The Red Violin (1977) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoopy's comments in white:

These comments contain some spoilers. 

The Red Violin is a very literary movie, interweaving time periods like a modern novel. The essence is simple. A famous violin is being auctioned off in contemporary Montreal. It was made in Cremona during the golden age of violin craftsmanship. What happened in between? 

There is a mysterious connection between the first time period and the last. The craftsman is making the instrument for his unborn son. The violinmaker's pregnant wife has her fortune told. It becomes apparent to us almost immediately that the fortune teller is "mistakenly" reading the future of the violin, not the woman. She predicts a long life, and the woman dies in childbirth two weeks later. Since the old crone knows the violin's future, it makes a beautiful context in which to relate the history of the instrument. As the gypsy turns over each Tarot card, she tells of its significance, and each card equals a vignette. Each story also explains the presence of one of the bidders in the modern day auction. All very cleverly woven together, and all of it perfectly logical and plausible.

The fifth card tells of the present day story, featuring Samuel L. Jackson as an appraiser preparing authenticity checks for the auction. That final story solves the mystery violin's color - the varnish was mixed with blood. Then we flash back again to see the violinmaker using his dead wife's blood in the mixture, and we know why the woman's fortune was intermingled with the violin's. It is because she did actually achieve a long life as an integral part of the violin.

The film also achieves a very literary resolution. Jackson substitutes a copy and steals the violin to give to his daughter. The instrument was made for the creator's child, and will be given to the child of the only man alive who truly appreciates the creator's genius. A very tidy script which could get a nomination for best screenplay if I had any say in the matter. In addition to enjoying the intricate interweaving of multiple time-periods, I also got into the individual stories, all of which were quite different from one another, and each of which had something to say about its epoch's perception of perfection and beauty. Taken individually, they reminded us how we have changed. Taken together they reminded us of the immortality of beauty, despite the evanescence of our human generations. 

On a more literal basis, the movie reminds us just how many real stories are behind those ancient instruments, some handed ceremoniously from genius to genius, others shrouded with mysterious disappearances. I really enjoyed this movie, and the sound track made it even better. 


Greta Scacchi shows her complete bottom, and a side-rear view of her bosom.
 Miscellaneous thoughts: 
  • After watching the film, I was surprised to find that Greta Scacchi is only 39. Her face looks 10 years older, and her body - well, let's just say her bottom could match Kate Winslet's. What the hell happened to her?
  • I was so-o-o disappointed that Samuel L Jackson didn't say any cool stuff like "you need this violin, when you just got to have the motherfuckin' best". I never saw him so subdued. Just in passing - what does this man have to do to get an Oscar? He has single-handedly made about a zillion bad movies completely watchable with his energy and his interesting characterizations.
  • I was surprised to see the accordion players in modern China (where the violin spent a "lost generation" as a symbol of decadent Western music). So China threw out decadent Western Mozart and violins, replacing it with that traditional and pure oriental accordion music?

It turns out that this all stems from a little-known historical incident in the Sino-Polish war, which occurred about the same time as the Scottish-American war. It seems that the Chinese and the Polish were scheduled to fight a great battle in yesteryear, but it came out so badly that both sides agreed to cover it up forever. The Chinese, pacifist Confucians and Buddhists at heart, showed up for the battle with no weapons. They couldn't kill anyone, but they were willing to die to save face rather than shame themselves with the dishonor of either cowardice or failure to honor an appointment. Possessing the only weapons, the Poles should have achieved an easy victory that day, but their cavalry had only practiced riding in horse shows, and their attempts to fire weapons from a moving horse resulted in casualties only to themselves, their horses, and their officers. Finally, they agreed to call the battle and the war a draw, and had a big party instead. It was at this feast that the Poles gave the Chinese their first accordions, Polka lessons, and some complimentary Polish sausage to take home. I am reminded of the greatest revolutionary Chinese Polka, translated here for the first time (sorry, my Mandarin is a little rough around the edges, so the translation is approximate):

"She likes Kielbasa
 that's her doom.
She likes Kielbasa
 more than Din Sum
She likes Kielbasa
 - capitalist cow!
She likes Kielbasa 
 more than Chairman Mao"


DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.78:1

  • Full-length director commentary

  • Making-of featurette

  • The usual bios, trailers, tv ads, and a music video

Tuna's comments in yellow: 

The Red Violin is proof that Greenaway is not the only director willing to experiment with film. This story takes place on three continents in four languages and spans over 300 years. It is about the history of a red violin created by the greatest master of violin making. The instrument was his crowning achievement, but did not necessarily bring good luck to its various owners. 

I don't want to write a spoiler, so I will leave the plot description at that, except to explain the Scacchi role. She is married to the foremost musician in England, and he composes best on the Red Violin while having sex with her. I like this film very much, but it may not be for everyone ... I suppose it could be called an art film. 

I am sure we can all agree that Ms. Scacchi is for everyone. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a quarter stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 84/100

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 70% good reviews.

  • won an Oscar for best Musical score. Was nominated for 10 Genies, won 8, including cinematography, screenplay, and Best Picture.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.9 , women rate it 8.3! Apollo users say 78/100
  • With their dollars ... a tragedy that such an intricate and beautiful movie wasn't really marketable. It took in $9.4 million off a $10 million budget.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My 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. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. 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 B. If you're ever going to like an arty movie, here's the one. If I used a standard four star system, I'd be tempted to give this all four.

Return to the Movie House home page