"Immortal Beloved" takes liberties with the life of Beethoven -- the composer, not the Saint Bernard -- much as "Amadeus" embroidered upon what we know of Mozart. Of course, these films were not intended as bio-pics, but rather as hindsighted portraits of the original pub-crawling, skirt-chasing pop stars. While the similarities between the two abound, the differences prove even more noteworthy:
"Amadeus," directed by Milos Forman, was nicely paced and vibrant with color. "Immortal Beloved," the work of Bernard "Candyman" Rose, is a turgid affair with a palette that recalls used Ace bandages.
Rose both wrote and directed this ambitious failure, which was inspired by his research into a cryptic letter found shortly after Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827. The single clue in an enduring romantic riddle, a flowery valentine written in the maestro's hand, was addressed to "My angel, my all, my other self ... my Immortal Beloved." Viennese in the know scratched their heads: Could this really have been written by the renowned crabpot and misogynist?
The letter, along with Ludwig's last will bequeathing everything to the mystery woman, is discovered here by Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe), Beethoven's slavishly devoted secretary. Determined to see that the misunderstood composer's last wish is carried out, Schindler makes a list of plausible candidates. Among them are an infatuated Viennese countess (Valeria Golina) and a courageous Hungarian countess, Anna Marie Erdody (Isabella Rossellini).
Apparently there were countless countesses in Beethoven's life. The Axl Rose of his era, Ludwig drew the 18th-century equivalent of today's groupies. His music, rapturously performed herein, was considered racy, even obscene, and in the film's numerous and confusing flashbacks, Beethoven (Gary Oldman) takes advantage of its effect on them. Much as Salieri was enraged by the difference between Mozart's music and his own, so Beethoven's patrons were confounded by the dichotomy between this sour and vindictive man and his transcendent music.
Oldman imbues the role with staggering flamboyance and unsuppressed rage. If Beethoven was difficult, it was with reason. Abused as a child and completely deaf by age 30, he attempted to hide his affliction, which soon became impossible. Krabbe, as the detective, is appropriately subdued as he searches the Austro-Hungarian Empire for still more clues. If only Rose's solution, while enormously creative, were less intriguing and more believable.
Immortal Beloved, at area theaters, is rated R for nudity, sexual situations and violence.
CAPTION: Slow movement: Gary Oldman and Isabella Rossellini as the pop-star-crossed lovers in the ill-fated "Immortal Beloved."