I happened across this documentary on one the marvellous French/German channel, Arte. Alas, there were no English subtitles - but luckily some of the interviews were in English, and in any case I can follow some French.
The documentary is quite remarkable - a blend of Ravel's music massage your ears throughout, and visually the film moves between interviews, through to faked archive footage. The film is both surreal and beautifully made. For a while I believed I was seeing ancient home movies from Ravel's later years - then it becomes more obvious that Ravel and his friends are being acted - but rather convincingly. There is some genuine footage too - I remember seeing it from a documentary made some decades earlier. Amazingly, there were three friends of Ravel still alive at the time this film was made; though sadly the film is dedicated to the pianist Gaby Casadesus who died in 1999, I would presume during the making or production of the piece. She is amazing for a 98 year old - still playing the piano at this great age.
The essence of the documentary is the question that was asked when Ravel had his brain operation in 1937 - if there is a chance in a million that the operation will make Ravel be able to compose again, would that chance be worth taking, offset against the considerable risks? Ravel had lost many of his faculties a few years earlier, perhaps as a result of an accident that happened to a taxi he was riding. His composing ability deteriorated in a short space of time.
Somehow a decision was made, and the operation performed. As we know, Ravel did not survive long after the procedure, so sadly the one in a million chance did not happen.
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