Many in North America hold views of Mozart’s life that are strongly influenced by the smashing film Amadeus. Embarking upon his 128 minute, feature length documentary – In Search of Mozart, director Phil Grabsky soon discovered a man who was a far cry from the one many of us carry about in our minds. Grabsky’s work is quite simply a tour de force journey through Mozart’s life. Compiling around 70 of Mozart’s compositions, traveling to the prominent locations in his life, and interviewing musicians, singers, and conductors about their experiences with Mozart the man as felt through his music, Grabsky has single-handedly assembled what is quickly becoming a classic.
With little experience in classical music, opera, or even knowledge of Mozart and his work, Grabsky set out to track down the man through his personal correspondence, and the works that most closely correlate with pivotal events in his life. As a result, many ‘minor’ works are included, with many of Mozart’s best-known sound bites excluded – there is no “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” to be found here. What there is includes beautifully filmed, passionate musical performances, glimpses into the roads Mozart traveled, and a sharing of the man’s own words through his correspondence.
I found myself perpetually amazed by the beauty and quality of the work, which was filmed mainly by two cameras manned by Grabsky himself. At times an additional two cameras were rented, but Grabsky’s work is a wonderful showcase for simple, affordable filmmaking. The exception is the low-key half-hour director’s interview, which though fascinating – could have benefited greatly from an additional camera to avoid holding on Grabsky for such a long time through a single angle.
Like Mozart himself, the film has an international flavor. In his travels across Europe, Grabsky made no attempt to encourage his interviewees to converse in English, providing subtitles as needed. The DVD is also region free; in addition to English, it has subtitles available in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, befitting of a Dubrovnik International Film Festival Winner.
Casting aside all dramatic pretense, Grabsky’s Mozart is hard working, devoted to his family, and above all, feels deeply. No efforts are made to hide Mozart’s sporadic crude jests, but set into context it appears that such private correspondences between family members were common in his extended family, and do not denote a lack of culture on his part. These brief references, some saucy letters to his wife, and veiled references in letters to his father place the unrated documentary into the PG category. His penchant for cards and billiards is also touched upon, but without letting his fondness for the activities mar his character.
Grabsky set out to direct the documentary he would have wanted to watch before he embarked upon this project. I believe he’s met his goal of making an accessible, yet comprehensive documentary that touches upon the major character traits and defining events and relationships in Mozart’s life with a good amount of historical accuracy. I certainly won’t hesitate to recommend In Search of Mozart to those seeking a general overview of Mozart the man, as well as Mozart the music.