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 Grabskys 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 citys leading composer and his subsequent personal troubles and declining production. Whats interesting about the film is not so much its re-creation of the mans life or its presentation of his characterwhich hew closely to romantic notions of the stubborn, increasingly erratic geniusbut its consideration of just how revolutionary his body of music was compared to that of his predecessors. The films 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 Symphonys seemingly incongruous ending. Only the angry outburst of one expert, who uses Beethovens genius to deride contemporary art and video clips as comparative trash, imparts a sour elitist whiff to the proceedings.
Dec. 18-23, 6:30 & 9 p.m.; Dec. 19-20, 3 p.m., 2009