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A Late Quartet (2012)--Must One Sacrifice Everything to Create Great Art?

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Current rating: 74/100

Characters: Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken), Robert Gelbert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Juliette “Jules” Gelbert (Katherine Keener), Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir), Alexandra Gelbert (Imogen Poots).

Here are are some thoughts and questions:

>I’m not sure how others will react to this film, but I think this would lead to an interesting discussion. One of the potentially interesting issues is the necessity for putting the Art ahead of everything else—for example, if you can no longer play adequately, one can’t expect the loyalty of friends to stop you; if a person is not fit for a certain role, they must be told—even from one’s life partner; if you have a child, your relationship with your child and the quality of your parenting must suffer; etc. Do people agree with this or not?

>My sense is that each character and situation represented some aspect of the challenges in making great music, particularly in a group setting. I’d be interested in identifying what the characters and situations represented. For example, Robert represents the individual behind the scenes, who itches for the spotlight; Peter represents the person no longer able to perform adequately; Daniel the perfectionist, who might sacrifice feeling and soul. I’m not sure who or what Jules represents—maybe the professional female who often has to sacrifice her relationship with her kids.

>I’m curious to hear if people think the film goes beyond depicting the challenges of making great music in with other people and if the film actually represents themes as the individual vs. society or the individual with a higher calling. For example, I think a lot of the situations relate to extraordinary individuals in management, politics, sports, etc.

>The film kept my attention, and it didn’t induce any eye-rolling or groans from me, which is a small accomplishment if the film tries to use music and a string quartet as a metaphor for society or higher purpose or calling. Once I sensed where the film could be going, I was a little concerned, but for the most part, I didn’t have too many problems with the film.

>Some of the situations seemed predictable—e.g., the extramarital affair and the other affair, playing without the score at the end—but this didn’t bother me much.

>I’m interested in hearing comments about the formal aspects of the film. (I didn’t really notice that aspect of the film.)

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

Sacrifice is the cliché.
By everything I guess you mean relationships outside of the artistic process.
I would say yes.

interesting discussion…..potentially interesting

What do you think are the interesting issues there?

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

By everything I guess you mean relationships outside of the artistic process.
I would say yes.

Not just relationships, but other things like personal ego. Robert excels in the second violin role, but his ego craves more of the limelight. For the good of the group and the music, he needs to put that ego aside. Peter might want to continue making a living making music and maybe receiving accolades for being part of the group (although I don’t get that sense at all). He has to put those things aside for the good of the group and the music.

What do you think are the interesting issues there?

The issues in the OP didn’t do it for ya’, huh? :) I think discussing whether excellence requires total sacrifice—relationships, ego, personal pleasure, to some degree, etc. Do people agree with that or not? I thought that was a potentially interesting question.

I also thought identifying how each section of the film expresses insights into the challenges for artistic excellence (or excellence in general) might have been interesting.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

For example, I think a lot of the situations relate to extraordinary individuals in management, politics, sports, etc.

I was wondering if it is different for artists.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

So you don’t think the ideas in the film apply to excellence in other fields? I’m sure there are differences, but the film almost feels like it uses the quartet and their music as a metaphor for group-endeavored excellence.

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

Isn’t this what you asked about Cinema Paradiso?

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Honestly, I can’t remember. But this film is very different from CP. The intention behind ALQ almost entirely involves depicting the various challenges and costs to working with others to achieve great music (or, arguably, anything great). Have you seen the film, DiB? What did you think, if so?

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

the quartet and their music as a metaphor for group-endeavored excellence

Would that be the metaphor or a description of the thing itself?

A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object.

E.g. Moby Dick as a metaphor for capitalism.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Would that be the metaphor or a description of the thing itself?

I’m not sure, but it could be both.

The quartet is a group of individuals striving to do something special and do it an masterful way. The film depicts the costs and challenges involved. What we see could apply to the New York Knicks or Apple computer.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

So the quartet is a metaphor for the Knicks or Apple computer – the point of comparison is group-endeavored excellence.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Those were just specific examples of groups working on something important, striving for excellence in the process. But, yeah, I think the quartet can be a metaphor for organizations like the Knicks, Apple computer, etc. You think the metaphor doesn’t work? Or do you think the film isn’t using the quartet as a metaphor?

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

each character and situation represented some aspect of the challenges in making great music, particularly in a group setting. I’d be interested in identifying what the characters and situations represented. For example, Robert represents the individual behind the scenes, who itches for the spotlight; Peter represents the person no longer able to perform adequately; Daniel the perfectionist, who might sacrifice feeling and soul. I’m not sure who or what Jules represents—maybe the professional female who often has to sacrifice her relationship with her kids.

I’m not sure any of those characterizations affect the making of great music.
I want to question whether the film is exploring excellence.
If not, is there that metaphor?

Said another way, if we were looking at group-endeavored excellence, wouldn’t we be seeing how artistic vision is imparted over the group? and then identify its failure? How did they do group-endeavored excellence the preceding 25 years?

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

I’m not sure any of those characterizations affect the making of great music.

If Robert wants to play the first violin part—and insists on alternating with Daniel—that might ruin the performance or make it not as good as it could be. Let’s say Daryl “Moose” Johnston got tired of blocking for Emmitt Smith and wanted to have equal carries. That not only could cause dissension that could hurt the team, but actually giving equal carries would also hinder the team’s effectiveness.

We might be thinking on different wavelengths with regard to “making great music.” I’m thinking of this in terms of performance, not the actual creation, i.e, composing, of the music. Making great music=great performance of great music.

On the other hand, the vision of how the music is to be performance might be seen as an action similar to creation/composing. In that case, it seems like the group agreed with Daniel or at least acquiesed to his vision.

I want to question whether the film is exploring excellence.

Maybe we could replace or include the concept of a higher calling—that is, doing something really important and meaningful. In the case of the film, Beethoven’s late quartets and performing it well is this “higher calling” or super important endeavor. This requires putting aside one’s ego, sacrificing personal pleasure and other things that one may value. That’s what the film makes clear in my opinion.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
over 1 year ago

Jazz gets +10,000 points for mentioning my favorite Cowboy of the 90s. MOOOOOOSE!

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Heh. (I don’t like the Cowboys, but I admit he was good. I loved watchign him lay out defenders.)

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

Let’s say Daryl “Moose” Johnston got tired of blocking for Emmitt Smith and wanted to have equal carries. That not only could cause dissension that could hurt the team, but actually giving equal carries would also hinder the team’s effectiveness.

Right, but our film would have to literally show that to be about excellence. Failure, and then there might be some kind of moral e.g. sacrifice for the greater good.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Right, but our film would have to literally show that to be about excellence

Why does the film have to go that far? Does it also have to show Peter failing to play the music properly? Does it have to show how the music suffers because Jules and Robert spend more time raising Alex? Does it have to that the quartet disbands because Daniel and Alex continue their relationship? I’d say no to all of the above. For me, it’s clear that all of these things would or could significantly hurt the performance of the music.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

Because then the film would be centered on excellence (“Moose” laying out defenders), rising conflict (“Moose” gets tired of blocking) and the resolution of that conflict (switching roles and failure) returning the center to excellence (“Moose” laying out defenders).

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

I don’t quite get where you’re coming from. I’m not sure why you think the film can’t be about excellence as it stands.

Also, what is your take on what the film is about?

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

Also, what is your take on what the film is about?

Passion, and the harnessing thereof.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Well, could you flesh out that reading a bit more. For example, maybe you could talk about how each character manages to express this theme. I’m interested in hearing, for example, how Peter’s character and situation expresses the idea of harnessing passion. Or what about Jules?

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

@JAZZ-
off topic, but this thread made me think of ‘Tiger Dads and Moms’ driving those gifted kids to become classical musicians turning pro at age of 12- perhaps (one would guess) making them kids sacrifice missing out on the fun of ‘normal’ childhood.

I might see this film next weekend…

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Interested in hearing what you think on this, Night.

Dennis...Brian

over 1 year ago

It’s unlikely that I will see anything with Phillip Seymour Hoffmann by choice

but does this film have much in common with the Dustin Hoffmann similarly titled directorial debut

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

I haven’t seen Dustin Hoffman’s film, so I have no idea.

Dennis...Brian

over 1 year ago

oh that is the one I want to see Quartet

not sure it is out yet, maybe Christmas day

High by Noon

about 1 year ago

My reasons for not being overwhelmed by this film are rather simplistic. But, for me, they suffice.

I found Daniel’s relationship with Alexandra extremely off-putting. The quartet had been together for 25 years, and Alex was obviously less than 25 years old. It follows that Daniel, as a friend of the family, may have seen Alex when she was first born, and as a babe in arms. May have actually changed her diapers and almost certainly given her birthday presents. She would have been backstage at numerous concerts, maybe even from the age of three. A relationship based on a kiss? That would be lust, not love.

Woody Allen never came close to having that kind of early relationship with his current wife.

A former relationship between Alexander’s mother and Daniel is not disclosed, but there certainly could have been one.

The example of a football (?) blocker wanting to be a running back is not relevant. If what we are talking about hear is similar to North American football, blockers become blockers long before they reach the professional level. If he was 2nd quarterback, he was on the bench. I know that there will be exceptions, but they will be so few that they can be used to validate the phrase ‘the exception makes the rule’.

Robert’s goal was never to be 2nd fiddle. He agreed because Daniel set up the group, and Daniel was already established. That was 25 years ago. I thought that the group’s refusal to let Robert even try the position was arbitrary and negative. Robert talked about how Daniel never seemed to be inspired. Perhaps Robert wanted that opportunity to play with inspiration. When Juliette refused to consider her husband as being worthy to even be given an opportunity to try; I, like Robert, felt betrayed.

There are a lot of marvelous projections on this thread, intelligent and insightful.

I still think that, to be a good movie, the script would have to be reworked.

Oh, well.

Jazzalo​ha

about 1 year ago

@High Noon

I found Daniel’s relationship with Alexandra extremely off-putting.

Too close to incest. I can see what you mean, although, for me, their relationship wasn’t critical to the film. To me, the film was more about the nature of excellence and the challenges one faces for this type of excellence. But I can understand your feeling.

The example of a football (?) blocker wanting to be a running back is not relevant. If what we are talking about hear is similar to North American football, blockers become blockers long before they reach the professional level.

We’re talking about a full-back, who is not an offensive lineman (the players whose main function is to block). Full-backs can also carry and catch the ball, but in the Dallas offense, Johnston’s main job was to block for the running back—Emmit Smith. Johnston could have complained about this, but he knew his role and he was great at it. That seems to fit Robert to a T.

I thought that the group’s refusal to let Robert even try the position was arbitrary and negative.

The musicians have been playing together for a long time—they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As viewers we’re not really privy to that. Personally, I don’t have any trouble believing that some people aren’t well-suited to be the first violin player—just as some musicians aren’t suited to be second violin players. It has as much to do with temperament and psychological make-up as it does with talent. This is also true in sports as well.

So, I didn’t really think that his wife or Daniel were being completely unfair—at least not enough to say that their decision was arbitrary.

Also, I just think the issue served to illustrate one of the challenges of achieving excellence—particularly with a group of people. You have to put aside your ego; know and accept your roles; make personal sacrifices. If these things don’t have, you don’t have a group that will function well—you won’t achieve excellence, not consistently anyway.

I still think that, to be a good movie, the script would have to be reworked.

Are you thinking specifically of the problems you mentioned above?

High by Noon

about 1 year ago

@Jazz

“the film was more about the nature of excellence and the challenges one faces for this type of excellence”

Thanks for your response. You & the other respondents certainly took the high road on this. By ignoring the flaws in the movie and addressing some “of the challenges of achieving excellence” you have raised the film to a standard not readily apparent to nit-pickers like me.

“I still think that, to be a good movie, the script would have to be reworked.”
“Are you thinking specifically of the problems you mentioned above?”

Yes. However that in no way detracts from the validity of the comments made here by Mubi-ites.