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 ... See full summary »
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Marcus H. Rosenmüller
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. Animated by Stephen Fry's trademark wit and intelligence, and featuring a soundtrack of Wagner's extraordinary music, this is a fantastic introduction to the life and legacy of one of the most important composers ever, and a must-see film for those who already know and love his music. Written by
Himself - Presenter:
Imagine a great, beautiful, intricate tapestry of infinite colour, that has been stained indelibly. It's still a beautiful tapestry, with miraculous workmanship and gorgeous colour and silken texture, but that stain is real, and, I'm afraid, Hitler and Nazism have stained Wagner. For some people, that stain ruins the whole work. For others, it is just something you have to face up to. But here, as storm clouds gather in Nuremberg... Here is a place to think about such things
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Beloved Brit Stephen Fry first fell in love with the music of Wagner when he was 14 and so began a lifetime's passion for the music. In the present Fry visits Bayreuth where every year, at the concert hall Wagner himself built, a festival of his works is held and where despite his love of all things Wagner, Fry has never visited.
Fry delves into the life of Wagner, the preparations for the festival and of course Wagner's music. In doing so however there one has to discuss how Wagner was hugely anti-Semitic and how his music was heralded by Hitler and the Nazi's to the point where for some Wagner is tainted beyond acceptance. Hitler's love for Wagner led him to attending the very music hall that Fry is to attend. Fry, with his Jewish background also takes us to Nuremberg, home of the infamous Nazi parades and gatherings that took on a Wagnerian like epic-ness.
Yet despite his difficultly with getting past this connection with composer of great music and the horrors of Nazi rule, Fry remembers the joy of the music itself and exploring the realms of Wagner leads him to describe himself as a kid in a sweetshop.
As a person with little knowledge of Wagner I wondered how I would fair with this, but Fry is a perfect host. Yet the film struggles in places; the life of Wagner doesn't seem to be fully explored and we don't really get to know much except basic facts about the man. Also the use of music throughout the film disappoints as there are only snippets of various pieces that we don't get to really appreciate; in one instance a recreation of Traume in the same room it was first performed is suddenly shattered by Fry's booming voice-over. It's seems a shame that a film about such a great musician spends such little time presenting his music, unlike films such as In Search Of Beethoven that at least gave us more of the man's music.
Of course this is not just about Wagner, nor is it about Wagner and the connection with Hitler and Antisemitism. It's about the joy Fry holds for the music. It is wonderful to see the joy he gets, entering the theatre for the first time or playing a note on Wagner's piano. But it's difficult to share the enthusiasm to his level, if you are unfamiliar with Wagner's works, even if you can still enjoy to a certain extent. The connection between the Nazis' and Wagner also presents an uneasy premise, one that Fry himself acknowledges and that being, do you put that connection aside and enjoy or do you forever connect the man with one of the darkest moments in human history? Enjoyable as it is, more time could have been spent exploring Wagner's life and presenting his music, yet as an extended version of a TV program, this works well enough as an interesting introduction to one of music's great figures.
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