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Image Entertainment presents
Gesualdo: Death For Five Voices (1995)

"The bodies were left at the bottom of the steps, so we're told, and they were despoiled by a passing monk."
- Gerald Place

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 18, 2002

Stars: Gerald Place, Alan Curtis
Other Stars: Pasquale D'Onofrio, Salvatore Catarano, Angelo Carrabs Milva, Angelo Michele Torriello, Raffaele Virocolo, Vincenzo Giusto, Givoanni Ludica
Director: Werner Herzog

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mildly mature themes)
Run Time: 59m:37s
Release Date: February 12, 2002
UPC: 014381933024
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CC+B- F

DVD Review

Adventurous and generally daring director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre: The Wrath of God) tackled yet another unusual subject in this 1995 made-for-television documentary, chronicling the strange life of composer Don Carlo Gesualdo. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the end result would have likely been a dull and dusty by-the-numbers affair, but Herzog has gone in the opposite direction, and managed to give the piece those trademark rough, artsy edges. With a narrative that often recklessly veers off the intended path, he attempts to detail the life of Gesualdo, the Prince of Verona.Just who was Don Carlo Gesualdo? Unless you are a scholar of relatively obscure Italian composers, the name may not mean much to you. The musical claim to fame that Gesualdo (1560-1613) has are his series of dark and disturbing madrigals, written for five voices, that "prefigured Wagner" and incorporated "unprincipled modulation" as the core of what were once considered harsh and crude compositions. Today, some scholars credit Gesualdo with having laid the foundation for the Expressionist movement later to come.However, it is Gesualdo's twisted personal life, which included him brutally murdering his wife and her lover, that drives Death For Five Voices, and becomes its focal point, more or less. With the accomplished director's often unorthodox and haphazard style, the 60-minute runtime might have been more of a hindrance than a help, as the documentary wraps up in a rather forced manner, though with a curiously odd final shot.Herzog, like Gesualdo, works in a similarly unprincipled way as he moves his camera through various locales in Italy, tracing the life of the composer. Bypassing the use of any type of formal narration, Herzog allows his sometimes oddball interview subjects to ramble freely about Gesualdo as if they all knew him personally. Some of the interviewees, such as Gerald Place of The Gesualdo Consort, provide fairly cohesive background, while others appear to be nothing more than rambling gardeners or flighty mental patients, including a woman who claims to be the reincarnation of Gesualdo's dead wife, Maria d'Avalos.In between recollections of masochism, torture and ghosts, Herzog allows the five member Il Complesso Barocco, under the direction of Alan Curtis, to perform a few of the composer's madrigals. While madrigals may be undoubtedly an acquired taste, I did find a couple of them somewhat compelling after learning (in Herzog's often roundabout manner) of Gesualdo's intended and macabre goal in composing them.Unfortunately, Death For Five Voices never manages to be interesting enough to provide any cohesive information, nor is it quirky enough to be enjoyable as experimental art.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer used here is not the best, but it looks no worse than any dated documentary that might pop up on late at night on the History Channel. Colors are rather flat, with really no significant image detail, along with a fair amount of grain also evident. As a documentary, however, the overall presentation is adequate.Not as much the fault of the transfer as it is the original source material, I suspect.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italian/Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: A 2.0 channel stereo track, in combined English and Italian, is one step up from mono. Nothing fancy. On the plus side, voices are clear, with the Il Complesso Barocco sounding quite good. While not on par with a feature film, the audio transfer here is satisfactory and intelligible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Extras? What extras?

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

Herzog's name gives this documentary more weight than it merits. Overall it is far too uneven and disjointed, and ultimately becomes nothing more than a curiosity.Recommended only for hardcore Herzog fans.


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