Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sunday 24th March - Spring Tour Day 27

A grey and cold morning in Boston – great! I can’t take all these sunny days giving folk the option of going to the beach when naturally they should be thinking about sitting in screenings of In Search of Haydn. Yesterday’s screenings were poorly attended and that is even more frustrating when those that were there were so enthusiastic. Again a reminder, though none is required, that it’s all about publicity. You have to be prepared to spend 20% of what you may earn through Box Office (and DVD sales) on making sure people know about the event. That said, the venue tried and we tried. Kristin – the very excellent manager – pushed as best she could but it didn’t really happen for us. It certainly doesn’t help where it’s a March day that gives you sunburn if you so much as poke your head out of the window. Still, I like the venue which is not a traditional cinema but the Museum of Fine Arts. If you go to Boston, you have to visit this lovely museum. It’s very fresh and has a brand spanking new wing. Actually, so far on my US trip, I’m having my own experiences and preconceptions challenged. In recent trips, I have found the US to be very tired in so many ways. Crummy airports, crummy hotels, crummy coffee. Well, blow me down with a feather but so far the airports (LA, San Fran, Boston) have been excellent, the airline (American) as good as any, the hotels I’ve been in have been good too. What remains true is the inability to make coffee, produce proper bacon, understand that bread should have a taste, and no I don’t want a 600 calorie muffin thanks… Going back to my jog, how lovely and modern Boston seems. I know it’s a passing view of downtown but still…. The only thing I didn’t like about my run this morning was that there I was jogging along listening to Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven and feeling pretty good with myself for getting out there so early when a bunch of male sportsmen ran past – maybe just a college basketball team – but they certainly made me regret all the times I’ve said yes to the 600 calorie muffins.

As I write this, the third of 5 screenings of Haydn is going on – and for the third time, it’s poorly attended. Shame. But I can look back to the previous two dates in LA and just outside San Francisco. Both were very well attended and the audiences very happy. There was an interesting development too: a bunch of them said I need to try crowd-funding for Chopin – essentially ask people to donate to help me make the film. Maybe $100 gets a name on the credits, $250 a signed DVD, $500 credit, DVD and invite to a screening with me – and $10,000 will get me cooking you dinner anywhere in the world! Might give it a go! It would be so great to be able to make one of these films without constantly getting on one knee to the broadcast high & mighty. I think people in the USA are genuinely shocked when they hear that few European and no US TV stations have any interest in these type of films…so they are now suggesting that they, the audience, fund (in small amounts) the films themselves. Interesting – wouldn’t that be nice…50 people who all donated $1000 once a year to let me make In Search of Chopin, then Bach…. Hmmm….any takers?

While you ponder that surely irresistible offer, let me comment on something I’ve seen so much of in only three days in the USA: no-one seems able to survive five minutes without talking into their phones…Barely has a plane touched down before people seem to be talking (loudly) to themselves. Then you realise they are making phone calls. ‘Hi – I’ve just touched down in Boston, how are you? How’s fluffy the cat? Tickle him for me. Is your rash getting better? Oh, I had delicious ravioli last night…’ etc…blah blah…etc. One of my pet projects is to make a film with film-maker David Bickerstaff called ‘Silence’. I’m now more determined than ever. My double screening in the beautiful San Francisco area (north of the Golden Gate bridge) allowed me some time to work but it is hard when around you is so noisy - I stick some Chopin on and that drowns everything out. I thought I’d have cleared my email in-boxes by now and finally finished some proposals but no matter how early into the morning I work, I can’t quite crawl up the rope to safety…I feel like I’m dangling over a long drop and if I ease up I’ll fall in to a deep dark pit of unanswered requests…. Some of the emails of course relate to the continued push of Haydn in Australia and New Zealand (and a few THE BOY MIR screenings coming up too). The first week’s Box Office was one-third Mozart’s and one-tenth’s Beethoven. Shame – again, not enough publicity (and the slightly diminished appeal of Haydn probably). Here’s a review we just got – it’s great but why two weeks into the run do we get it now? Especially as Sydney has already scaled back screenings…still, it will drive DVD sales I guess:

Seeking Haydn by: Evan Williams - The Australian - March 24, 2012
Phil Grabsky completes his fine trilogy of films about great classical composers. In Search of Haydn is the third in Phil Grabsky's fine trilogy of films about great classical composers, a worthy successor to In Search of Mozart and the somewhat less successful In Search of Beethoven.
It follows the established formula: interviews with musicians and extracts from letters (the narrator is Juliet Stevenson), mixed with deftly chosen musical excerpts, beautifully performed. And because the emphasis is more on the music than the man, the films are not strictly biographical. We are told little, for example, of Haydn's unhappy and childless marriage to Maria Anne Keller, and nothing of his earlier infatuation with Maria's younger sister Therese or his passionate affair in later life with a young Italian opera singer, Luigia Polzelli, all of which would have made for a juicy biopic in the old Hollywood tradition.But Haydn remains a no less vivid and forceful presence. The key figures in his musical career were Mozart, his revered friend and mentor, and his employer, Hungarian Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy, whom he served for 28 years as a kind of court composer and resident orchestral conductor. Grabsky is a master of lucid exposition and the essentials of Haydn's career are recounted in clear and orderly style, enlivened by fascinating details. I hadn't realised that the theme from one of his string quartets -- a form he virtually invented -- became Austria's first national anthem and later the tune for Deutschland Uber Alles. We are given a glimpse of the only surviving portrait of Haydn showing him without a wig and he looks nothing like the benign and fatherly Papa Haydn I remember from picture books and record covers. The musical excerpts are shot and edited with dazzling skill. Extreme close-ups of strings and flying fingers are intercut with anxious faces and furrowed brows. Haydn wrote no fewer than 104 symphonies before turning to vocal music in later life. We hear something of his oratorio The Creation, an acknowledged masterpiece, and as the film would have it, "a hymn to the perfectibility of man in a divinely ordered universe". It is said that Haydn thought highly of his operas until he heard Mozart's. Someone in the film observes that he needed a Da Ponte to provide him with a decent libretto occasionally. Who knows what operatic treasures he might have given us with Da Ponte at his side? In Search of Haydn is primarily a film for musicians. But all who love music will find it irresistible.  In Search of Haydn (G) - 4 stars

I have to say I’ve been watching loads of films over the last four weeks. I have dozens of the recent BAFTA submissions and few have been worth even two stars, never mind four. Gosh, some dreary, dreary stuff – or, and let me ruffle some feathers here, self-indulgent ponderous stuff like Melancholia. Last night I finally put in a film that had me interested from start to finish – and guess what? – It was a documentary. It’s called Knuckle and it’s about two warring traveller families in Ireland.

You’ll probably never get a chance to see it but if it ever pops up somewhere, give it a look. Certainly a lot more interesting than the drivel that seems to form the majority of Hollywood’s production. Well, I can hear that the film is ending and I need to go do my Question & Answer session. Probably be easier to all sit round a table in the café as there are only about 20 folk in. Mind you, even there was only one person in I’d still do the full Q&A. Then back to the hotel for supermarket sushi and a night transcribing Haydn interviews for a forthcoming book. One more day tomorrow then I’m having three days off – so talk to you in a week. I’d love to know where you blog-readers are so do email me on and let me know – and if you have any questions, fire away…

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