WAGNER & ME
Actor and writer Stephen Fry explores his passion for the world's most controversial composer - Richard Wagner. But Stephen is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust, so can he salvage the music he loves from its dark association with anti-Semitism and the Nazis? Shot on location in Germany, Switzerland and Russia, the film includes unique behind-the-scenes access to the Bayreuth Festival, the annual extravaganza of Wagner's music held in the composer's own purpose built theatre.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's a moment in the film when Stephen Fry is listening to the orchestra of 120 musicians rehearsing Wagner's infamous Ring Cycle operas at Bayreuth, the composer's purpose built theatre in South Germany. Passionate about Wagner's music since he first heard it as an 11 or 12 year old boy on his father's gramophone, Fry admits to feeling as though he is enveloped within the texture of the music. It's a lovely description and one that is quite apt in this personal film in which we learn about the supreme music of Wagner, its controversial connection to Hitler and the way it moves Fry as no other music. It's a wonderful film about music, politics, history and passion - all uniquely seen through the eyes of Stephen Fry.
Like his music, Wagner was a complicated man whose radical ideas were not confined to his compositions. Fry explores his own Jewishness and the discomfort that surrounds the greatness of Wagner's music due to its connection to Hitler and Wagner's well-known anti-semitism. Some believe that Hitler perverted the music to his own ideology. Does this stain the magnificence of Wagner's music, Fry asks?
Through Fry's journey, we get to know about Wagner the man, his exile to Switzerland and the creation of his master operatic work based on Greek tragedy, encompassing all the artforms (acting, verse, music, dance, costume, spectacle and chorus). Much of his life was crippled by debt (and envy of successful Jewish composers like Mendelsohn and Meierbeer) but the miraculous patronage of the 18 year old eccentric Ludwig, son of the King of Bavaria, not only rid him of all his debts, but bankrolled all his future works.
Fry is like a kid in a candy shop as he visits Bayreuth while preparations for the 2009 annual Wagner music festival takes place. It is clear that the journey is hugely emotional for him as he sees his idyll's handwriting on the music score, speaks to musicians, conductors, Wagner's great great granddaughter (who runs the festival) and even sits in the conductor's chair in the revolutionary theatre's orchestra pit. At times it is almost too much as Fry pinches himself to make sure this is really happening. He deliberates (and explains) about The Tristan Chord (from Wagner's opera Tristan and Imelda), which teases us musically as it evolves into unresolved dischord instead of the expected harmonious resolution. Coitus interruptus Fry equates it to.
Shot on location in Germany, Switzerland and Russia, ultimately, this is an immensely personal film and it is Stephen Fry's obsession about the topic and the music that makes it so enjoyable. Whether you are just discovering Wagner and his place in music and history, or whether you have long admired his works, the film takes us on a unique and extraordinary journey, laying bare the legends, myths and realities of a composer like no other.
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WAGNER & ME (G)
NARRATION: Stephen Fry
EDITOR: Amanda Young
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Antidote Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney & Melbourne: March 3, 2011 (other cities to follow)