Carlos Kleiber — Traces to Nowhere

No matter how original or astute the spoken observation may be, usually one
is left wishing to hear the music without the voice-over. This is particularity
frustrating if the selections or repertory are otherwise fairly obscure or
rare. If the film biography is of a famous enough subject, opportunities to
hear the music unimpeded by spoken commentary should be plentiful. The thoughts
expressed by the various “talking heads” might even prompt one to explore,
at one’s leisure, recordings that one may not have heard recently, if

Eric Schulz’s film about the career of conductor Carlos Kleiber should
fall into that latter camp for most viewers. During the course of a running
time just over 70 minutes, many a viewer may tire of the unrelenting format of
commentators speaking over archival footage of rehearsals or recordings played
over photograph montages. Without too much effort, however, anyone can obtain
recordings of Kleiber conducting the Fledermaus overture, Tristan
und Isolde
, or Brahms’s Symphony no. 4. Schulz omits the questions that
prompt the reminiscences of those interviewed, which include the conductor’s
sister as well as colleagues obscure and famous. The film is lightly organized,
with a vaguely chronological format. As the 70 minutes proceed, therefore, some
viewers may grow impatient with the repetitiveness of worshipful comments about
Kleiber’s almost mystical ability to communicate his musical intentions to

Schulz is also fond of capturing the interviewees simply listening to
Kleiber recordings, their eyes aglow with wonder, and sometimes their hands
waving lightly, as if conducting the music themselves. But the film doesn’t
restrict itself to panegyrics, as Kleiber’s human failings also receive
acknowledgement, from his infidelities to his growing self-doubt that caused
him to almost withdraw from conducting entirely in the last years of his life.

Probably copyrights prevented Arthaus Musik from providing bonus features
such as some of the remarkable rehearsal footage seen in the film in its
entirety, without commentary, or even better, a live performance or two. Even
so, not only will fans of Kleiber’s art find this documentary fascinating,
but anyone who has ever simply wondered, “What is it that conductors really
do?” will probably find this film extremely enlightening, without being
overly technical about the conductor’s art. The film’s subtitle, “Traces
to Nowhere,” gives a rather deceptive sense of the film’s contents.
Although the last years of Kleiber’s life and career were sad, the sheer joy
he emanated as seen in the Fledermaus overture rehearsal footage show
that at his best, Carlos Kleiber conducted in a way that left more than just
traces of joy and passion, fortunately forever caught in recordings and at
least partly, in Schulz’s film.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Carlos Kleiber — Traces to Nowhere
product_title=Carlos Kleiber — Traces to Nowhere
product_by=A film by Eric Schulz with Placido Domingo, Brigitte Fassbaender, Michael Gielen, Manfred Honeck, Veronika Kleiber, Otto Schenk and others.
product_id=ArtHaus Musik 101553 [DVD]