Copying Beethoven (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When we undertook this movie site, we resolved to approach film reviews in a new way. Instead of telling you our opinions, we resolved to try to tell you whether the films would appeal to you by attempting to figure out who would like a film and who wouldn't, and why. In that spirit, I think I can fulfill my obligations on this film in two short declarative sentences:

1. People who know a lot about classical music like this film very much.

2. People who know a lot about films do not.

I'm going to keep typing for a while, but you probably already have enough info right there. If you are conflicted by what I have said, meaning that you are both a discriminating classical music aficionado and a film buff, see it, because the musical sections are so good that the preposterous story simply won't matter that much to you.

The script for this film couldn't be much worse. It's typical romantic Hollywood bullshit. In fact, it's basically one of those 1940s Katharine Hepburn films about the brilliantly talented woman from the small town who comes to the big city and gradually, grudgingly earns the respect of the best males in her profession. In more modern terms, since it is about an aspiring composer, think of it as Coyote Ugly remade in a 19th century setting.

The final word screen says that the film was "inspired by actual events." The actual events it refers to are these:

  • There actually was a composer named Beethoven.
  • He somehow managed to write and conduct one of the greatest musical compositions in history in the last years of his life, when he was stone deaf.

Everything else about the film is fictional, and the silly fictional overlay has virtually no anchor in reality. Not only did it not happen, but it could not have happened in the time in which Beethoven lived. The actual storyline is this:

Beethoven is desperately in need of a copyist to convert his hurried scribbling to legible musical scores.  He sends for the best student at a school, and the teacher sends him a beautiful, seemingly fragile young woman. The former copyist, now dying of cancer, knows that this is a recipe for disaster because no woman has ever worked in this capacity; because Beethoven has real difficulty with women in general; and because ol' "Louie" is even more crotchety than usual because he is struggling to meet a deadline which seems impossible. As predicted, the old master scoffs when he sees the pretty young thing who is to help him, but he gradually changes his mind when he sees how determined and competent she is. She earns his complete respect when she changes an important section from B major to B minor. This impresses him for two reasons. First, he would be impressed even if she were wrong, because nobody ever has the chutzpah to stand up to him, let alone correct him unsolicited. Second, she is right. He is so taken by this turn of events that  it takes him only about a day to become entirely dependent on her, and three days later he is actually allowing her to conduct the premiere of the Ninth Symphony. (He is the ostensible conductor, but he's deaf so he needs someone offstage to show him what to do.)

In evaluating the many adjectives which could be used to describe this plot, "credible" does not come to mind first.

The point is, however, that you can ignore all of that crap and still enjoy the movie. A lot. According to the experts, the film gets everything about the music right. The general consensus is that the fingering is right, the conducting is right, all the musical theory is correct, the spirit of Beethoven is captured perfectly, and the film uses one of the greatest performances of the Ninth ever recorded. I wouldn't know about such matters, but I do know that the music is magnificent and that Copying Beethoven includes one of the greatest film sequences I have ever seen: a series of excerpts from the premiere of the Ninth, as conducted by Beethoven by watching the pretty girl in the wings. There are no words. The scene consists entirely of Beethoven's Ninth and facial expressions. Harris does a magnificent job of capturing Beethoven in that moment, of giving a face to all the ardor that went into the creation of the music, to all the passion and ecstasy that the music encompasses, and to all the gratification he feels that it could come to completion so successfully. The rest of the actors respond in character to what they are hearing. The emotionally rich segment lasts about ten to fifteen minutes, and makes the entire film worth seeing.

Ed Harris's performance as Beethoven has been both praised and panned, although it seems to me that most of the pans responded to the fact that his interpretation of Beethoven looked like Ed Harris in a silly wig and wacky eyebrows. Frankly, the make-up didn't really bother me at all. After all, the real Beethoven did look pretty much like Ed Harris in an even sillier wig and eyebrows. I think Harris did fine in the role, but let's face it, the role of Beethoven is basically actor-proof. 99% of bad acting consists of OVERacting. With the possible exception of Kevin Coster as Robin Hood, there is no underacting which has entered the pantheon of famously bad performances. But Beethoven cannot be hammed up. Like Long John Silver, Caligula, Doc Holliday, Captain Hook, and maybe a few more roles, the part is simply immune to overacting. It's not possible to play Beethoven over-the-top because the actual man had no ceiling. No matter what ridiculous tantrums, mannerisms, ego-fits and exaggerations an actor may throw into the part, it's perfectly believable for the character. In fact, the real Beethoven probably did worse. He was an outrageously difficult man with a particularly silly hair style. If Beethoven had lived in our century, a wise director would do with him what George Clooney did with Joe McCarthy - let him portray himself in newsreel footage, because if an actor did a perfect impersonation, Beethoven's defenders would say it was an exaggeration. It seems to me that Harris did as good a job as he was allowed to do by the words he had to say. Perhaps he was much more reasonable than the real Beethoven would have been if a 23-year-old girl had changed the key of one of his compositions three days before its premiere, but Harris could not milk any more outrage from the script that he was given. He was asked to humanize the great man, and in this instance to allow Beethoven's great intellect to overrule his initial gut reaction - to let the great man cool down enough to realize that the girl was right. Here, and throughout the script, Harris did about as well as any actor could be expected to do.


  • DVD features not yet announced



Ed Harris shows his butt when he mimes the "Moon"light Serenade.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Arthouse (29 theaters max). About $400,000 gross from an $11 million budget.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+. If you love Beethoven's music, it is a must-see. Although a mediocre movie in general, it includes great music and one brilliant segment which makes it time well invested. For those not interested in the master's work, well, I pity the foo's, but this film is absolutely not for them because the concert is good, but the movie is not.

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