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A scene from the documentary Beethoven's Hair.

Courtesy of Hot Docs

  • Beethoven’s Hair
  • Directed by Larry Weinstein
  • Written by Russell Martin, Thomas Wallner
  • Starring Alfredo Guevara, Ira Brilliant
  • Classification G; 84 minutes


rating

3 out of 4 stars

It is sad but true that the man who set the poem Ode to Joy to glorious music was an ill-tempered loner who spent the later part of his life deaf and in physical distress. The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was an enigma, from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. A documentary by the Canadian director Larry Weinstein concentrates on the latter.

Beethoven’s Hair is a television film from 2005 reissued on the occasion of the composer’s 250th birthday. An off-beat forensic odyssey through the ages and Arizona, the story is enlivened by kitsch, dramatic uses of thunderstorms, Beethoven’s lush music and enthusiastic talking heads with authoritative umlauts in their names. “He must have been a knockout with the ladies,” proclaims musicologist Hebe A. Jeffrey, about Ludwig van’s romantic possibilities.

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In his last testament, the composer asked for posthumous diagnosis of the unexplained maladies he endured. An autopsy was not conclusive. The film entertainingly follows a lock of his hair taken in 1827 from the composer’s corpse in Vienna all the way to the American Southwest, where a pair of mismatched Beethoven enthusiasts come into possession of the melodious curls and seek to unlock, one might say, its scientific clues.

The film is more than mere diagnostic chase. Against the backdrop of discovering how Beethoven died, we learn about what make his empathetic music still live today. It’s all rather charming, and subtly spiritual.

Beethoven’s Hair screens virtually at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and will be available on AppleTV and Amazon Prime on Oct. 27.

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