Picks and Pans Review: Testimony

UPDATED 05/22/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/22/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Fri., May 19, 9 P.M. ET)


Don't try to adjust the color or figure out what's going on. First off, it's mostly in gritty black and white. Second, it's difficult to understand the muffled English accents. This British-made Great Performances bio of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich is so arty it could pass for a Madonna video. Ben Kingsley plays the composer whose dark, sweeping music was both heralded and denounced by Joseph Stalin. Even though Stalin had most of Shostakovich's friends killed, the composer still thought of himself as a good Communist, even criticizing rebellious fellow artists while on a visit to New York.

The bio begins with Shostakovich attending his own funeral in 1975 and remains an out-of-body experience for its entire 2½ hours. Director Tony Palmer, a master of montage who has done PBS bios on Richard Wagner and Maria Callas, makes confusing intercuts using newsreel footage and Russian propaganda films. Don't try to figure it all out. Just let the extraordinary imagery, underscored by Shostakovich's rousing, resonant music, wash over you.

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