Note: I reviewed the SD-DVD version of this title last week. This review repeats non-format specific portions of that review.
Pay attention the next time you watch one of those great dance sequences from any of the better films to come out of the MGM Freed Unit during its heyday. Something very interesting is going on, at least from a camerawork perspective: absolutely nothing. Now that isn't a blanket statement, and of course there are notable exceptions, as when a camera might start in close and track back to reveal something, or conversely, crane shots that start wide and then swoop in to one or more principal dancers. But notice the simplicity of most of, say, the great Astaire routines--the camera is placed to reveal the entire body, and it just sits there as Fred does his thing. Dance really is something that needs to be seen in mid-shots for the most part, if you ask me. All of the fancy quick cutting that some people loved (and I have hunch purists like me hated) about newer musicals like Chicago defeats two purposes--it deprives the viewer of getting a feel for the "geography" of the dance, including showing all of the body or bodies in motion, and, more importantly, it robs the viewer of the feeling they are watching an uncut, one take performance.
I have no doubt the stellar ballet dancers involved in Mauro Bigonzetti's Carvaggio are moving through their paces unaided by multiple takes, so at least that qualm is off the table. But time and again as I watched what looks to be an interesting exploration in dance of the famed late 16th-early 17th century Italian painter, my efforts to get swept up in the flow of the piece were hampered by television director Andreas Morell, who evidently never met a quick cut he doesn't like. To be fair, we do get a fair number of establishing shots, at least now and then, but they are too often interspersed with absolutely meaningless, and actually distracting, close-ups of knees or elbows or even faces (do faces dance?). Don't even get me started on the overhead shots, which I assume must have come via some wrong headed attempt at an hommage to Busby Berkeley. I half expected the dancers to start forming kaleidoscope patterns.
This is an extremely athletic piece of choreography, with several very interesting pas de deux and even trois, all set to some very pleasing music by Bruno Moretti, much of it based on themes of Monteverdi. And the ensemble work is just as compelling, with bodies moving through areas of both classical ballet and something more akin to modern dance. There are passing references to Caravaggio the person and the painter throughout, but some may find those a bit on the tenuous side. While lighting designer Carlo Cerri obviously models his stage effects on Caravaggio's incredible balance of light and dark, unfortunately the pendulum swings too often toward the dark side of things, and there's no real effort to reproduce the incredible depth and detail in the lighting that is the hallmark of Caravaggio's oeuvre.
This evidently highly lauded performance by Berlin's Staatsballett and Staatskapelle probably was a more visceral and enjoyable experience in person, where individual audience members could take in the entire proscenium, or focus on whichever dancer caught their fancy. This television version is simply too haphazard and piecemeal to ever establish a rapport with the viewer--it's too much about editing and camera angles, and too little about dance.
Caravaggio's 1.78:1 OAR delivered via an AVC codec is a noticeable, if subtle, improvement over the SD-DVD. The bulk of this piece is bathed in a sort of amber light, giving everything a homogenous look that may grate after a while. Detail is fine, and contrast is excellent in this BD version, though, again, so much of this piece is performed in a darkened environment that some viewers may be asking "what's the point?". High-def becomes somewhat oxymoronic when you can't see what you're looking at.
Where this BD really provides the goods is in its beefed-up sonic choices. The uncompressed PCM 2.0 mix is just fine, but the DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix is astoundingly well rendered, with impeccable separation and reproduction of the orchestra, with the winds and strings especially having a full, lustrous sound. Subtitles (on the bonus feature only, obviously) are offered in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian.
Aside from an informative insert booklet, the BD also contains a making of featurette that offers interviews with Bigonzetti, Moretti and others involved in the production.
Sometimes less is more. Directors need to realize that dance especially needs a frame of reference. It's especially important in ballet, where seeing the whole body is part and parcel of the experience. Caravaggio may well have been a fascinating piece performed live; here it's virtually impossible to fathom. I'm slightly upgrading my DVD recommendation (Skip It) to Rent It, especially if you're a Monteverdi lover and want to hear some interesting takes on his themes splendidly recorded and reproduced on this BD.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet