Herbert von Karajan-Maestro for the Screen (2008) (NTSC)

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Released 30-May-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Main Menu Audio & Animation
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 52:08
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Georg Wübbolt

Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Herbert Von Karajan
Hugo Niebeling
Herbert G. Kloiber
Fritz Buttenstedt
Horant H. Hohlfeld
Ernst Wild
Peter Gelb
Gela-Marina Runne
Case PUSH-1 (Opaque)
RPI $64.95 Music None Given

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

The world of classical music with its highly-strung and perfectionist performers and their interactions with the worlds of business and politics has had more than its fair share of controversies, most of which pass under the radar of the general public. One of the more heatedly debated figures of the past century was the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan. Born in 1908, he became a prominent figure on the world stage after he took over the reins of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1955 following the death of Wilhelm Furtwängler, and soon he cemented his position as the pre-eminent conductor of the age, while the orchestra developed a reputation as the world's finest.

But his career was dogged by controversy. He was a member of the Austrian branch of the Nazi Party from 1933, allegedly for career purposes although the Party was not in power in that country until 1938. However his marriage to a part-Jewish woman in 1942 suggests that his convictions did not run deep. Musically he was accused of producing a homogenous sound which while beautiful treated the orchestra as a single instrument, not as a collection of individual artists, and which often worked to the detriment of the music. This did not affect the sales of his recordings, the Berlin Philharmonic being the biggest-selling and most recorded orchestra perhaps of all time.

Such biographical details are generally omitted from this documentary, which looks almost exclusively at Karajan's career on film. Unlike other conductors and artists he took a keen interest in the technology of film, as well as the mechanics of filming a performance. Some outtakes from an early video recording included in this film show him conducting to a recording of the orchestra with the cameras trained solely on him. Anyone who has seen any of his films, especially the later ones produced by his own company Telemondial, will know that Karajan forms the centrepiece of the films. They often show him and just the instruments, the orchestra members being faceless, giving the impression that he is the sole artistic force present. Not for nothing is the original German title of this documentary Filmstar Karajan.

The documentary is very well made and features a lot of archival material and excerpts from the Karajan films. There are plenty of colleagues from the orchestra, the technical crews and the record companies to give testimony as to Karajan's willpower and desire to control every aspect of his career. The then-CEO of Sony is on hand to describe his dealings with him and his final meeting with the maestro in 1989, at which Karajan suddenly slumped over dead from a heart attack. Coincidentally they were in the middle of a discussion of his video recordings.

What is missing from this film is some external context. Karajan did not invent the classical music film. Such films date back to the dawn of sound, with some operas even being filmed during the silent era. There were many opera films made in Italy during the 1940s and 1950s. But apart from a single still from one of his opera films, there is no mention of this aspect of his film career. Nor is there mention of any influence his films had on others (if any) or on the now-burgeoning DVD market. Also the running time is quite short, obviously due to being a TV production for the ARTE channel. Some room could have been made on the disc for one of the shorter Karajan films, which would have been a valuable addition to this release.

These caveats aside, this is still a very good documentary and gives some idea of the sort of person Karajan was. It is one of many releases on DVD and CD of his work in this centenary year of his birth.

The DVD is released by Arthaus Musik with catalogue number 101 459.

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Transfer Quality


The documentary is in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The video format is NTSC.

The video is of very good quality with few issues to report, even though it includes archival material. It is good to see that the older material is presented in the original aspect ratio, rather than being stretched or cropped to fit the wider screen. Sharpness and detail are very good, and colour is generally accurate on the new video material. Some of the black and white footage shows its age, and shadow detail is often poor on this footage.

There are few film artefacts of note, and most of the documentary contains video material anyway. The only video artefact noted was aliasing, which appears on some still photographs when the camera pans across them, and on the outlines of some of the interviewees against what is obviously a blue or green screen behind them.

Subtitles are available in several languages. The default is for subtitles to be off, even if the selected menu language is other than the German of the documentary. The subtitling is faultless.

The disc is single-layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The sole audio track is Linear PCM stereo, and the documentary is in German. Some of the interviewees speak in English or Japanese but they are drowned out by a German voice-over.

The audio is excellent, with the stereo recordings sounding very clear and full. Stereo separation is good. Some of the older recordings are a little lacking in bass definition. Dialogue is extremely clear and there are no audio sync problems.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio and Animation

The menu has musical excerpts from the documentary while stills move across the screen.


The booklet contains a short essay with background to the film as well as a number of black and white photographs.

Trailers (8:42)

Three trailers are included, but with only the titles and catalogue numbers to identify them. No information is given about the performers. The first is the 1999 Herbert von Karajan Memorial Concert, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death. The Mozart Requiem is conducted by Claudio Abbado. The other two trailers are of opera videos, one being Rossini's La Cenerentola with Ann Murray, the other Ponchielli's La Gioconda with Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 release is identical to the releases in other regions.


An interesting documentary which gives some insight into the working methods of one of the most celebrated conductors of the twentieth century.

The video quality is generally excellent.

The audio quality is excellent.

Little in the way of extra material.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW60 SXRD projector with 95" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt into HD DVD Player, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationReceiver: Pioneer VSX-AX4ASIS; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference (mains), Elektra Theatron (centre/rears)
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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Comments (Add)
Price! - wolfgirv
Re: Price! - Classical DVDs are a rip-off -