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100 Minutes of the Man and his Music
on 3 September 2013
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.
There are no extras.