Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet, about a string quartet dealing with dissent and illness, opens this week. So it's a good opportunity to look back at the best depictions of classical musicians on film. And, no, that doesn't mean movies with great classical soundtracks, otherwise A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree Of Life would be here.
1. HILARY AND JACKIE (1998)
Based on the true story of sisters Hilary and Jacqueline du Pré, this pic sheds light on the circumstances that make some gifted musicians stars, while others fall by the wayside. Flautist Hilary looks like she'll be the famous one, but Jacqueline, determined and sometimes unscrupulous, is the one who makes it to the top - until she's felled by multiple sclerosis. The movie is a superbly observed examination of familial and artistic pressures - Hilary's teacher basically crushes her spirit - with spectacular performances by Emily Watson as Jacqueline and then rising star Rachel Griffiths as Hilary, both Oscar-nominated.
2. AMADEUS (1984)
Milos Forman's multiple-Oscar-winning adaptation of the Peter Shaffer play imagining the rivalry between second-rate composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) and the divinely inspired Mozart (Tom Hulce) has its annoying moments; does the pink-wigged younger composer really have to giggle so much? But by magically interweaving so many gems - the serenade for winds, the requiem, the denouement from Figaro - into the narrative, he made the film's soundtrack a massive bestseller. And even now it's hard to listen to the Queen of the Night's arias without thinking of Wolfie's mother-in-law.
3. THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD (1993)
Toronto-born pianist Gould has inspired many fine works, including a great play by David Young simply called Glenn. But François Girard's high-concept series of vignettes, structured into 32 parts because of the musician's acclaimed recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, is also terrific, exploring his many eccentricities and featuring a suitably enigmatic performance by Colm Feore as Gould.
4. THE COMPETITION (1980)
Classical musicians are right up there beside Olympic athletes as the most competitive breed on the planet, a phenomenon deftly evoked in this entertaining pic with a major piano competition as its centrepiece. Richard Dreyfuss plays Paul, the man to beat, and Amy Irving up-and-comer Heidi, alongside a raft of gloriously eccentric aspiring pianists. There's a terrific sequence in which Paul conflicts with a conductor (Sam Wanamaker). But the great Lee Remick almost steals the movie as Heidi's piano coach.
5. LOOK AT ME (2004)
Agnès Jaoui's absorbing drama about a music teacher (Jaoui) who initially exploits a talented but unconfident young singer (Marilou Berry) because the girl's father's a literary star is really a comedy of bad manners about sex, ego and fame. But it also looks at the emotional pain behind creating great music. And any film that climaxes with a poignant rendition of Schubert's An Die Musik - also used in Jane Campion's Janet Frame biopic An Angel At My Table - is all right with us.