The Curse of the Gothic Symphony Lingers On

Angelo Franco


The Curse of the Gothic Symphony

3 stars (out of four)

Not rated

Screen Australia and Wild Fury


A terrific portrayal of passion and perseverance, this film depicts a rather obsessive group of musicians – and an exasperated filmmaker – as they attempt to orchestrate the “Everest” of classical music. Reputed to be the largest, longest, and most complex composition ever written, Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1 “The Gothic” is a colossal piece of classical music requiring a number of musicians so vast that it has only been performed four times since its completion in 1927 (an eight-year undertaking on Brian’s part).  The legend behind the symphony is riddled with rumors, including music that wrote itself and a curse, attributing its name to the film.


The film follows the trials and tribulations of eccentric but dedicated individuals as they attempt the impossible: put up a full-scale performance of “The Gothic” is the unlikeliest of places – Brisbane, Australia.  It’s a tricky enterprise.  So tricky that Gary Thorpe, who is at the heart to the production, has been trying for 28 years to make it happen.  Meanwhile, Veronica Fury had set out to chronicle this unbelievable journey and, after witnessing countless ups and downs (mostly downs), becomes so exasperated with the endless stalling that she becomes involved herself, determined to make “The Gothic” happen. 


The result is a documentary that spans seven trouble-riddled years, serving as a touching account of this heartwarming enterprise.  Tagging along for the ride are John Curro, the delightfully unfazed conductor of the Queensland Youth Orchestra who is confronted with the challenging task of being the maestro for the performance, and Alison Rogers, an indomitable choral master short on choristers.  The film is humorous and gripping at the same time, and you cannot help but cheer for these unlikely heroes. 

Sometimes there are fanciful re-enactments of Brian’s life that saturate the film with an unneeded whimsicality, as if trying to make Brian’s obscurity more accessible to audiences. And there are also some gothic animations that seem suitable but come across as clumsy instead.  They drown the film.  But what the film lacks in technical finesse is compensated by the film’s editing, which helps the build-up to an emotional climax, like a finely crafted crescendo.  That and the fervor of the film’s slightly manic protagonists, all 650-plus of them, who are at the core of this commendable tale of tenacity driven by their remarkable talents. “The Curse of the Gothic Symphony” is lesson on how a small amount of obsession and a whole lot of patience can overcome the most improbable causes, including those written in D minor.


Author Bio:

Angelo Franco is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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