Main content

Beethoven's Hair

BEETHOVEN'S HAIR traces the unlikely journey of a lock of hair cut from Beethoven's corpse and unravels the mystery of his tortured life and death. The film begins in modern times when a pair of Beethoven enthusiasts, Ira Brilliant and Dr. Alfredo 'Che' Guevara, purchase the hair at a Sotheby's auction. As the story unfolds, it follows the past generations of owners, culminating in the futuristic science that reveals Beethoven's 'medical secret'. Set to a lush score of some of Beethoven's most glorious music, the film explores the world of forensic testing in sharp relief against the romance of 19th century Vienna and the horrors of 20th century Nazi Germany.

Based on Russell Martin's bestselling book, this is the story of characters separated by time and place, whose only connection is an odd relic that touched each of their lives. Along the way, BEETHOVEN'S HAIR sheds new light upon the cause of Beethoven's various maladies, including his deafness, as well as accounting for his volatile personality and perhaps even the nature of his art.

'Alternately quirky and poignant, Beethoven's Hair displays the exquisite edge of Weinstein's masterful storytelling.' David McIntosh, Hot Docs Program

'Several rich strands are intertwined in Beethoven's Hair , a musical mystery tour starring a hard-traveling forelock from Ludwig Van. Side trips into the Holocaust, kitschy Americana, and up-to-the-minute science give breadth to this tale of musical obsession, which never loses sight of the genius that generates the action. This most recent feature from Larry Weinstein (who received a retroretro tribute at Hot Docs, drawn from the Rhombus Media founder's 20 pics in as many years) deserves noisy fanfare at music-minded fests...Beethoven's music, beautifully performed by musicians in the Czech Republic (where most of the nicely lit restagings took place) add to the drama, while deft sound design and editing add smooth textures across the board.' Ken Eisner, Variety

'Told in a splendidly imaginative manner, the narrative moves through the intriguing milieu of Vienna in the 19th century, to the terrible drama of the Second World War, and right up to the world of contemporary science and a sort of CSI forensics plot. Even if you have zero interest in Beethoven, the true story of what happened to that lock of hair is way stranger than fiction.' John Doyle, The (Toronto) Globe and Mail

'Superbly edited... A splendid film for people who care about Beethoven and modern medicine. In case either music historians or scientists doubt whether the hair in question was actually Beethoven's, subsequent testing of bone fragments absolutely known to have belonged to him produced the same results. This film can sit comfortably with other documentaries in library collections and is absorbingly accessible enough to be used in library film programs for general audiences. Highly Recommended.' Educational Media Reviews Online

'Forensic crime-solving dramas may be all the rage on network television, but Larry Weinstein's cheeky little documentary Beethoven's a definite cut above...Beethoven's Hair is a fascinating detective story, well told. Highly Recommended.' Video Librarian's Best Documentaries of the Year List

'Authentic re-enactments bring to life 19th-century Vienna, while historic footage from World War II and interviews with Holocaust survivors help capture the horrors of that era...[This film] demonstrates the unraveling of a historical mystery using forensics and physics.' School Library Journal

'Weinstein's artful composer biopic succeeds in braiding all strands of his story into one compelling narrative. It maintains its aura of mystery until the heartwarming resolution...Highly recommended.' Bonnie Jo Dopp, University of Maryland Library, Library Journal


Main credits

Wallner, Thomas (Screenwriter)
Shapiro, Jody (Producer)
Daniel, Jessica (Producer)
Weinstein, Larry (Director)
Weinstein, Larry (Producer)
Guadagni, Nicky (Narrator)

Other credits

Edited by David New; director of photography, Horst Zeidler; consultant, Russell Martin; music, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

European Studies
Mental Health
Performing Arts
Science, Technology, Society
Toxic Chemicals


scientific analysis, Ira Brilliant, Che Guevara, Sotheby's, music, forensic testing, 19th century Vienna, holocaust, Nazi Germany, Russell Martin, deafness, volatile personality, nature of art; "Beethoven's Hair"; Bullfrog Films