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Although released in 2009, Tony Palmer’s film about
André Previn (1929 – ), “The Kindness of Strangers,” was
actually shot in the 12 months prior to the 1998 premiere
of Previn’s first opera, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” According
to Palmer’s comments in the accompanying liner notes,
the postponement of the original DVD release was
delayed due to a negligent film distributor who “… cut 30
minutes of footage without consulting me or Previn …”
Apparently, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC)
also felt that this film “… didn’t add anything to our
understanding of him.” Nevertheless, the film was finally
available in its original form and remastered, just in time for
Previn’s 80th birthday.

Although a great deal of the focus of this film was on the
upcoming “Streetcar” premiere, there was also a generous
discussion of André Previn’s peripatetic, multifaceted career
on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, interspersed with archival
film footage and photographs. He narrated a lot of the footage
himself, candidly expressing his thoughts about these various
aspects of his musical life. This included a discussion of his
childhood in Europe, venturing to America and eventually
Hollywood, where he cut his musical teeth by composing,
arranging and conducting film scores in “the system.” Previn
believed that this was excellent training for his future endeavors.
At the same time, the film devotes footage to his “other career”
as a noted Jazz pianist, with film footage of Previn playing
with bassist Ray Brown at the Blue Note Club in New York City.

One of the points made in this 118-minute documentary highlights
Previn’s ability to feel at home in the United States, England,
Vienna, or wherever his career takes him while he embraces
multiple musical styles, from film scoring to Jazz and Classical
genres, assuming different roles of musician, conductor,
pianist, composer or television personality. In fact, I’ve always
maintained that André Previn has distinguished himself in
more genres and in more performance capacities than any
other musician, and is the greatest “multi-tasker.”

Other personalities featured on this disc include soprano
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, members of the Emerson Quartet,
soprano Renee Fleming, baritone Rodney Gilfry, and
second-generation Pop/Rhythm and Blues star, Natalie Cole.
As the aforementioned focus was on the premiere of “Streetcar,”
the latter portion of the film featured rehearsal footage and
interviews with the San Francisco Opera technical staff,
along with its director, Lotfi Mansouri. When questioned,
Previn addressed the unique challenges he faced while
composing this opera, as well as the musical and technical
changes that were made while bringing the project to fruition.

I believe that this is a wonderful portrait of a remarkable
musician, and director Tony Palmer’s approach enables
the viewer to get inside the mind of his main subject, as
well as that of those who are fortunate enough to work with
him. In addition to Palmer’s films about Gustav Holst and
Ralph Vaughan-Williams, I’d rate this DVD among the best
I’ve seen, and highly recommend it. This man knows how
to make a movie!

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