David as Devil: Garrett Takes on the Role of Paganini in The Devil’s Violinist

This past weekend, the much anticipated Paganini biopic The Devil’s Violinist had its US release.

David Garrett as Niccolo Paganini in "The Devil's Violinist." Credit Freestyle Releasing
David Garrett as Niccolo Paganini in “The Devil’s Violinist.” Photo Credit: Freestyle Releasing

This is not the first venture of writer-director Bernard Rose into the world of classical musicians’ lives: in 1994 Rose was responsible for Immortal Beloved, the Beethoven biopic starring Gary Oldman. The Devil’s Violinist, starring superstar violinist David Garrett, follows the story of Niccolò Paganini’s colorful life in and out of the musical sphere. Paganini, ingenious violinist and composer of the nineteenth century, was at his most in-demand and powerful in 1830, when the bulk of the film’s action is set. It was then when Paganini made his debut in London, the primary setting for the film. The virtuoso’s manager Urbani (Jared Harris) becomes enraged when Paganini falls in love (for real this time – heretofore it has just been temporary lustful conquests) with showman John Watson’s daughter Charlotte, and goes forth to destroy the romance, continuing to manipulate Paganini as he sees fit. Paganini is depicted here as the nineteenth century equivalent of a rock star. He is said to have made a pact with the devil to achieve his immense talent and this is alluded to in the film as well, hence the title.

David Garrett, an ingenious violinist in his own right, comfortable with all musical genres, and longtime Paganini admirer, released his album Paganini Caprices in 1997 as well as the recent Garrett vs. Paganini inspired by The Devil’s Violinist. Throughout this film, Garrett as Paganini can be seen playing Paganini’s works on the violin, most notably Caprice No. 24. The featuring of an actual musician rather than an actor who would have to resort to fake-playing an instrument to a dubbed track by a true player, is quite an interesting artistic choice on the parts of director Rose and David Garrett. An additional sense of authenticity is provided and the audience is left with the sense of having watched a live concert that permeates the dramatic story up on the screen. This is especially satisfying when this experience includes David Garrett’s extraordinary playing.

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Jude Warne earned her BA in Cinema Studies and Art History from New York University. She recently earned her MA at NYU’s Draper Program of Humanities and Social Thought, where her thesis focused on American characters dealing with disappointment in the works of Sherwood Anderson and Bruce Springsteen. She has written numerous reviews for Film Matters, Senses of Cinema, Journal of Popular Music & Society and Scope. She is also an In-the-Field writer at Film International and a contributing writer at The Vinyl District.