Why is the “Maestro” Teaser Trailer So Controversial?

Buzz is building in the classical music world about Bradley Cooper’s new film Maestro, which chronicles the life and loves of Leonard Bernstein.

Today we’re sitting down and examining the first teaser trailer and answering some of the questions that have been raised about it.

Maestro | Official Teaser

So what’s the story behind Maestro?

In recent years, there have been two proposed Bernstein-centric movies in development.

One was associated with director Steven Spielberg, and the other had actor Jake Gyllenhaal attached to it.

In the end, the production associated with Spielberg was successful in purchasing music rights from the Bernstein family.

That effectively spelled the end to Gyllenhaal’s project, since without Bernstein’s music, he’d be unable to tell the story or give the performance he wanted to give.

Gyllenhaal, who is Jewish, told Deadline in 2021:

That story, that idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America and his struggle with his identity was in my heart for 20-some-odd years, but sometimes those things don’t work out. In this business, if you’re lucky enough to stick it out for a while, we can easily forget that getting to tell the story isn’t the most important thing.

That said, he did send his blessing to the Spielberg-helmed production: “Bottom line and this may be my Achilles heel or it may be my superpower, but I wish them the best.”

So who’s directing Maestro then?

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in "Maestro"

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro” © Netflix

Actor and director Bradley Cooper will be directing Maestro.

In 2022, Cooper appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to discuss how he became attached to the project.

Apparently Cooper was obsessed with conducting and classical music as a child, and always wanted to play a conductor.

Apparently after Spielberg saw an early cut of Cooper’s film A Star is Born (2018), he told Cooper, “You’re [expletive]ing directing Maestro!”

Watch Cooper tell the story:

So that’s how the project changed hands from Spielberg to Cooper. After Cooper finished A Star Is Born, he began work on Maestro.

Who was Leonard Bernstein?

Maestro is a film about the life of Leonard Bernstein, composer, pianist, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1957 to 1969.

He composed some of the most beloved theater works of the twentieth century, including West Side Story.

Who was Bernstein’s wife?

Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre, 1959

Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre, 1959

Bernstein’s wife was Felicia Montealegre Cohn, later Felicia Montealegre Bernstein.

She was born in Costa Rica to a Costa Rican mother and an American father, and eventually emigrated to America.

She became an actress. By the 1950s she had built up quite a career for herself.

Where did Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre Bernstein meet?

The future spouses met at a party given by pianist Claudio Arrau in 1946. (The teaser trailer suggests that we might see this party portrayed in the movie.)

The two dated for a while and even got engaged but broke up. Felicia began dating actor Richard Hart, but he died in January 1951 of a coronary occlusion. She then got back together with Bernstein, and they were married that September.

So why do they show Bernstein kissing men in the trailer?

Before, during, and after his marriage, Bernstein had sexual and romantic relationships with men. He grew increasingly open about his sexuality as the decades went on.

Was Bernstein gay?

Well, he wasn’t straight.

Over the years some people have labeled Bernstein as bisexual, since he loved Felicia dearly and had three children with her and was even in relationships with other women. But those who knew him have called him just plain gay.

Decades after it was written, children found a letter from Felicia dating from the year of their marriage: “You are a homosexual and may never change. I am willing to accept you as you are…”

Later, his collaborator on West Side Story, Arthur Laurents, wrote, “Bernstein was simply a gay man who got married. He wasn’t conflicted about his sexual orientation at all. He was just gay.”

Of course, officially coming out as gay at that time would have been career suicide. In fact, the Stonewall riots only happened during Bernstein’s final year as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

So why does this trailer seem so…heterosexual?

Who knows! The PR team might be trying to lull audiences into thinking the main love story is heterosexual, or it might be downplaying Bernstein’s romantic identity and experiences entirely, or some mix of both.

We’ll just have to wait and see how it’s all handled.

Um, what’s with Bradley Cooper’s nose?

Leonard Bernstein (Lenny Bernstein)

Leonard Bernstein (Lenny Bernstein)

A lot of people have questioned the makeup and prosthetic choices in this movie.

According to his daughter Jamie, Leonard Bernstein was indeed famous for his big nose. But looking at the real-life pictures and stills from the teaser trailer, it’s very clear that the prosthetic ended up being larger than Bernstein’s real-life nose.

We haven’t heard about why this decision was made, but there has been a lot of online discourse. Many people feel that the oversized nose plays into antisemitic stereotypes.

Did the family sign off on this?

They did. There was so much hubbub about the prosthetic nose in the teaser trailer that the Bernstein family felt compelled to speak out.

On 16 August 2023 they released a statement that said:

Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father. We were touched to the core to witness the depth of his commitment, his loving embrace of our father’s music, and the sheer open-hearted joy he brought to his exploration. It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts.

Leonard Bernstein’s Children Defend Bradley Cooper’s Prosthetic Nose in ‘Maestro’

While we’re on the subject of controversial creative choices…should an English woman be playing a Latina woman?

Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan © Sebastian Piras

English actress Carey Mulligan is going to be playing the role of Felicia Montealegre Bernstein.

Some people believe that this casting continues the long tradition of Hollywood needlessly casting white actresses in roles that could be played by Latina actresses, who are already underrepresented on film.

So…agree or disagree, let’s just say that some of the choices made during the creation of this film will spur online discourse!

What’s the music in the background of the Maestro trailer?

The gorgeous music in the background is the Adagietto movement from Mahler’s fifth symphony. The legend goes that Mahler wrote this movement specifically for his wife (although we don’t know that for sure).

Bernstein was a famous advocate for the music of Mahler and helped to cement Mahler’s place in the modern orchestral canon.

Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto Conducted by Leonard Bernstein

He famously conducted it at the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy after his assassination in 1968.

Its meaning in the film might have a double meaning. In addition to symbolizing Bernstein’s passion and influence, as well as mourning of lost potential, it could also be interpreted as a statement about spousal love.

What feedback have Maestro test screenings gotten?

The studio has been very strict about leaked reactions from Maestro test screenings.

Barbie had test screenings around the same time, and Warner Brothers encouraged the buzz. But, so far at least, Netflix has wanted to keep the reactions to Maestro hush-hush, and some reviews were scrubbed from the internet.

The few Reddit threads up about it suggest that some initial viewers really liked it, while others have been less impressed.

Are there any spoilers out there about Maestro?

Yes, a few. (Skip this list if you want to go in blind.)

• According to people who say they’ve been to test screenings, the film begins in black and white but then turns to color.

• It covers roughly thirty years of history.

• Pacing is rumored to have been a problem, and it’s rumored that big edits were made after reshoots in the spring of 2023.

• Carey Mulligan as Felicia appears to be a major standout (in fact, she may ultimately be considered the lead of the film).

• The men cast as Bernstein’s lovers also apparently do a great job.

• A standout scene is apparently one in which Bernstein conducts an excerpt from Mahler’s second symphony in a European cathedral.

But beyond those scattered scraps of very subjective takes, we don’t know much more yet.

Will Netflix promote Maestro properly?

Probably, yes.

As long as the actors’ and writers’ strike ends by November, you can expect to see the cast and director embarking on exhaustive press tours talking about the movie and Bernstein.

Why? Because Netflix is likely going to push this film during the Oscars race. They don’t have many other Oscar-quality films on their 2023 docket, and they’ll want the publicity and prestige.

So be prepared to hear a lot about Bernstein and discourse around Maestro in the last quarter of 2023!

When will Maestro be released?

It will premiere at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in September 2023. (Cooper is probably hoping for a repeat of the wildly successful premiere he had here with A Star Is Born back in 2018.)

Later, Maestro will have a limited release in theaters on 22 November 2023.

It will be available for viewing on Netflix on 20 December 2023.

Is Maestro going to be any good?

Only time will tell! A 90-second teaser trailer can only give away so much.

But one thing’s for sure: love the movie or hate it, Bernstein’s life was more than dramatic enough to warrant a film! Fingers crossed that it lives up to its potential.

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