Alastair Macaulay: Cate Blanchett’s film Tar is lesbophobia

Alastair Macaulay: Cate Blanchett’s film Tar is lesbophobia


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2022

The ex-New York Times chief dance critic lashes out at the woman conductor film:

It’s shocking to find any praise given to the new film Tár, a pseudo-documentary that turns into a lesbophobe horror movie, featuring strikingly stagey, albeit highly glamorous, acting by Cate Blanchett. The New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik (a friend and colleague of mine since 1988) actually does play the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, interviewing the star maestro/maestra Lydia Tár before a live audience. Scenes at Juilliard and the Berlin Philharmonie actually happen in Juilliard and the Berlin Philharmonie. And then – all in the same pseudo-documentary vein – the sapphic Tár conspires to wreck musical careers, to promote women musicians of whom she has sexual hopes, and to absolve herself of all blame. At the end, all attempt at plausible realism is dropped: the conductor approaches the podium only to strike another musician to the floor, and quickly finds herself conducting in ridiculously obscure contexts in the Far East. This is the Black Swan of classical music. A great deal of research has been applied to make us feel this film knows its stuff, though why Tár is made to speak of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony as if it went beyond other Mahler is a mystery, and it is absurd when she speaks casually of having conducting The Rite of Spring at “the Met”. (The Metropolitan Opera House has given very few performances of Stravinsky’s Rite as a ballet, but the only superstar conductor to present it there was James Levine, its resident maestro, when directing a stage production.)…

As Lydia Tár, Blanchett plays a star conductor who manipulates the Berlin Philharmonic administration to further her own sexual crushes, drives one player to suicide, and suffers from paranoid nocturnal fantasies. No, Tár does not imply that all lesbians are lethal and cruel bitches, but, by homing in on the lethal, crazed, cruel bitchiness of this particular superstar while showing us her home life, it strongly implies that this protagonist’s monstrosity is all part of her sexual inclination. …

Read on here.


  • David says:

    This is nonsense. I saw the movie last week and it is brilliant – both screenplay and acting. Totally convincing from musical and cinematic point of view as well.

  • Scott says:

    Gergiev also conducted the Rite at the Met as a ballet. 2003-4

  • Tony Ah-ser - ohhh says:

    To quote the criminally misunderstood docu-drama from 1981 Stripes…. “Lighten up, Francis”

  • Mark(London) says:

    Lebians can be manipulative abusive and basically bitches. Get over the reality

  • M2N2K says:

    Only in the eyes of the particular beholder. This movie is rather ambiguous in its “message” and there are several possible interpretations some of which are rather contradictory.

  • Ernest says:

    We are not dumb. This is just a movie. We know there are good people and bad people everywhere.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I question the ‘dumb’ aspect, if people need poor, ‘just a movie’ movies to keep them entertained on a nightly basis. Do you seek ‘just music’ for your listening entertainment.?

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Something has told me to just stay away from this film. Having read this, I’m glad that I have. Maybe someday I’ll take in, just to see what all the fuss way about. I think movies about conductors are generally uninteresting anyway.

  • Richard Zencker says:

    I shudder to think what the film would look like (or the reaction to it) if the lead character were male… and who might be considered the real-life inspiration…

  • japecake says:

    What a bunch of babies have taken over the media. The New Yorker review was even more risible.

  • Adam Stern says:

    After having avoided this film since its release, Mr. Macaulay’s critique finally got the better of my curiosity. I’ve just watched it, and found it a dismal experience, yet another attempt at presenting classical musicians on film and getting it totally wrong. The dialogue in scenes talking about and describing music is ghastly; Ms. Blanchett’s conducting is laughable; the morality tale flimsy at best.

    One interesting bit of “original” address occurs when Tár is rehearsing Mahler’s Fifth, and she chastises the orchestra thusly:

    >> Please, please, please, you must watch. Das ist ganz frei hier. Okay? It’s gotta be like, uh, just one person singing their heart out. And…sie spielen es wie eine etude.

    Compare that speech to Leonard Bernstein’s exhortation to the London Symphony Orchestra (at 1:14):

    I know that Tár’s idolatry for Bernstein is supposed to be extreme, but this coincidence is carrying it a bit far, no?

    My fervent hope is that those who’ve seen the film don’t assume that they have a greater understanding of the world of symphony orchestras and conductors.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    He sounds like the kind of person who would believe everything in the “Crown” series on tv.

  • lamed says:

    Relax Mr. Macaulay, Basic Instincts this film is not, no one is going out to see this film to merit any more critical discussion of it.

    Was I surprised that serious critics, including the NYT, actually liked this film? Very much so.

    Will this film matter? No doubt in some gender studies / cinema studies seminar at some college somewhere in some corner of the world. And Mr. Macauley would make a good invited speaker.

  • Robert says:

    “At the end, all attempt at plausible realism is dropped” : but wasn’t James Levine embroiled in similar sexual scandal?

  • James Weiss says:

    Sounds like a comedy.

  • Alank says:

    I agree with the NYT writer. The move is ridiculous. No orchestra is run that way. Recording sessions are planned well in advance and no way would a conductor on the spur of the moment be allowed to add the Elgar Cello concerto to the recording sessions so she can promote her prospective girlfriend. Assistant conductors are not personal assistants, they are more like understudies. The Mahler 5 presentation was nonsense. The listing of her credentials, including a PhD in ethnomusicology was also nonsense. BTW, she is too young to be a Bernstein student unless she was 12 years old. Ok the acting was good and there were moments of well written script but to a knowledgeable orchestra player, even a non-professional like myself, this movie was too contrived and false to be memorable.

  • geoffrey dorfman says:

    Look. The physical attack on another conductor in front of an audience is way over the top. Wholly unbelievable, and excruciatingly unnecessary. But apart from that, it’s a very effective film. The lesbianism is not central; the plot would work the same if she was working and mentoring attractive young male musicians. It’s quite an original and well made narrative film. There’s no getting around it. But the attack is a crucial lapse.

  • Alan says:

    It’s a film. My God what a load of woke tosh

  • Thornhill says:

    People have really missed the point of the movie, which it’s not exactly subtle about — it’s about celebrity, cult of personality, and power. It might as well be about people like Kanye and Elon. Setting it in the world of classical music is no different than Verdi setting an opera in 1600 in order to discuss contemporary issues so he wouldn’t be so on the nose for viewers. If you’re taking issue with Blanchett’s baton technique, then you really weren’t paying attention. (But the film does have some specific jabs for the classical music world, such as the Mark Strong character that’s clearly inspired by Gilbert Kaplan.)

    As for Tár’s sexuality, I strongly disagree that the film makes any suggestion that her cruelty and abuse of power stems from it. Again, this is exactly a subtle film — it invokes other celebrities who have used their status and power for personal pleasure; it knows the audience is going to be thinking about men like Harvey Weinstein.

  • Adi says:

    What absolute bollocks! There wasn’t an ounce of lesbophobia or anything of the sort. The story just revolves around a person who simply happens to be lesbian. Period.
    Also there is no Berlin philharmonie. It’s the Dresden Philharmonie.

  • Anonymous says:

    What an odd mixture of politically correct sentiment and 1950s diction the review is.

    I suppose calling the fictional conductor Sapphic could be an ironic commentary on the film’s supposedly retrograde view of lesbian characters, but to say James Levine had a “homosexual scandal” is just offensive. Levine had an underage sex scandal. Would the reviewer ever think to say Epstein was disgraced by a “heterosexual scandal”?

    I think I will avoid the film as well as the rest of this review.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The New York Times? Absolutely priceless.

  • Adolfo Busch says:

    It’s a movie! Get over it!

  • Helen Kamioner says:

    instead of throwing away 20 bucks to see this movie, i should have watched reruns of Mozart in the Jungle.

  • Max Raimi says:

    So then, is “Don Giovanni” male heterophobia? I couldn’t stand “Tar”, in fact I walked out on it. But this screed manages to completely miss the point. As to quibbles about accuracy, who cares? “Amadeus” took outrageous historical liberties and “MacBeth” is hardly a rigorously researched history of medieval Scotland. But these two masterpieces have utterly valid things to say about our humanity. Even within its own artificial constructs, I found “Tar” to be preposterous and interminable.

  • Astrid says:

    This lesbian thinks his review is ridiculous.