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British conductor Charles Hazelwood examines the life and work of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in a BBC Video production aired in 2007. Mixing documentary footage with acting pic offers a wealth of information casual viewers unfamiliar with the Russian genius and his music will find fascinating. Professional musicians and those with good knowledge of Russian history however will likely conclude that factual analysis isn't Hazelwood's forte.
Attempting to be both entertaining and informative at the same time Tchaikovsky is a film that created mixed emotions in me. Tiptoeing between explaining the major highs and lows in the life of arguably the greatest Russian composer ever while seeking to understand why Tchaikovsky's music is perceived differently in Russia and the West the film really is quite difficult to categorize, it is not a documentary yet it is not a classic period drama either. It is somewhat of a hybrid mimicking what American audiences have come to expect from Samantha Brown and her Passport-series on the Travel Channel fit into the profiled for British TV popular BBC plays.
On one hand Tchaikovsky runs as a charming docudrama where one man's legacy is effectively analyzed via excerpts of his most popular works (The Pathetique, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, etc). Filmed on location in St. Petersburg and Moscow the film slowly but surely evolves into an exploration of Russian culture and history as well.
On the other hand, highlighting tiny bits of Tchaikovsky's intimate life as well as his inability to cope with pain, the film quickly loses the authoritative tone the opening 15-20min. introduce. Slowly but surely Charles Hazelwood's analysis is replaced with a disappointingly weak string of scenes where actors are recreating the most turbulent moments of Tchaikovsky's life - the death of his lover, his disastrous short-lived marriage, his tragic death.
Not surprisingly this reviewer felt that the scattered interviews Charles Hazelwood conducts with students from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow are actually the most interesting and valuable part of this film. From ballet dancers to orchestral performers to singers everyone delivers highly emotional observations of what Tchaikovsky means to Russia, its history, its people. These comments bring much more clarity to the complex world of Tchaikovsky as they appeared less susceptible to the entertaining value I felt the BBC producers desired for this film.
Depending on how one approaches Tchaikovsky, as a serious documentary or period piece with strong entertainment value, one is likely to either embrace its flexible construction or fully dismiss its intent to be a credible study. I lean towards the latter. There is too much of what I refer to as westernizing here, an attempt to deconstruct uniquely Russian values and beliefs that only Russians can explain with ready for mass consumption but ultimately artificial analysis. As one of Charles Hazelwood's interviewees mentions Tchaikovsky's world is so complicated because it is not, it is simple, and noble, and beautiful, and tragic. And I don't believe that any of this "simplicity" is in any way conveyed here.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for Widescreen TVs Tchaikovsky reveals a heavy dose of combing. The transfer is interlaced and for the most part I could tell that it has been ported from a PAL master. The color scheme is above average, fairly well reproduced on this disc - blacks are convincing though they are far from being rich and deep. Edge-enhancement is generally tolerable though I was a bit irritated by it during a few selected scenes. On a positive side this is a very clean print where specs, dirt, or scratches are, as expected, nowhere to be seen.
How Does the DVD Sound?
An English DD track with optional English subtitles is what we have here. The quality of the audio is mostly very good. The dialog is extremely easy to follow while the music comes off the speakers in a spectacular fashion. I did not detect any disturbing cracks, pop-ups, or hissings.
The only extra bit here is a 1993 BBC documentary titled "Who Killed Tchaikovsky?" which sheds a great deal of light on the controversy surrounding the death of the Russian composer. The piece is structured in a similar to the main feature on this disc manner - a narrator attempts to explain the enigma while citing known facts and analyzing their significance.
Produced by BBC Video Tchaikovsky is likely to appeal to those who wish to be entertained not those who wish to be educated. The film is structured in a manner seeking to reach the casual viewer and not those who may be already familiar with the bulk of the info provided by British conductor Charles Hazelwood. With the above description in mind: RENT IT.