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Kozintsev's and Trauberg's (Grigori Kozintsev, 1905-1973 and Leonid Trauberg, 1902-1990) New Babylon (1929) is an example of the risks Shostakovich took when working on film scores, for, as the film fell out of favour with the authorities, so did its soundtrack composer. 'Films have meant nothing but trouble for me, beginning with the first one, New Babylon', Shostakovich wrote. He continued, 'I'm not talking about the so-called artistic side. That is another story, and a sad one, but my troubles on the political side began with New Babylon'.

Kozintsev's Belinsky (1950) -- a biopic of the nineteenth century literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, made with former collaborator Trauberg -- was not released until 1953 following the reshooting of various scenes as demanded by Stalin. Yet Shostakovich continued film work (with directors Lev Arnshtam, Fridrikh Ermler, Mikhail Chiaureli etc) till post-Stalin times, culminating with Kozinstev's classic Hamlet (1964) and King Lear (1971), his final production. Riley's account of Shostakovich's intriguing contribution to film is well worth seeking out. (Dmitri Shostakovich: A Life in Film, by John Riley, KINOfiles Filmmkers' Companion 3, London and New York: I B Tauris (2005), ISBN 1-85043-484-0, paperback.)

Conductor and Shostakovich composition student, Rudolf Barshai (born 1924) directs the LPO (in colour) at intervening points and these highly involving British DVD excerpts are more than the equal of Barshai's complete fifteen symphonies in his WDR (Cologne) Symphony Orchestra boxed set (2002) for Brilliant Classics. Shostakovich family scenes [watch and listen -- chapter 10, 48:04-49:54] are set to the andante of the 2nd piano concerto with Margaret Fingerhut, while elsewhere Palmer has included the searching 'passacaglia' from the 1st Violin Concerto with 1980 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition winner Yuzuko Horigome, further soundtrack from the Chilingirian String Quartet, and late Symphonies Nos 13 and 14 featuring John Shirley Quirk and Felicity Palmer.

'Ask me nothing any more - ask the music.' Ben Kingsley as Shostakovich. Screenshot © 1987 Isolde Films
'Ask me nothing any more - ask the music.' Ben Kingsley as Shostakovich. Screenshot © 1987 Isolde Films

Testimony is surpassingly powerful through its inspired marriage of music and image, its multisequential screenplay, a clear understanding of Shostakovich's works within the USSR context, and powerhouse acting -- here indeed is a landmark among 20th century cinema documents.

Copyright © 26 August 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


Testimony - The Story of Shostakovich

DC10010 DVD PAL 16:9 anamorphic Black and white Region 0 (worldwide) Stereo FIRST RELEASE 151' 1987 and 2006 Isolde Films, 2005 Digital Classics plc

Ben Kingsley, Dmitri Shostakovich; Terence Rigby, Stalin; Ronald Pickup, Tukhachevsky; John Shrapnel, Zhdanov; Sherry Baines, Nina Shostakovich; Magdalen Asquith, Galya Shostakovich; Mark Asquith, Maxim Shostakovich; Liza Goddard, The English Humanist; Peter Woodthorpe, Glazunov; Robert Stephens, Meyerhold; William Squire, Khatchaturian; Murray Melvin, The Film Editor; Robert Urquhart, The Journalist; Robert Reynolds, Brutus; Vernon Dobtcheff, Gargolovsky; Colin Hurst, Stalin's Secretary; Joyce Grundy, Stalin's Mother; Mark Thrippleton, Young Stalin; Christopher Bramwell, Vanya; Brook Williams, H G Wells; Marita Phillips, Madam Lupinskaya
David Rudkin, screenplay; The London Philharmonic Orchestra (leader David Nolan); Rudolf Barshai, conductor; The Golden Age Singers (chorus master Simon Preston); Nic Knowland, photography; Solomon Volkov, editor; Michael Kustow and Grahame Jennings, executive producers

Testimony - Tony Palmer's film about Shostakovich, from the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich (including extracts from Symphonies 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, Violin Concerto No 1, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Michelangelo Sonnets, Jazz Suites 1 and 2, Piano Concerto No 2, String Quartets 8 and 10)


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