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Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices (1995)

Director: Werner Herzog
    see all cast/crew...
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Arthaus Musik
Genre: Music, Music Videos/Performance
Running Time: 60 min.
Languages: English, Italian, German
Subtitles: Spanish, French
    see additional details...

Synopsis
Werner Herzog's chilling story of sixteenth century composer Don Carol Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, whose life embraced sexual excess, ghastly murder and obsession. Filmed on location in Italy, the program explores both Gesualdo's musical legacy and the extraordinary influence his tormented life has continued to exert on those whose loves crossed his path. Contributors include Gerald Pace, director of The Gesualdo Consort, Alan Curtis, music director of the singing ensemble II Complesso Barocco and Professor Ludica of the Archeological Museum in Venosa.

GreenCine Member Reviews

Infamy and Genius by ahogue June 10, 2005 - 10:53 AM PDT
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7 out of 7 members found this review helpful
Sometime before 1996, Werner Herzog went to Italy with a small crew to film the old castle of Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, died 1613. While wandering through the palace, filming cracked walls and collapsed ceilings, the sound of bagpipes rings deafeningly through the ruin. Looking for the source, the crew come upon a man moving from room to room with his pipes, standing in corners as if looking for a particularly interesting acoustic effect. When the stunned crew ask the man what he's doing, he says he's plugging up the cracks in the walls with music so the evil spirit can't escape.

So begins Herzog's portrait of Don Carlo Gesualdo, widely considered the best composer of Renaissance madrigals, foreshadower, two centuries before his time, of Wagner, posthumous recipient, as Gesualdo fans like to remind people, of a "pilgrimage" by Stravinsky, murderer and lunatic.

The Greencine blurb makes this sound like a parade of lecturing academics. But Death for Five Voices is much more about the lore surrounding Gesualdo than the composer himself, and Herzog seems to deliberately contrast bland interviews with Gesualdo experts with interviews of local chefs, officials, doormen, and so on. Most of the experts have an annoying tendency to read from their notes as if lecturing on camera (something Herzog surely was careful to catch within his frame where most filmmakers would not), while the tales and superstitions still surrounding Gesualdo's castle seem to be more true in some sense than anything the experts have to say.

Cinematic portraiture is not new to Herzog, and no one familiar with some of his non-fiction films will be surprised at his ability to home in on the "ecstatic detail" in any situation, presenting whatever he finds seemingly unvarnished and in all its bizarre glory. This is especially impressive when the subject of the film has been dead for centuries. Immune to the clouding effect of superficial relevance, to Herzog anything that happens while touring the Prince's ruined castle or filming a consort in performance might be the way to a truer understanding (or at least a truer representation) of his subject.

The world Herzog lives in is one that produces its own symbolism and resonates with meaning. The best of his documentaries (and this is one of them) allows you to see the world as he does for an hour or two. What better reason to watch a film?




GreenCine Member Rating
12345678910

(Average 6.62)
21 Votes
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