What do composers Andre Previn, Nelson Riddle, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, John Williams, and Jerry Herst all have in common? At one point or another, they were all under the tutelage of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In the new, dramatic biopic The Maestro, we are provided a slice of the master composer’s life, as seen through the eyes of one of his students, a man who deeply respected and admired Tedesco. Freestyle Digital Media delivered the film to select theaters on February 15, 2019, as well as to DVD and On Demand on February 19th.
Master Composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Xander Berkeley: Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991, The Walking Dead series) was born in Florence, Italy. Inspired by Mussolini and the rise of fascism in the 1920s, he and his family emigrated to the U.S. thanks to some connections with several famous friends. Hired by MGM, Tedesco would go on to compose hundreds of scores for films such as the 1941 Marx Brothers’ offering The Big Store, 1945’s Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None, and 1948’s The Loves of Carmen, though he received screen credit for a paltry seven of his creations. In addition to his work in musical composition, Tedesco was also a teacher — and that is where our story begins.
A lawyer turned songwriter, Jerry Herst (Leo Marks: Meet Joe Black 1998, The Last Tycoon series) found surprising success with his 1937 hit, “So Rare.” With his love for music leading him to Los Angeles in 1945, Herst soon found himself studying under the passionate Tedesco. The pair developed an honest friendship, one that allowed them to not always see eye to eye. Navigating post-World War II-era Hollywood side by side, it is exceptionally clear that Herst held an immense amount of respect and admiration for his mentor and his vastly under-appreciated catalog of work.
In short, this is not a tale of men achieving true greatness, but rather a moving and inspiring reminder that sometimes it is okay to do small things with greatness. Clocking in at 96 minutes, The Maestro was directed by Adam Cushman (Dying for a Donut short 2003, Restraint 2017) and written by first-timer C.V. Herst, who worked as a producer on 2017’s Restraint and the 2018 short film The Poet.
The film features a truly impressive cast, one that includes the likes of Sarah Clarke (24 series, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 2011), Jon Polito (The Crow 1994, The Big Lebowski 1998), Mackenzie Astin (Iron Will 1994, The Magicians series), Joëlle Séchaud (Président 2006, Milky Way 2014), William Russ (Boy Meets World series, American History X 1998), Jonathan Cherry (Final Destination 2 2003, Goon 2011), David J. Phillips (Life Happens 2011, Amateur Night 2016), and many, many more.
A truly impressive undertaking, The Maestro has already won a slew of awards on the festival circuit, including the Audience Award for Best Film and the Jury Award for Best Actor (Berkeley) at the Tallgrass Film Festival, as well as Best Film awards from Classical Arts Film Festival in Napa Valley, Lake Charles Film Festival, Mexico International Film Festival, and the Youth Jury Award for Best Film at the Rhode Island Film Festival. Berkeley also received the Best Actor Award from The Oaxaca Filmfest and The Albuquerque Film and Music Experience. Sadly, The Maestro marks the final film of the late, great Jon Polito.
Truthfully, it would be entirely remiss not to note Berkeley’s spellbinding performance. We all know that some people, when you gaze into their eyes, can harbor slowly dying flames lurking in their mysterious depths. Instead, Berkeley possesses a young at heart, fiery passion that beautifully complements his role as the creatively impassioned Tedesco. Yes, it’s right there in his eyes! Also, it’s a complete credit to his acting skills that we, like Herst, grow to long for his approval, for his infectious enthusiasm. Berkeley’s inspiring performance, however, is much in thanks to his splendid chemistry with Marks, who also gives a phenomenal portrayal of his well-rounded and unique character. Marks is likable, even relatable as the covert rebel, a man with a guaranteed paycheck who is willing to give it all up for the love of his craft. The two actors, working side by side, anchor a production that is exceptionally well-done and, ultimately, inspiring.
It’s important to note that this not a sheer nonfiction portrayal of events, however, there’s a wonderful authenticity to the details of The Maestro and, wherever possible, the actual compositions of Tedesco have been utilized. Otherwise, new compositions have been provided by the superbly talented Lucas Elliot Eberl (The Napkin short 2012, The Poet short 2018). The creations all blend flawlessly, weaving a moving backdrop for a tale that is steeped heavily in the love of music.
An intelligent and unique take on the biopic, The Maestro takes a slice of an artist’s life and presents its story through the eyes of one of his students; celebrating a man who was never given his due in life. Inspiring for any artist or creative type, this is a reminder that sometimes it’s the people we leave behind, the lives that we have touch for the better, that far exceed the importance of our name in lights. With exceptional acting and a score that finally gives credit to a man ahead of his time, The Maestro delivers a truly magnificent, intelligent and artistic movie-going experience. Celebrating the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Cryptic Rock give The Maestro 5 of 5 stars. And please remember, there is music in everything!