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Gesualdo: Death For 5 Voices [DVD] 
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Un film che sviluppò un grande interesse intorno al compositore, alla particolare vicenda biografica e alla collocazione storicoculturale. Con l'intervento di Milva, non ci si aspetti un convenzionale documentario...
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In 1586 he married his first cousin - Donna Maria d'Avalos, the daughter of the Marquis of Pescara. She had a reputation for being the most beautiful woman in the whole region, and this being Italy it wasn't long before she was attracting suitors. She had an affair which lasted two years, which became common knowledge in the town - and when Gesualdo heard of the rumours he hatched a plan: he had wooden replicas made of the castle keys, and pretended to go out hunting. Returning deliberately early, he caught his wife in bed with her lover and killed them both, leaving their bodies in public view by way of revenge. He then committed a typically twisted infanticide - beginning to doubt the parentage of his son, he had him put on a swing and rocked vigorously while a five person choir sang his songs of death. It took his son three days and nights on the swing to die.
Being a nobleman, he could not be prosecuted - but his own conscience was to punish him far more deeply; he became a recluse and ordered his servants to whip him daily for extended periods of time. He is believed to have died from infected wounds caused by these beatings.Read more ›
So Gesualdo's story is that of a difficult, possibly daemonic, certainly 'strange' person.
Herzog is drawn to'odd' characters and this "Herzogized" docudrama, seeks to give a strongly impressionistic insight into the nature of the tortured artist.
The film is made, largely on location and the quirky found characters such as the bagpiper who must play in Gesualdo's ruined castle every day to keep the evil soul of Gesualdo trapped therein and the opera singer who travels the dusty corridors add to the overall strangeness of things.
There are also quite straightforward episodes where the, beautiful, music is performed and explained.
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For one, it contains all of the usual Herzogian themes such as artistic-driven madness/genius and the audacity of humans against nature. For another, it contains some autobiographical info that he tells through Gesualdo-- for example, the artifact in the museum which allegedly perplexed Gesualdo is in fact an artifact that had perplexed Herzog himself and caused him to lose sleep, and had no connection to Gesualdo.
Much of the film is scripted, even more so than most of Herzog's "documentaries." To appreciate a scripted documentary, you need to understand why Herzog would do such a thing. There are different kinds of truths, he believes, and the "accountant's truth" - what you usually see in documentaries - is just one of them, and a rather uninteresting one. But this film, Herzog says, invented and staged though much of it may be, "contains the most profound possible truths about Gesualdo."
The final scene features one of the best facial expressions ever to appear on a Herzog film, and that's saying something. To elicit the strange stare that the man gives, Herzog instructed him to stare into the camera very seriously, but then Herzog made jokes behind the camera. The result is a fascinating, almost glowing tension on the man's face.
P.S. - This film (at least as of July 2012) is available for free on YouTube.
Certainly Gesualdo's life was sordid enough for any soap opera. After being married for two years to a woman who made little effort to hide her cuckolding of her husband, he conspired with his servants to murder her and her lover. Having told his wife that he would be away hunting, he returned early and killed the couple in bed--by police accounts stabbing his wife over 20 times while saying over and over, 'She's not dead!' That nasty tale is the kernel around which other stories have grown--that he murdered his second son by having him swung to death seems to be an unprovable rumor; that Gesualdo was a masochist who had himself whipped nightly is today reported as fact, but actually comes from an account written some twenty years after his death, by someone who had no particular reason to cast Gesualdo in a positive light. Herzog reports the masochism rumor, but doesn't tell us its providence. Similarly, he shows us, in one of the most macabre scenes of the film, two bodies displayed in a Neapolitan chapel that are claimed to be the bodies of Gesualdo's wife and her lover; an unnamed Neapolitan watchman states that Gesualdo was an alchemist who experimented on human bodies and injected a serum into the veins of his wife and her lover. The bodies are extraordinarily creepy--and anyone who has roamed a few Italian churches knows that around any corner might well lurk the most bizarre and hideous relics---but these sure look like sculptures to me, and unlike any preserved bodies I've ever seen. That Gesualdo may have dabbled in alchemy is reasonable--it was the end of the Renaissance and most nobles had at least a fleeting interest in the subject--but I've read quite a lot on him and never before seen the claim that he was some kind of Italian Dr. Frankenstein. And so goes the rest of the film--Gesualdo is literally demonized by the townspeople of Gesualdo to the extent that they have a pagent in which the composer appears in red, with horns, to be vanquished by an angel. It's all much more fascinating as a study of folklore than as historical fact--at one point a buxom redhaired woman appears in Gesualdo's castle claiming to be the reincarnation of Gesualdo's wife and looking all mystical and spacey...but she's brought along her boombox to play a CD, and it becomes immediately clear that she's nothing more than a glory hound. Nonetheless, this sends Herzog off to the local mental hospital inquiring after her, and he's told that they have two people there who both believe that they are Gesualdo. The most amusing scene of the film shows a chef discussing Gesualdo's wedding menu--eel and tomato sauce are recreated while his wife incessantly repeats the words 'That devil!' in the background.
Musically Gesualdo doesn't fare much better--he's presented almost as a freak; a composer who was so far ahead of his time that it wasn't until Wagner--or the 20th Century, take your pick--that composers came to a similarly extended chromatic style. It's certainly true that Gesualdo represented the extreme of Renaissance chromaticism, but he was not so much ahead of his time as behind it. It was Monteverdi's simplicity that heralded the new age of the Baroque; it was opera that replaced the madrigal as the fashionable entertainment of the age. Gesualdo was something of an Irish Elk of a composer; a mannerist who had taken a tradition to such extremes that it could no longer survive. We're constantly told that Gesualdo was unlike any other composer--but it's simply not true; chromaticism was in the air--Orlando di Lasso's Prophetiae Sibyllarum predate Gesualdo significantly; J. S. Bach was fond of chromaticism and seemed to take a particular joy in extreme uses on occasion. So again, the real context of Gesualdo is misleadingly sensationalized. It's all something of a shame. I've always seen Gesualdo as a more pathetic figure than a demon; but this perspective apparently doesn't attract Herzog. Nonetheless, there are truly fascinating moments throughout the film--and if you aren't a Gesualdo scholar you won't know what to make of it. Ultimately it's quirky and at times intriguing, but I can't really recommend it unless context and accuracy mean little to you.
Owner of a peculiar style, Herzog bet for Gesualdo (1560-1613), this enigmatic figure who foresaw the dark tonalities of the late decades of the XIX Century (Strauss and Bruckner).
Filmed in documental style, Herzog makes others talk about the transcendence of this famous composer whose tragic life wrought a legend.