Tony Palmer tells the story of Shostakovich -
'... a landmark among 20th century cinema documents.'
Few, if any, musical (DVD) biopics are the equal of those from English
director Tony Palmer -- with an arsenal of informed screenplay, virtuoso
camera-work, tightrope editing, life-affirming music and powerful
character acting his unforgettable, deeply unsettling two-and-a-half hour
summation of Shostakovich's adult life and work makes for
viewing of true gravitas, spectacular symbolism and haunting imagery.
David Rudkin's text, especially the musings of Shostakovich,
are heavy with irony; an irony born of the 74-year repressive Soviet
(USSR) experiment -- the light which failed.
The DVD opens with the 1975 State Funeral and Shostakovich's
'voice over' observations -- 'I am dead, how
else should I be smiling?' And of the assembled appartchiks --
'Look the ravens are here'
[watch and listen -- chapter 1, 0:40-1:44].
Shostakovich's state funeral in 1975. Screenshot © 1987 Isolde Films
Palmer sums the documentary up thus -- 'Testimony bears witness to an unconquerable human
spirit. The story of Dmitry Shostakovich, great Russian patriot and
musician, confronts us all by its heroism, its courage and its dignity.
The most decorated Soviet civilian ever, the only composer to appear on
the front cover of Time magazine, Shostakovich lived through
Stalin's terror while most, if not all, of his friends were
shot. His music is an eloquent and passionate description of his times;
but it is his life, with its drama and its bravery, which remains his
At the same time Stalin's crash programs of industrialisation and
collectivization in the 1930s, along with his ongoing campaigns of
political repression, are estimated to have cost the lives of millions
Copyright © 26 August 2007
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand