The Bolero (1973)

The winner of the 1973 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Live Action), Bill Fertik’s film essay offers a consideration of Maurice Ravel’s masterwork via a performance of the piece by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The first part of this 25-minute film provides a view of stagehands setting up the music stands and chairs for the philharmonic members in a studio where the piece will be performed. Conductor Zubin Mehta and the musicians – none of whom are identified on screen by name – offer their views on the complexity of the overall composition and the instrumental solos that spice its sensual melodies.

The second part of the film finds the camera tracking throughout the musicians’ set-up, with pauses on individual performers for their solo work. Mehta is mostly absent until the fiery climax, where he is captured in an exuberant conducting of the work’s passion-invoking ending.

“The Bolero” had been a staple of the educational film market during the halcyon days of the 16mm market. Today, the film can be viewed on Vimeo (Sorry, folks, but we can’t embed the video on this page — but you can view it at this link.) Whether this is work is truly deserving of its Oscar can be debated – while the performance itself is wonderful, the film gives no history of “Bolero” and barely mentions Ravel or where the work fits into his canon, an omission that is difficult to comprehend.