Some background: Late last year, I subscribed to a five-film series of documentaries (Doc Soup Sundays) followed by a discussion. The screenings are once a month at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
Some more background: Last Saturday night I went out for dinner with friends. I made the mistake of having a cup of coffee after dinner. It’s never been a problem before, so I didn’t know it was a mistake until I was up all night.
This brings us to last Sunday morning, after a mostly sleepless night. It was after 2 am when I finally dozed off and I was up again before 5. The little sleep I did get was, sadly, not the glorious, deep, coma-like, dream-inducing sleep from which one awakes somewhat dazed, confused and refreshed. Instead, I hovered on the edge of consciousness the whole time.
It was dark, raining and cold. It wasn’t going to improve as the day progressed, either. We were in for up to 40 mm of the wet stuff, and weather warnings had been issued.
It was nice and warm and cozy in my bed. I knew that if I closed my eyes I would undoubtedly fall asleep and because I was so exhausted, a very satisfying sleep it would be. I also had the Sunday New York Times to read and could one ask for a better day to stay indoors and go through every inch of the paper?
Plus, I’m reading a fascinating biography of Prince Charles, which was sitting there, on my bedside table, at the ready, as soon as I finished going through the Times. My fridge is stocked and there was absolutely no reason for me to leave my apartment. Or even my bed, for that matter.
Except there was. The documentary, Beethoven’s Hair.
I’m going to be very honest with you. At the time I purchased the series, I wasn’t entirely sure of this film. It didn’t deter me, of course, because that’s what I love about film festivals and documentaries and foreign films and small films produced by independent filmmakers.
They’re an adventure. They really challenge you and push your boundaries. You’re never sure what you’re going to get. But more often than not they turn out to be the most wonderful, enlightening, inspiring surprises and you walk away pinching yourself, grateful to live in a city where you have such opportunities.
But it was a struggle for me last Sunday. I was very, very tired and had zero energy. The weather was truly miserable and it was only going to get worse. The prospect of an hour and a half of a film about hair — albeit Beethoven’s, was not making me want to bound out of bed. And frankly, I was afraid I’d humiliate myself by falling asleep in the darkened theatre, snoring away to beat the band — as I tend to do when drunk with exhaustion.
So I battled with myself. The lazy me flipped over to my other side, burrowed deeper under the covers and refused to budge. The film-loving me screamed, “get your lazy ass out of bed! You know you’ll be sorry if you don’t go!”
In the end, “sorry” won the day — that, some encouragement from a friend and the fact that I’m not someone who gives up easily and loses by default.
Well, what a good decision that turned out to be.
Actually, it was an even better than good decision. More like great. I was enthralled from the opening scene to the rolling of the credits. To call it a film about hair doesn’t begin to do it justice.
Almost immediately after Beethoven died, a lock of his hair was cut off his corpse by Ferdinand Hiller, one of his devoted young students. What this film chronicles is the incredible journey taken by the keepsake, beginning in 1827 when Beethoven died up until 1994 when it was bought by a pair of American men at a Southeby’s auction. That it survived its chaotic and sometimes violent journey is miraculous. But that’s just part of this amazing story.
Beethoven’s death was anything but peaceful. He lived, suffered really, for many years with excruciating pain and very bad health. He’d also lost his hearing rather mysteriously. And to the day he died, his doctors never knew what had caused his ill health and subsequent death. Not knowing what was wrong with him, or why none of the treatments his doctors tried ever helped him tormented Beethoven; and, in a letter to his brother, he wrote that he hoped that one day the mystery surrounding his medical problems would be solved.
As luck, serendipity or the Universe would have it, one of the two Americans who ended up with the lock of hair is a doctor, who sent 20 strands to high-tech scientists to see if they could come up with some answers.
Believe it or not, they did. That’s all I’m going to say because this is a film I hope you get to see and I don’t want to ruin it for you. The documentary, produced in 2005, is based on the best selling book written by Russell Martin. The director, Larry Weinstein (no relation to either me or the horrible Harvey), is a multi-award winning Canadian filmmaker. One of the questions he was asked during the discussion after the film, was where else it can be seen. If you live in Toronto, you can buy the DVD at the Ted Rogers Hot Doc Cinema and apparently, it can also be viewed online.
There is a moral to this story, by the way. Into every life, a little rain must fall, but don’t let it get in your way. I am so happy I listened to the film-loving me, instead of the lazy me. I would have missed a fabulous film. The lazy me grabbed the cab that pulled up right as I exited the movie theatre, even though I could easily have walked the block to and from the subway. It was pouring, after all.