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'The Soloist' DVD spotlights Ben Hong, Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers

August 3, 2009 |  2:21 pm


"The Soloist" will be released on DVD on Tuesday, and it will feature extras that highlight the behind-the-scenes involvement of L.A. Philharmonic cellist Ben Hong, Times columnist Steve Lopez, and Nathaniel Ayers, the homeless musician whose story inspired Lopez's columns and ultimately the movie.

In one of the extras, Hong talks about working with Jamie Foxx on the movie set. The cellist explains how he taught Foxx the fingerings to the music and devised a notation system that the actor could learn quickly. We see some footage from the set showing Hong and Foxx interacting (with Robert Downey Jr., who plays Lopez, looking on) as they take time between shots to get the fingerings and bowings down.

Hong also shows up in the movie, but just briefly: He plays himself in the cello section of the orchestra during the scenes in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The DVD also features extensive interviews with Lopez, the Times columnist whose articles on Ayers and whose subsequent book served as the basis for the movie. In one extra, Lopez and Ayers appear together to talk about their friendship -- we even get to hear Ayers perform briefly. Lopez appears in a separate featurette in which he talks about the plight of the homeless population in L.A.

The rest of the extras includes interviews with producers, the director (Joe Wright), the screenwriter (Susannah Grant) and the cast. Among the tidbits we learn is that the scenes of downtown L.A.'s Skid Row were filmed on a set a few miles away from the actual Skid Row.

Times critics did not react favorably to "The Soloist."

Film critic Kenneth Turan faulted the filmmakers' attempts to make the story palatable to a general audience: "By consistently and relentlessly overplaying everything, by settling for standard easy emotions when singular and heartfelt was called for, by pushing forward when they should have pulled back, director Joe Wright and screenwriter Susannah Grant have made the story mean less, not more. Instead of enhancing 'The Soloist's' appeal, they have come close to eliminating it."

Music critic Mark Swed singled out the filmmakers' decision to depict a Philharmonic cellist (played by Tom Hollander) as a fundamentalist Christian who tries to recruit the Ayers character.

"Just about everything about music is misrepresented in the film," wrote Swed.

-- David Ng

Photo:Jamie Foxx and Ben Hong collaborate on the set of "The Soloist." Credit: Francois Duhamel / Dreamworks