There’s nothing better than a surprise, such as finding an old movie you haven’t heard of or seen, that mesmerizes you. That what what happened this morning I turned on the television to see what was happening outside of Pennsylvania, where I am currently staying until my apartment is habitable again.
After “gripping” stories of little league victory, and impending bad weather, a few charity events, and nothing much else, I started channel surfing. I stopped, when the screen was filled with a stunning, black and white image of Katherine Hepburn apparently listening to someone play the piano. Although I didn’t know what movie I was watching, her face alone, was so radiant, I kept watching.
It turned out that the movie was the 1947 Song of Love, in which Ms. Hepburn plays Clara Wieck, a talented concert pianist who gives up her own career to help her husband, the composer Robert Schumann. According to fact (not just movie plot), Clara was one of the most distinguished pianists of the romantic era. She had a 61-year concert career that exerted a big influence on the tastes of the listening public of the time. She also had (according to the movie), seven children with Robert Schumann, and took on more than the duties of a traditional wife of the time.
Interesting though life was, things were not easy for Clara, who was not just the main breadwinner, and outlived four of her eight children,but also ended up raising some of her grandchildren. She had to watch her husband and one of her sons end their lives in insane asylums due to mental instability. But she kept on going. Clara Schumann played her last public concert in Frankfurt on 12 March 1891, suffered a stroke on 26 March 1896, and died at age 76 a few months later.
Also involved with the plot was another talented composer, Johannes Brahms, who was Clara’s long-suffering friend, but also he was in love with her and it was unrequited. For those who are movie buffs, actor Paul Henreid plays Robert Schumann, Robert Walker plays Johannes Brahms, and Henry Daniell plays Franz Liszt. According to what I’ve read, Ms. Hepburn trained intensively with a pianist so that she could be filmed playing the piano and she does appear to be playing in many close up shots. Being that much of Schumann’s music takes skill, this is impressive.
What is it about old movies, especially those devoid of fantastic, high-tech effects, 3D, surround sound, or even color, that captivates us? It’s not necessarily the plot, although in this case, the music was beautiful. It is the power of the image itself. The emotion that the director of Song of Love portrayed with skillful editing, and the talents of world class actors, didn’t need any of today’s embellishments to make us feel intense emotion.
Simple but effective. I ended up watching the last half of the movie, and I was spellbound throughout, even though I had work to do.
If you want to be transported, an old movie can be the time machine of choice!