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Benjamin Britten - A Time There Was [2006] [DVD] [2008] [NTSC]

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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  • Benjamin Britten - A Time There Was [2006] [DVD] [2008] [NTSC]
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Product details

  • Directors: Tony Palmer
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: Tony Palmer Films
  • DVD Release Date: 11 Aug. 2008
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001BKMC8G
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,015 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

Made at the request of the Britten Estate, this film - thought to be the definitive portrait of the great composer - tells of one of the most profound love affairs of the 20th Century, between Britten and his lover and life-long companion and inspiration, Peter Pears. At a time when it was illegal to be openly homosexual, Britten & Pears faced up to a hostile world with unflinching dignity, producing a string of masterpieces that, together with the works of Vaughan Williams, established English music as internationally pre-eminent in the middle years of the 20th century.


A captivating and insightful documentary about the tortured soul of Benjamin Britten... essential viewing. --* * * * * Classic FM

An alluring portrait. --* * * * BBC Music Magazine

[This film] creates a picture of the whole man, from precocious childhood in Lowestoft to death, and the whole artist alongside. Even if (like me), your knowledge of classical music as a whole is sparse at best, Britten's remarkable life story, and the struggles and ideas within it, are of interest on their own. Palmer shows you how to hear all the different stages in his life, from radical young 20-something to illness-ravaged old man, in the accompanying works. You begin to see beneath the beauty of the music to the conflicts underneath. --* * * * - Stool Pigeon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

It would be easy to dismiss this film, made within a few years of Britten's death, as a piece of uncritical hagiography. It starts with a memorable piece from Leonard Bernstein where he expands in his usual articulate way on the ever-present dark side in Britten's music - the `gears constantly clashing' as he describes it. But the film itself touches relatively little on that side of the composer. There's nothing here about his reprehensible tendency to cut close colleagues and friends out of his life the moment they expressed the least criticism or even just became superfluous to his needs (Britten's `corpses' as he himself called them): there's also nothing here about his always controlled but undeniable paedophilia, movingly explored in John Bridcut's much more recent documentary: nor anything of his intolerance of performances of his own music that strayed too far from the way that he (and Peter Pears) saw it - e.g. the Vickers Grimes - or of new music that strayed too far from his own style - e.g. the walkout from Punch and Judy at his Aldeburgh Festival. All these less than attractive aspects of his personality are avoided.

Nevertheless, Tony Palmer conjures his familiar magic in constructing what is still a vivid and enlightening film study of his subject (cf. his musical biographies of Wagner, Walton, Arnold, etc.). As in much of his work, Palmer demonstrates the deftest of hands in combining archive footage plus his own original material with lengthy, illuminating interviews with family, friends and contemporaries.
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I agree with every word of Klingsor Tristan's review of this important and absorbing film, and I write an additional review only because I think the film deserves it and, perhaps, to provide a slightly different perspective. The film does not attempt to be comprehensive as far as Britten's work (or indeed his life) is concerned. There is little or no mention of 'The Turn of the Screw', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', the 'Cello Symphony or the War Requiem, for example. As Klingsor Tristan makes clear, some aspects of the composer's personal make-up are not present. I think that is natural in view of the time at which the film was made, and I do not think it is a weakness. However, the 'feel' of Britten's music and his priorities as a creative artist, as well as his approach to composition, are well represented. All are both interesting and important. There is wonderful archive film of his family and some friends, evocative home movies from the States and Suffolk, some film of his conducting and his piano playing (with Richter, serious and focused, Britten is an absolutely equal partner who has time and inclination to glance at his prestigious companion and smile at a slightly fudged note in the final chords). Extracts from key performances are there too, and from some recording sessions.

Above all there is the narrative of Peter Pears, who appears many times, speaking or performing, always with a dignity, intelligence and openness which add a very great deal to this film. Dry-eyed when many would find this impossible, and the more eloquent for that, he gives a most moving account of Britten's death (in his arms), and that section of the film is quite wonderful.
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Tony Palmer's film on Benjamin Britten was produced in 1979 at the request of Peter Pears. Pears provides much of the narration but does not dominate the tale. Palmer's is not a hagiographical account; rather, it is chronological, matter-of-factual, and yet full of insight. (But the film was made before Humphrey Carpenter's eye-opening biography of the man.)

Members of Britten's family are also interviewed and it is interesting to hear about Britten's childhood from them. Other contributors include not only the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Imogen Holst, and Rudolf Bing, but also a housekeeper, his final nurse, and those with whom he stayed during his sojourn in the US.

There are extensive wonderful extracts in this film, both of his music and of archive film. Perforce, much is missed out; notable by their absence are his `Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra', `Les Illuminations', the `Serenade', `Gloriana', the `Sinfonia da Requiem', and the `War Requiem'. There are extracts of some of these, played over film, but they are out of context with no discussion given to them. It is all the more strange as the first and last in my list are referred to as key pieces of this composer in the DVD's sleevenotes. Missing too is what other composers (apart from Bernstein) thought of his music.

But what we do have here is one hundred minutes of the man and his music. The end is moving (though not as moving as the DVD `The Hidden Heart'), and - given that much of the film is told from Pears's angle - the DVD is a `must-have' for anyone with an interest in the life and music of this often-superb composer.

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