Here’s another brilliant film from Herzog. Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices
is an hour-long made for TV documentary on Carlo Gesualdo, a prince and
composer born in 1560, whose work foreshadows innovations of Wagner,
who was born in 1818. Gesualdo was so far ahead of his time that 19th century music critics were tearing him apart for the very advances that would later become status quo.
Part of the reason Gesualdo’s work survived long enough to be
embraced is that he was a murderer and all around kook. Interest in the
historical figure sustained interest in the music. If you want the
man/myth in a nutshell, he murdered his wife and, leaving the scene,
said, “I can’t believe she’s dead.” So he returned to the corpse and
stabbed it 28 more times.
Much of Gesualdo’s story is legend. Obviously, no one knows how
many times some chick was stabbed 400 years ago. Many of the other
claims in the film are dubious. For example, that, after Gesualdo had
his wife’s corpse discarded on the front steps, a passing monk
“despoiled” it. Others elements of the story are well documented: the
120 course meal for 1000 at Gesualdo’s wedding; the ancient disk with a
text that Gesualdo, like modern computers, was unable to decipher. The
facts and myths combine into a fascinating story.
Herzog makes several great decisions in telling the story of
Gesualdo. One is never to directly address the issue of fact vs. myth.
Anybody else would have spent much of the film unsuccessfully
attempting to sort out how much truth is in the legend. Herzog simply
presents the legend through a variety of voices. These range from
scholars and musicians to a cook’s hysterical wife, who continually
blurts, “Diablo!” as the cook discusses and prepares some of that 120 course feast.
Another interesting aspect of the documentary is that several scenes
are obviously staged, and it’s meant to be obvious. So this is a
documentary that is subtly upfront about being largely unconcerned with
the truth. This approach allows Death for Five Voices to
perfectly capture the subject, which is an impenetrable alloy of myths,
facts and uncertainties, (like Herzog’s own life). Also, it’s “ha ha”
Special Ruthless Ratings:
- Film Overall: 9
- Number of Biers needed to make it a ten: 2
- Number of times the movie was paused to do something else: 0
- Number of times the annoying soundtrack made you reach for your knife: 0
- Number of times the beautiful music sent you to Half.com with credit card in hand: 1
- Number of times you thought that ‘Gesualdo’ is a rad name: 6
- Had you ever heard of Gesualdo before seeing the movie? Yes.
- Honestly? Yes.
- Ok, smart guy, had you ever heard of Gesualdo before hearing about this movie? Uh… I had heard of Wagner.
- That’s not very impressive: Well, try to remember, I was educated in America. California, no less.
- That was improper punctuation: See?
- Back to the topic at hand, why is Herzog rarely mentioned in
the same breath as Kubrick, Kurosawa, Bergman, etc: Because nobody else
is as smart as me.
- That was grammatically incorrect: Be quiet.