic -- and the young woman who tell her story about growing up in East Berlin and what happened to her family is also worth hearing. Any one of these country's/people's stories might well fill up a film. But the connections of all this to Beethoven's Ninth are tenuous indeed.

In addition, neither the constant cutting back and forth between countries and tales nor the unnecessary inclusion of some moments of would-be "dance" (above) serves the movie well. The documentary's division into four chapters to ape the movements of the music is another needless stretch. I am guessing that the filmmaker's great love for the symphony inspired him to make the movie. This is commendable, but the result is certainly not.

FOLLOWING THE NINTH: In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony opens this Friday, November 1, at the Quad Cinema here in New York.

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