“Music is not a luxury, but a need, like the air we breathe and the water we drink.”
— Sir Simon Rattle
Rhythm Is It! records the first ambitious social project of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra initiated by Sir Simon Rattle, its principal conductor since 2002. The 6-week project aimed to train 250 mainly low achieving adolescents from four Berlin public schools to dance in a public performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Many of the teenagers who had never been exposed to ballet or serious music and also seemed to have no respect for their cultural heritage. The objective was to prove how such a project could lift individual self-esteem, instill self-discipline, introduce a more positive attitude towards learning and demonstrate the importance of participation in music and dance in education for life.
Many of the teenagers’ early interest in the project soon waned, as they were unprepared for the complexities of the unfamiliar music and resented the mental concentration and physical energy demanded of them by their tough choreographer Royston Muldoon, who had himself come from an underprivileged background. Attitudes gradually improved, however, as teenage masks slipped away. The film follows the progress of three students –– Marie, 15, a low achiever who is worried that she may not pass her next exams, Olayinka, 16, a Nigerian war orphan whose inner strength is helping him adjust to a very different life and Martin, 19, a reclusive neurotic who cannot bear to be touched by others.
Meanwhile the orchestra is shown rehearsing the music to The Rite of Spring that premiered in Paris in 1913. Stravinsky’s two earlier ballets, The Firebird and Petrushka, were modern but still kept within familiar music conventions, but The Rite’s unpredictable melodic lines, harsh dissonances and Nijinsky’s difficult choreography, not to mention its theme of a young virgin sacrificed to pagan gods, enraged many of the Parisian first night audience. Whistles and catcalls filled the theatre, fistfights erupted among the audience and a riot was developing as the police arrived. Only 27 years later Walt Disney gamely popularised The Rite in his full-length Fantasia, the contentious virgin sacrifice replaced by a dinosaur evolution.
By the fifth week, when the dancers and orchestra rehearse together for the first time, almost all the young participants are now totally willing and involved. The public performance is a triumphant success, the young dancers are enthused by the experience and then . . . what? The film gives no indication whether the training and performance has resulted in a more positive attitude to arts education in Germany or whether this was an isolated vanity project by Sir Simon. One internet blogger has maintained that the positive effects on participants in The Rite project slowly eroded over the ensuing months in the absence of a co-ordinated follow-up program.
Rhythm Is It! was premiered in Australia at the 2004 Sydney Film Festival.
— Introduction to the film at the session ‘Music Power’, WEA Film Study Group, Sydney, Australia, 22 April 2012
Germany | 2004 | 100 minutes | Colour
Directors: Thomas Grube and Enrique Sánchez Lansch
Dolby Digital 5.1. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced)
DVD source: NFSA on deposit from the Goethe-Institut. Production companies, BoomtownMedia GmbH & Co, Cine Plus. Executive producer, Uwe Dierks; cinematographers, René Dame, arcud Winterbauer; film editors, Dirk Grau, Martin Hoffman; original music, Igor Stravinsky, score, Karim Sebastian Elias, conductor Sir Simon Rattle; choreographers Royston Muldoon, Susanah Broughton; Marie Theinert, Martin Eisetraut, Olayinka Shitu (as themselves).
- German Film Awards, 2005: Gold Awards for Outstanding Documentary and Best Editing
- Bavarian Film Awards, 2005: Best Documentary
- Guild of German Arthouse Cinemas, 2005: Best Documentary
- Nashville Film Festival, 2005: Impact of Music Award
Scheib, Ronnie, Variety, 27 April 2004, at: