Monday, 12 October 2009



Flew in to LAX and just had time to drop my bags off at the hotel before heading off for a radio interview at KPFK. Thought it would take 10 minutes but it took 40 and $40 too. Just to get from West Hollywood to North Hollywood…crazy city. Good interview though – except it was a pre-record and might not go out until next week which frankly won’t help keep the film in the one cinema it is playing in LA. Still, the interviewer was extremely keen on the Afghan film I am working on and promised to really get behind that when we release it in 2011. The trick is keeping all these offers of help in store and not to forget them… Organisation, organisation, organisation – you can’t overstate how important it is. After a lovely lunch with an old mate from Brighton, I had a meeting with a top (and I mean top) manager to the stars. I felt like I was in Curb Your Enthusiasm (and if you don’t watch that series you are missing one of the great TV series – again, something the Americans do so, so well – The Wire. Sopranos, American Office, etc… I was just meeting this guy to say hi and leave him some DVDs of work. A friend had set it up and who knows…maybe one day, someone will talk to someone about someone else who wants to make a film about so-and-so and they’ll remember this English guy who passed through town with a film on Beethoven… Extremely pleasant guy that I met – when you think of the battles he must face dealing with top stars, top studios, top distributors, etc, I was impressed by his charm and attention. After that meeting – and with my feet still firmly on the ground – I hurried off to the cinema where Beethoven is premiering in LA tonight. Well, I had a little moment of feeling the loneliness of the long distance runner. The cinema was deathly quiet. Yes, the film’s name was up in lights outside and there was a poster or two but in a city where no-one walks and an hour before the cinema opens, there was literally no-one around. I had no sense if anyone would come to the first 5pm screening. We’d had a good review though in the LA Times:

An ode to joy for Beethoven fans

With "In Search of Beethoven," documentarian Phil Grabsky has created a splendid work that will be a revelation to the uninitiated and a joy to music lovers. As with his previous "In Search of Mozart," Grabsky has gathered an array of major musicians and scholars to explore the dynamic relationship between Beethoven's life and art. Excerpts of key Beethoven works are performed by various European orchestras, punctuating the narrative of the composer's tumultuous life, which was expressed so boldly and passionately in his music.

Described as being a "rude, forthright, impatient" young man, Beethoven soon concluded that he could be better than reigning composers Mozart, whom he may or may not have met, and Haydn, who became a mentor. Beethoven enjoyed acclaim and even financial security. But by age 30, he had begun to lose his hearing, which would eventually become total. He fought back suicidal despair, crediting his urge to compose for saving his life. His health would fail and he would sink into poverty, yet he continued to compose, no matter what.

Every source Grabsky interviews for his film enlarges both the viewer's appreciation of Beethoven's genius -- his soaring originality, complexity and variety -- and how his music so richly reveals his ideas, thoughts and state of mind at the time of its composition. The range and influence of his work were so great it is completely understandable why one of Grabsky's commentators proclaims, "Beethoven is the greatest composer who ever lived."

-- Kevin Thomas

Don’t come much better but how many people read the LA Times, how many want to go immediately that afternoon to see a film? Bizarrely, people have been saying that LA is not a great movie-going city. Someone even told me that 80% of an arthouse film’s income can sometimes come from New York alone. I instinctively would doubt such a statistic but it suggests something, doesn’t it? 4.30pm – still quiet. I’m nervous: believe me, it took a lot of work to get the film booked here, then $1500 on a small ad in the LA Times, endless expense in other forms of publicity, endless hours by my colleagues in Brighton, and of course the time, effort and expense for me to get here. And, what?, no-one turns up… Horrible. 4.45…no-one. I want to walk off. I’m starting to look forward to Vancouver on Monday where I know I’ll have a large crowd. 4.46..someone arrives. Then an elderly couple…I listen eagerly as they say ‘2 tickets for Beethoven’, then 2 more, 1 more, 2 more, 4 more…We reach 10..ok, it won’t be empty. 15…not a disaster. 20..not too bad..and eventually 30 people. No avalanche, nothing to shake the arthouse world but it’s OK. The Q&A goes well and I really go on the offensive and push hard that people tell their friends. I really could enter politics after all this one-man hustling from the front. If I pushed any hard, I could have them singing and swaying and chanting ‘Ludwig! Ludwig!’…but that might be going a little far! I do love these Q&As though – and I really don’t mind answering the same questions and so forth – such lovely people – and who can be bored meeting, albeit briefly, nice people who are enthusiastic for the same things as you. I finish the Q&A just as the second sitting arrives…5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 – I know it doesn’t read as being too many but it still means a pretty consistent flow of people in..35, 40.. Well, it’s a 250-seater and we reach 50 people. 20% - doesn’t look great, I know but in a city with hundreds of attractions, a Friday night, a cinema not near any freeways so pretty much only attracting the Beverly Hills inhabitants, I’m not ashamed of 50. I would like to crack 100 so we haven’t managed that but let’s see how we do tomorrow. My voice is really rough by the time I do the last Q&A and I’m ready for bed. Then the last person to ask me questions outside the screen turns out to be a journalist who’d like to interview me there and then. I warm to her immediately – she likes to write considered, intelligent criticism of arthouse films (and there isn’t enough of that) so I agree to get a coffee with her, despite it being midnight. We struggle to find a coffee bar or deli where there’s parking but eventually at half past 12 in the morning, I find myself drinking tea and honey (to save my voice) sharing some cheesecake and pronouncing about the difficulties of making documentary films… While we record this interview to tape, all around us are people having a night out – no-one bats an eye at us though. It’s probably entirely normal for LA. Like earlier in the day, you wouldn’t believe how many guys were reading scripts while drinking their coffee at Starbucks – I wondered if it was a set-up for a TV show…. I’m bushed…that’s 23 hours and I promised my wife only today that I’d get enough sleep. I cut the interview short and go back to the hotel. I turn the TV on but I don’t know why; I’m asleep in minutes.


Wow, Day 10 – one quarter through my 40 day trip… Early ride out to Cleveland airport (it’s way too far to drive to Kansas) and a quick flight into Kansas City. I am met by an expert in the world of music – a guy called John Tibbetts. He has broadcast and written on many of the same musicians that are in the film and it’s nice to have an hour in the car and then a spot of lunch to talk to him. We are met at lunch by the man who runs the arthouse cinema in Kansas and we bemoan the difficulties in getting folk to see films such as mine but more to the point all those wonderful arthouse movies – which, let’s not beat about the bush, are worth a whole lot more than the mainstream run-of-the-mill output that makes up so much of the chains’ product. Jerry, the manager of the cinema, has been fighting this battle for 20-odd years and is clearly such an important element of Kansas City culture – I just hope they appreciate him. Anyway, after lunch I dashed to his cinema to see a Jane Campion film about Keats but I didn’t last the course (well, not all arthouse films keep me gripped!) and I returned to my hotel to catch up. Jerry wasn’t sure how we’d do for numbers but it was pretty well attended and the Q&A went well. He’s showing Beethoven for one week and Mozart for another so hopefully word-of-mouth will keep numbers steady. Good reviews in the local press and a couple of positive radio interviews is about as much as I could do – so, as always, it’s in the hands of luck, fate, and who knows what? Having spent all day emailing and just keeping on top of the needs of the tour I asked Jerry to give me a quick drive around downtown Kansas city. Another city that is very quiet at night – I guess they are so big, so stretched out, that people just don’t wander – they drive from spot to spot, park in the back, walk straight in. I really enjoyed talking to Jerry – he is one of a breed of Americans that sometimes don’t get seen much on TV abroad – we see the brash, the aggressive side more often – clips of Fox News, or the Congressman from so-and-so demanding a pre-emptive strike against Iran or Syria. But Jerry also represents a huge number of Americans who are smart, funny, articulate, extremely hospitable and just downright nice. So, a quick one-day trip to his city but I thoroughly enjoyed it –and I’d never seen the Missouri River before either….


After the excitement of last night, a new day and back to earth…
Radio interview with Kansas
Phone calls
Then a radio interview in downtown studio Cleveland. I was interviewed by a wonderful lady by the name of Dee Perry. What a voice! Check her out on-line on WCPN. We had a nice 20 minute chat and luckily I really do not find it hard to be enthusiastic about Beethoven or the film. These radio stations – especially as the print media is in such decline and financial trouble – are absolutely essential. And as I said yesterday it’s folks like these who should be top of every government officials’ budget list. I am not going to write a long essay on this but those kids beating each other up at school and the struggles of people in the cultural spheres – they are connected. It all starts at home and at school. Those kids in France, Germany, Holland who find it normal to learn an instrument, go to concerts, go to the theatre – they, with a rare exception, are not holding up drug stores with sawn-off shotguns. OK, speech over but in the one local newspaper store I went into there were more gun magazines than cultural ones.
After the radio show, John and I hurried off to the first screening. He has never ever scheduled a film at 2pm but did so as I was here. He was worried no one would show- but in fact there was an acceptable 23 people. One of whom had just caught the radio show and rushed across town. The cinema, by the way, is in the university district and pretty much somewhere to drive to. After I had done my introduction I went back to the hotel and finally got the Skype working and spent a lovely 90’ chatting to my family on the webcam. My idea is to have remote dinner with them on Saturday: we all eat in front of the camera and chat as if it were a normal dinner. Weird & wonderful…what a world.
Nice Q&A after the film though I can tell I’m losing my voice. Quick intro for next one then back to hotel. Watched another documentary called The End of the Line. I know some of the people involved and had missed it when it had its one day multi cinema screening in the UK. It’s a powerful film which essentially makes a strong case for the disaster we are committing to the seas and the fish within. They had rather ‘over-scored’ it by which I mean the orchestral score was very emotional and really wasn’t needed. The facts were strong enough; I didn’t need the music to tell me how to feel. That apart, a powerful film that should be seen and acted upon. Indeed, all credit to the film-makers: it had a real impact in the UK on its release and shows the power of a film backed up with enormous commitment and sheer hard work. Various outlets and restaurants have, it seems, already changed their policy on which fish they buy and serve. Great: TV & films are such powerful media and should be used for the common good. Oops, watch out..stop myself before another rant begins…
My second screening of the day went well too. 40 or 50 people (which doesn’t sound much – and indeed could have been more) but on a wet day wasn’t too shabby. And they were very receptive and the Q&A went well. One gentleman I talked to after the show is writing a book that shows Beethoven (and Haydn too) had black fathers… I do like to engage with folk in the audience but I had to ask what evidence could he possibly have to back this up: apparently Malcolm X had mentioned it in a speech in 1963. Well, TV is always asking me what’s new to say about Beethoven so that would be new….
Feeling pretty weary now; hotel room service was shut and so dinner was (a pretty decent) chicken and fruit salad from a nearby coffee shop. Watched Operation Filmmaker by Nina Davenport. One of those docs that you hear about –and all credit to her for that. I certainly could see she had put the effort & time & money in to get the material – the hard-to-capture actuality of a story. Those real moments. Worth checking out.
Despite best efforts, couldn’t clear in-box of emails to under 30…(and don’t even ask about my 'Pending' box and ‘To Read’ box)… Couldn’t sleep – perhaps too much coffee during the day..1am, 2am – and I have to be up at 6 to catch a plane…


First of all, a message to a good friend of mine, Allan in France. He’s a great guy and a big fan of Beethoven and I wish him a speedy recovery. Like Beethoven, Allan will work his fingers to the bone whether he feels well or not. It’s such a burden to be ill; I think all of us who, today, feel hearty and healthy should thank our lucky stars and make the best of it. Anyway, Allan, it is pouring with rain here in Cleveland – the coffee is awful and the pastries worse. I wish I was down at the La Bascule with you having my cafĂ© & croissant… See you soon I hope.
Yes, it is really very wet here and I am definitely stuck on the computer in my room. I can’t go out anyway as I’m waiting for FedEx to come and take some tapes that have to go to LA. This is a much nicer hotel than the one in New York and half the price. Very comfortable room. The front desk is a bit funny though. They answer the phone as follows: ‘Expect the Unexpected. This is the [X] Hotel. This is Melanie. How may I help you or direct your call this morning’ by which time any caller has forgotten why they are calling. And what on earth does ‘Expect the unexpected’ mean? I asked one of the women at the desk and then immediately realised she didn’t know as it would be unexpected… I guess I expected drinkable coffee, fruit with taste, oatmeal that was warm, orange juice that was fresh and eggs that were real…and I received the unexpected by getting none of those. Still, mustn’t grumble, eh? Had so much to do today that it made no difference that it was a grey as slate and pouring with rain. I was shooting off emails like an English archer shooting arrows at Agincourt. Late afternoon, I drove the car across town to the Avis car lot ($280 for 2 days hire including the different city drop-off – I have to sell 100 tickets to cover that). There I was met by John from the Museum of Art / Cinemateque. He and people like him are like gold-dust. They work against all sorts of odds to deliver a rich, valuable programme of films including classics and new discoveries. These guys are underpaid and undervalued – and frankly it shows in our society. No offence bankers but it’s guys like John who deserve the bonuses… It’s so obvious to me that culture is absolutely essential to society – it’s a bedrock of all that is decent and good – and yet I know no cultural sphere that doesn’t struggle for funds. Think of the financial waste in local government and then think of how much someone like John deserves $20,000 here or $30,000 there so at least he could have an assistant and wouldn’t have to do everything from picking the films, doing the deals, pushing the press, taxi-ing filmmakers from the airport, turning on the projector, introducing the guests, etc, etc. I really enjoyed my time with him and couldn’t stop myself from borrowing 5 documentaries that I watched in my room. Of those, one called ‘Mother Courage’ (with Meryl Streep) was excellent. But the highlight of the day was a trip not to the cinema but to the theatre… By the wildest, craziest, whackiest chance there was a play at the nearby Cleveland Playhouse called ‘Beethoven, as I knew him’. Now on a recent trip to Chicago I had been told about this wonderful actor, writer, concert pianist called Hershey Felder who had done one-man shows about Gershwin and also Chopin and was about to do Beethoven. Actually I’m not sure if I was told he was doing Beethoven…anyway, I made a mental note but never thought to try and contact him. Lo and behold, he is here and my friend in Chicago effected an introduction. The wonders of Facebook: I swear that 10 minutes after I had sent a message to the guy in Chicago I receive an email from Hershey which says he absolutely, I mean ABSOLUTELY loved In Search of Mozart (which he bought at Mozart’s house in Vienna) and had watched it 5 or 6 times and would love for me to come to the show and meet him afterwards. How great! So that’s what I did. The show, I am pleased to say, was fabulous! Do see it if you ever get the chance or buy the DVD which might well be out next year. Essentially the theatrical equivalent of my film – extracts of letters and pieces of music (which Hershey plays on a Steinway and plays very well). I’m obviously a bit sniffy about other work on Beethoven – I just don’t rate very highly anything I have watched – but this was great. Then, to my surprise and slight embarrassment, at the end of the play, during a great question and answer that Hershey does with the audience, he showered me with praise and told everyone to go see my film playing tomorrow! Afterwards, we had a drink and all I’ll say is that if half of the suggestions Hershey put forward to help me with the Mozart and Beethoven films come to fruition….well, the trip may have been worth it for that alone. And you know what, sometimes you know someone is either a bit over-excited and suggesting things that actually they can’t secure or they are enjoying making themselves seem important by telling you what they can do for you – but I’m not a bad judge of character and I reckon Hershey was down-the-middle genuine. As a deeply creative soul himself, he really did seem to have been taken by the creativity of the my – and my team’s – films and I think – if time permits him – he really will help. Fabulous: I still can’t quite get over the serendipity of it all…


American breakfast coffee is awful.
Left my hotel and drove from 8am to 3pm to get to Cleveland. Some observations:
1 - the radio stations have NOT changed in 30 years: Sammy Hagar, Led Zepellin, Free, Bad Company, Van Halen, Bachman Turner Overdrive, yes, they are all there… Great: I loved it…except…
2 – yes, except, you can’t really listen to that music and crawl along the freeway. But cops everywhere (not that I advocate speeding but 65MPH?? Please). Worse are those drivers that send me mad who sit in the overtaking lane doing 55 when the inside lanes are empty. Who taught these people to drive – don’t they have any idea at all?
3 – Pennsylvania is gorgeous
4 – I drove off the freeway to stop at random in a town. I was shocked. A main street that had barely changed since 1880. That in itself isn’t the end of the world but so many shops boarded up. Others selling second hand stuff or just rubbish. I saw one delivery and it was piles of boxes freshly in from China (and that’s part of the problem). I stopped to look at one nice old building and the owner within two minutes asked me if I wanted to buy it. This is indeed the famous ‘Main Street not Wall Street’ that Obama promised to help. We’ll see – but compared to practically any town or village that you might stop into in France and my word they are worlds apart. There is so much to love about the USA but the problems they have are huge. Still, at least lunch was only $5.
Arrived at my hotel in Cleveland – in the very pleasant university district and decide to walk to Downtown and the Lake (Erie). Oops, it was 7 miles and took my one and a half hours and I swear I passed only two (2!) people on the sidewalk the whole time… What is that all about? Downtown was very quiet but interesting. I caught a taxi back and worked till 2am (with a background of some great classic concerts on VH1) when I was hoping to ring the kids at home but no-one answered and then I was simply too tired.


Worked all morning on emails in my hotel – with a brief hurried rush to buy some oatmeal (again) from Starbucks…
Went down to the cinema at for the 1pm screening – pretty good crowd. I know I should make more of New York but I just have so much to do (and it’s raining) so I carry on with emails until the first Q&A at 3.20. I really should remember to introduce the films too because, despite posters everywhere saying there will be Q&As, people always seem surprised. Anyway, the crowd were very energetic for a Sunday midday so that was good. I collected a few emails, handed out some flyers, and saw the 3.45 lot going in. Again, pretty busy. Then I headed off for a really nice two hours with three very fine friends from New York. It was actually quite a relief to be talking about something other than Beethoven… Headed back for the 6pm Q&A and then decided to have a bit of exercise so made a run for the Golf Range at Chelsea Piers. When I got there, I choose to do a simulator which I haven’t done before. Pretty amazing machine – you hit an actual ball that crosses two lines and then hits a toughened screen. So the speed is measured by the time taken to cross those lines and the direction is marked by where you hit the screen…. To be honest, it doesn’t match a proper game at all but it was OK. But even that was interrupted by a phone-in radio interview I did. I left it a bit late and literally had to jog back to the cinema so the Q&A was conducted by a very sweaty Brit… Again a terribly nice and enthusiastic audience, all promising to spread the word. We’ll see. I then had to dash off to Avis to pick up a hire car, return to the hotel for my bags and head through the Lincoln Tunnel and towards the 1-80 and Cleveland. I surprised myself by not feeling tired but I had chosen to drive partly to see the country so not much point driving in the dark. Stopped at a motel: dinner was Salsa dip, Carrots and an Orange & grapefruit juice…it was the only stuff in a nearby garage that looked like it was less than a million calories a bite… Watched a bit of ladies golf and feel asleep….


An absolutely mad day of Q&As and running here and there. The audiences were good and there were four (even the midnight one) lively and positive discussions after each film. Had some more reviews come in too: this one was very erudite:

In Search of Beethoven
by Matthew Nestel
posted September 25, 2009 8:30 AM

A valentine to the rock star of classical music

he straight story can be told in many octaves. Many minds, literati and artisan, chime in on music’s titan among titans. Composers, conductors, concert musicians, and historians deliver intimate interpretations of a genius whose muted mortality was no match for his talent—a talent he himself characterized as “heaven’s most precious gift.” In Search of Beethoven is a visual biography that employs scores of live performances reimagining the master’s infinite range—from raging to ethereal. The film, like the Flemish artist’s vast oeuvre, aims to strike an apotheosis by chronologically reciting Ludwig van Beethoven’s remarkable flight and plight. The clever movements should entreat a cultured base, like those who still read daily broadsheets and listen to classical records. The MP3 crowd won’t break their Urban Outfitters shopping spree for this affair but may catch glimpses once it jumps from big screen to small.

Afflicted with many physical ailments, Beethoven, the classical rock star who followed Mozart and his teacher Haydn’s footsteps to Vienna, was riddled with financial and female woes. He never married despite what appear to be many crushes, his purse was only moderately filled because manuscript royalties were sold as one-offs and he couldn’t tour because he was sick so often.

Despite his reputation as a harsh hermit, the letters he penned reveal a wounded heart, and his piano concertos and string quartets exude unadulterated beauty, grace and fragility. These pieces are treated like scriptures for the musicians and aficionados dedicating their lives to cracking them. Concert pianist Emanuel Ax admits some of the virtuosic measure are impossible to play and says Beethoven “was less concerned with human beings in the flesh and more concerned with humanity as an ideal.” It was with this that his work lasted longer than the so-called masters of the Baroque period before him. Roger Norrington, a conductor, believes that Beethoven was thinking on a grander stage when comparing him to Mozart. “Mozart was writing for Saturday. Beethoven was beginning to write for eternity. That was one of the conversations he had with his Creator. He wanted to be a great composer, I think.”

The opuses are performed in rich and buttery manners and played as we see paintings, illustrations and composites of the epoch. The narration is quite unobtrusive and touches on elements succinctly, thus letting the thinkers, doers and instruments carry the doc’s tune. Letters are orally recited and in the message you gather that Beethoven was a wounded soul but also determined to make his mark with impunity. To one muse named Josephine he wrote: “You have conquered me. I love you as clearly as you do not love me.” He would write a sonata in her honor (as he did with many women) when smitten. At other times he was wallowing in the depths of despair. “I have dragged on this miserable existence.” But there’s also some sardonic wit from the key master when recounting tension with the help: “My servant has been quite difficult since I threw those books at her head.”

The film permits Beethoven’s story to unfold without too much tinkering. Any stylizing or seasoning would ruin it. And director Phil Grabsky is well aware of this, having made a sister film about Mozart before. The intention, one must believe, is to go deeper into the bowels and cerebellum of this creator who fought deafness and so many other maladies both physical and spiritual, but managed to leave the world an unrivaled legacy. Beethoven’s canon is an eternally living, breathing organism charming and wounding billions and billions in just a couple of strokes.

I had to post the whole thing because it’s pretty impressive – I hadn’t realised I was going deep into the bowels and cerebellum of Beethoven – I think I best go wash.

Oh, I managed to get a massage today. The masseuse walked all over my back – that was a first and my word I thought I’d had deep tissue massage before (even a Turkish guy in an Istanbul Hammam) but this was so deep she was massaging back and front at the same time… She said my muscles were so tight I needed to come back soon. I nodded politely as I stumbled back onto the Manhattan streets…

Walked home in the rain at 1am….watching all the revellers…maybe feeling a bit sorry for myself…

DAY 4: Friday 25th September

It must be the air conditioning (which is a nightmare in hotels like this) but I am awake at 5.20am. Decide to email for an hour than try sleeping again. Colleagues are shooting Tim Marlow on the Turner Exhibition in a few days and I have a few notes to send them. SkyArts saved that show when Channel Five bailed out of the arts and I am so pleased they did – they are such nice and also valuable shows. Why is it so hard to find space on UK TV for 24 minutes about, in this case, one of Britain’s greatest ever artists. If I wanted to make 100 hours entitled ‘Pets Falling Over’ I’d be commissioned in a shot – now what does that say about us? So all credit to SkyArts – I know it’s all about selling set-top boxes but if the most commercial channel there is sees there is an audience why don’t the terrestrials? Anyways, that’s how it is,

8am and I’m at the Printing & Copying store Kinkos picking up 5000 flyers that I spent half of yesterday designing and ordering. I have decided that audiences at Cinema Village are simply not good enough. We have had across-the-board excellent reviews but have people seen them? And it is my belief that you need to hit peoples’ consciousness five or six times before it sinks in…so 5000 flyers in two heavy boxes.

At 9.30 outside the Lincoln centre, the two guys I have hired from the Cinema and I start handing our flyers to passers-by and also folk going in to an early morning Brahms concert. Amazingly everyone takes one as soon as we say the magic word ‘Beethoven’…you can see that they would otherwise have walked by. I feel like Mozart and Beethoven actually – having to employ people to hand out flyers for my ‘concerts’….Nothing’s changed really has it in 20 years. The trouble with New York is that there is SO much choice, that getting anyone into your cinema is a task, an art, a miracle! I left the two guys at it (one of them had last handed out flyers for Barack Obama and he said it was nice to be handing out flyers and not be told it was a disgraceful hippy… or worse). I rushed off to the Marriot (where I left some flyers of course) to pick up a suitcase of another 150 Mozart DVDs that my brother had brought into the country last week on a business trip. I have to sell these things – like some itinerant vacuum cleaner salesmen or encyclopaedia salesmen of past – to pay for the trip first and hopefully even start to pay back our investment (which was sizeable) in the film itself. So there I am, blazing heat, wheeling my heavy suitcase of wares through Manhattan. I dropped them off at the hotel and then ran for a 12.30 with another top doc exec – trying to persuade them that my forthcoming film about ten years in the life of a boy in Afghanistan is one they should invest in. She wasn’t disinterested…we’ll see. To me, I cannot imagine a more important film.

After the meeting, I made my way by train to Long Island where I was having a special one-off screening a delightful cinema in Huntington. Cliff Eisen – one of the leading authorities on Mozart and Beethoven – lives close by so we were co-appearing as guests for an after-film Q&A. The film was very well attended and everyone really seemed to enjoy it. It was nice to see a packed cinema after the quarter-full screen at Cinema Village. But also nice to meet so many nice people (and so many musicians) who were simply delighted to see the film. They were all made SVP (Senior Vice President – everyone in business in the US is a SVP) of verbal distribution. Most, when I told them that, simply thought I was strange…and looked at me as though I was speaking Chinese. But anyway a very pleasant night – excellent to spend time with Cliff and his wife Katy – and despite the 1am train ride back to Manhattan and then having to walk my way through the cold night, filled with revellers and police cars screaming around, it was thoroughly worth it. Couldn’t sleep at first – think I drifted off about 2.30.

DAY 3 – Thursday 24th September

I’d hoped to sleep in but bang on 6am I wake. Can’t tell from looking out of my box window if it’s day or night. Doing emails by 6.01am… UK one way, Australia the other…Truly a global operation! OK, ok, no bread but surely I’m allowed banana pancakes… Go out and it’s blazing hot already which is bad news as I have a day of pounding the pavements from meetings, screenings and also trying to see other documentaries in other cinemas… First of all, of course, I check for new reviews. Time Out & Village Voice are in the shops:

Time out:
“If we had to pick ten things that are great about humanity, there would probably be several Beethoven works amongst them.” Sparked by that appraisal from an unseen authority, documentarian Phil Grabsky launches into an investigation of the composer’s life, providing insights into an audacious talent who could either delight or baffle his contemporaries. Beethoven’s painful insecurities and petty squabbles are deftly balanced with generous musical examples. Honorifics like the opening quotation liberally punctuate the film, but so do frank, even irreverent observations from scholars and musicians. The results do justice to a complex genius whose impact can scarcely be overstated.—Steve Smith

Village Voice
In Search of Beethoven plays like a good, if necessarily condensed critical biography. Drawing from archival letters, interviews with contemporary musicians and historians, and a generous selection of live music, Phil Grabsky's film takes us through the life and work of its imposing subject, moving from Beethoven's days as the "piano virtuoso of Vienna" in the 1790s through his establishment as that city's leading composer and his subsequent personal troubles and declining production. What's interesting about the film is not so much its re-creation of the man's life or its presentation of his character—which hew closely to romantic notions of the stubborn, increasingly erratic genius—but its consideration of just how revolutionary his body of music was compared to that of his predecessors. The film's real resource is its impressive array of talking heads, their intimate familiarity with the music, and their ability to impart graspable insight, as when two subjects offer different readings of the Ninth Symphony's seemingly incongruous ending. Only the angry outburst of one expert, who uses Beethoven's genius to deride contemporary art and "video clips" as comparative trash, imparts a sour elitist whiff to the proceedings.

Then back to my hotel room to phone in a long interview with WBIA radio – that should help. It’s NY’s public radio station and I’ve found that radio is really important in attracting the classical music audience. I’ve done so many interviews about Mozart and Beethoven now but, because I love the subjects so much, I always feel – and thus sound – truly enthusiastic. Probably I also like sounding off too! After the interview, although I would have loved to walked around Manhattan, I simply had no time to do anything but answer emails. But around midday I headed off north to a meeting at the Museum of Modern Art. I have both filmed there in the past and also shown films there. It’s an extraordinary place and to have anything to do with it is a bit of an honour really. I also love the fact it is always so busy – again illustrating that the audience is there for art and most TV channels just don’t get it. After a good meeting – though my cold is really getting on my nerves; I cannot shift it – I scampered off to a friend’s apartment: she had kindly allowed us to use it as an address to send 300 DVDs….I just about had time to leave them at the hotel before having to walk downtown to the Cinema Village for the first Question and Answer session of the day. Today is really the day a film normally opens and when some of our press said we were opening so I’m keen to see how we do today. Bums on seats…

1.45am..well, four Q&As later…I’m Phil Grabsky and this is my film… I have to say it went extremely well. The numbers were average – 20, 30 people per screening (although the other 2 films in the cinema had 2 or 3 people only) but those 20 or 30 absolutely loved the film and were very animated about it and very enthusiastic to go tell their friends. Some people were genuinely moved; others stunned by so much music from so many top musicians. Many were highly critical that you wouldn’t see something like this on US television. Questions tended to be on the hows and wherefores of making something like this. Not one comment about me missing something out. And no comments about the Immortal Beloved which often gets people very heated. Not that it matters really who she was. A really busy day as I managed to squeeze in a very important meeting with a Commissioning Editor of documentaries of a leading channel, and also managed to see Michael Moore’s latest film: Capitalism: A Love Story. Now, despite the fact that on Rotten Tomatoes my film is scoring 92% (!) and his only 70%, I do consider him a deity of the film-making world. No documentary film-maker can deny how significant he has been to opening up the cinemas to docs. Nor do I for a moment deny that it is so wonderful to have an alternate voice poking at the otherwise hidden wounds of modern society…but, frankly, as a film, this one was a bit weak. It makes some shocking ‘needs to be said’ points about Wall Street but it’s too polemical, too ham-fisted at times, to score points with anyone but an already converted audience. That said, I hope it is watched by millions of people around the world. OK…almost 2am and I’m calling time on today.


Can't sleep. Could be nerves - more likely this crummy hotel where the window opens onto a dark narrow infinitely long shaft of some sort and the room is so small I can just about get past the bed to the bathroom or the front door...And �200/night - breakfast is extra! Anyway, allows me to crack on with my emails. Sometimes that is like trying to hold back the tide by lying flat on the's impossible! Went for a 5 mile run at dawn along a new jog & cycle track along the Hudson River. Not as nice as Chicago�s shoreside but good enough... and better than trying to jog in Manhattan with that grid system....
Met Marjorie my NY publicity agent... She is super and knows her stuff. Tells me this is one of the worst weeks to open : there are 30 films out this week including the Almighty Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (to whom all documentary filmmakers owe an enormous debt) with his new film. She says it is a testimony to the Beethoven film that we have been getting such good press - indeed reviews at all - in such a packed marketplace. And there is a free screening in Central Park tonight of a film about US National parks...and the UN are in town blocking everywhere....and so on and so on. I decide to walk 50 blocks north to see the press people at the Neue Gallerie and the Metropolitan Gallery of Art. We filmed there last year for an interview show (on SkyArts) called Marlow Meets and I want to be sure they got the DVDs we sent them. The city is packed as always - how do I get these folk to the screenings??? The police are everywhere blocking streets for the fleets and fleets of fancy cars for the UN meeting - and right now clearly it's time for lunch as fancy restaurants are being cordoned off. All seems a little perverse... Manage to get to Met where, guess what, it's been shut for the day to allow for visiting dignitaries to have special tours - I guess they don't want the hoi polloi in there...Gosh, no wonder these leader of the world lose touch....Anyway checked that the press departments at the Met and Neue Gallerie had received their DVD of Marlow Meets and then caught a cab down to the cinema. Not alone - an elderly lady from Washington was at the Neue Gallerie upset as that was closed too (in their case they close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). 'Want to see a great film? ' 'Sure...' So I kidnapped her....well, escorted her, downtown. At least there would be one person at the 3.45 screening...

'I'm Phil Grabsky, I directed this film, does anyone have any questions' - four times I did that today - after the 1pm, 3.45, 6.30 and 9.30pm performances. It's now 1.30am and so what the result? Not great in terms of numbers - too many empty seats but at least those that were there were VERY enthusiastic and promised to tell friends and colleagues. We can't afford the millions Moore spends on TV ads and posters so we can only rely on word-of-mouth, radio and press reviews and support and a dose of good luck. The Cinema Village is lovely - the projection is excellent - they are offering a run if we get bums on seats so let's see. Bed by 1.30am

The Wilderness World Tour... well, it is 40 days after all. I haven't been away from home for so long since the kids were born and so it�s all a bit a risk. An expensive, extremely time-consuming and exhausting risk - but it's no good making films if you don't get out there and sell them, get them seen. So USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong here I come. Never again will I underestimate how much effort goes into a rock tour. Combining cinemas across three continents and sorting out the travel, accommodation, press and who knows what else has taken a scorching amount of time. But here we are: it's Day 1, I'm packed and on the way to Gatwick airport near my home in Sussex. On suitcase is full of DVDs that I certainly hope to sell en route...and maybe fill with some new shirts as I haven't had time to shop for ages (and no doubt it shows!). But 40 days....the kids seem to grow even if I am away for a week... Well, as it is 40 days, I am going to try and abstain from something: and I have decided on two foods I'm quite fond of... bread & alcohol. I had a check-up yesterday and while the nurse said it's great I haven't put on more than a kilo in 9 years she thought maybe I could still lose one or two.... Oh well, at least I won't need to eat those dreadful BA sandwiches. (They do so much so well but the food still lets them down). Their in-flight entertainment, however, and I'd say their staff too, are second-to-none most of the time.

Caught up on some reading on the plane and before I knew it I was at JFK. Then in a taxi (bang! There goes $50) and at the hotel.

Evening in my room and first two reviews are in: the two keys ones actually and they are good!


'... jammed with prominent musicians and conductors, all striving to put across just how revolutionary Beethoven's works were. They don't just talk the usual documentary talk, they play the music to illustrate their points: expertise and passion combined... ...with an awfully high-class soundtrack'.


'beautifully lensed, intelligently crafted ...The musical performances -- ranging from the aching melancholy of "Moonlight Sonata" to the sublime transcendence of Symphony No. 9 -- are impeccable. Grabsky infuses his storytelling with a compelling sense of drama and elicits more interesting observations from a select group of musicians (many of whom perform), historians and musicologists. "In Search of Beethoven" affectingly deals with the composer's increasing deafness and romantic disappointments. (Royal Shakespeare Company vet David Dawson reads passages from Beethoven's letters.) Just as important, however, the pic also finds elements of rich humor in Beethoven's life and art'.

I walk down to the cinema where Beethoven is to premiere - no posters! First problem... Back to hotel and endless emails.

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