If you’re thinking about attending Beethoven‘s Nephew with an eye toward historical edification of the “Great Lives” sort, think again. The first clue that this film isn’t a gardenvariety bioography – or even Amadeus-style speculation – is that the director is the outer-limits trashmeister, Paul Morrissey.
Morrissey’s name has never been too high-profile, because for much of his career he was hidden behind Andy Warhol. Warhol’s avant-garde flirtations with film in the 1960s, many of which are quite fascinating, even important, were essentially taken over by Morrissey by the end of the decade. Morrissey gave structure to Warhol’s deadpan approach in such films as Flesh and Trash.
Morrissey has gone his own odd way since leaving the Warhol fold, making low-budget movies that receive limited distribution. But some of his work is still quite spirited, and he maintains an I’ll-try-anything approach to filmmaking (his next movie will star, of all unlikely people, Ernest Borgnine).
Beethoven’s Nephew is not one of Morrissey’s livelier efforts. In fact, it’s a dull dead end, full of ratty period trappings and Teutonic tantrums. The movie suggests an unnatural affection that Beethoven might have had for his nephew, Karl, of whom the composer was guardian for the last 12 years of Beethoven’s life.
Morrissey never comes out and says it, but I assume we’re supposed to think that Beethoven’s unhappiness about caring for the nephew springs from some unfulfilled lust for the boy. Beethoven sulks around like a rejected suitor, grumbling about his “malignant and odious” feelings, and continually interrupts Karl’s attempts at lovemaking with the opposite sex.
The worst thing about the movie is the staid style in which Morrissey tells the story – it could use a dose of the old trashiness. The one enthralling sequence, when Beethoven’s deafness causes his conducting to go haywire, relies on the Ode to Joy for much of its power.
The two lead actors seem to be playing in different movies. Wolfgang Reichmann plays Beethoven out of the thunder-and-bluster school, with plenty of ham to go. Dietmar Prinz, as Karl, is from a long line of pimply faced, catatonic Morrissey leading men, a direct descendant of the zombied-out Joe Dallesandro from Warhol days. Their inability to connect typifies the movie’s problems.
First published in The Herald, June 1988
The fact that the actors seem to be appearing in different movies sounds pretty interesting, and perhaps intentional on Morrissey’s part. Oh well. I didn’t even mention two significant co-stars here, Jane Birkin and Nathalie Baye, so I must have really been having a bad day.