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Canada, 1995 (MIFF 1995, Documentaries)

Director: Larry Weinstein

Kurt Weill is one of the century's most indi­vidual and idiosyncratic composers. In Ger­many, his collaboration with Berthold Brecht produced both The Threepenny Opera and Mahagonny. In exile in America after the rise of Nazism, his broadway musicals tackled social concerns head-on, at the same time producing such evergreen songs as September Song and Speaking Low.

Larry Weinstein's tribute to Weill interprets him for the nineties, at the same time placing him in his historical context of the first half of the cen­tury. Weill's distinctive music is frequently associ­ated with the cigarette-choked voice of his wife, Lotte Lenya and the film includes footage of her in Pabst's version of The Threepenny Opera.

Weinstein (who also directed My War Years: Arnold Schoenberg MIFF 1993) has assembled an eclectic and startling cast of performers ranging from opera singer Teresa Stratas to rap perform­ers Ghettoriginal. Nick Cave is Mack The Knife and Elvis Costello performs Lost in the Stars with the Brodsky Ouartet, a fascinating blending of musical styles. Others include Mary Margaret O'Hara, The Persuasions, Kathy Dalton and (even) William S. Burroughs.

Using a turn-of-the-century warehouse as a studio, Weinstein finds an appropriate style for each song-both thematically and historically. In one highlight, Agnes' Sewing Machine segues from social realism to Busby Berkeley extravagance.

The film encourages idiosyncratic perfor­mances. This is perhaps the greatest tribute it can make to Weill, revealing the many rich ways the music can be interpreted. Even the versions you don't agree with become an indication of the timelessness and universal humanity of Weill.

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