8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Alan W. Petrucelli
- Published on Amazon.com
Stephen Fry is one of the funniest men on earth, a man possessed of great acting talent. Think of the hysterical TV series A Bit of Fry and Laurie, 26 episodes co-starring Hugh Laurie revered as great comic genius to his awarding-winning portrayal of Oscar Wilde, his talent is enormous and somewhat audacious.
Richard Wagner was an incredibly abstruse German composer, author of many operas and especially well known for his series of creations collectively called Te Ring, four operas based of Germany's most popular myths. Wagner was Adolph Hitler's favorite composer. Fry is Jewish, and just old enough to recall the results of the Second World War.
So, why in the name of heaven would he do a motion picture entitled Wagner & Me (First Run Features)? Wagner was Adolph Hitler's very favorite composer, representing to him both the best of the Master Race and a faux history and prophecy of the Third Reich. How could an Englishman, who is Jewish, possibly reconcile Wagner's music with history and reality?
Fry explores the beauty and complexities of the opera Parsifal and the four pieces composing the ring: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Visually stunning, Fry traces Wagner's life, both personal and creative. The audience is treated to a tour of Europe and the composer's search for fame, fortune, recognition, and, frequently, his next meal, in 18h century Europe. Late in life, a gay flirtation with the mad King Ludwig, with Wagner counterfeiting similar feelings, led to final financial stability and the building of a special theatre in Bayreuth just for Wagner's mammoth productions. The four operas of The Ring are sumptuously performed there yearly, and for decades it has literally been the hottest ticket in the world, impossibly expensive even if you're lucky enough to be offered one. The waiting list for subscriptions, said to be a highly guarded secret, is reportedly enormous. Drawing untold thousands of fans every year, there is a demand for over a half a million tickets for a supply of on 58, 000. The waiting list is between five and ten years, at least, with somewhat Draconian rules and regs just for the applications.
Fry was able to obtain tickets to all four operas. But how to reconcile the obvious and complex problem here? With humor, charm, pain, soul-searching, and an infinity of questions, Fry attains the obvious answer. Hitler is arguably the most evil man of the last century, the destruction, pain and suffering he caused can never be understood. Fry, with a great deal of help, realizes that we must not let this monster's action stain the beauty of the composer's genius. It is impossible to deny Der Fuhrer's affection for the music, and it is impossible to overlook the composer's anti-Semitism. Yet one must force oneself, however difficult, to have the strength to look beyond the hatred and see, and most of all, feel, the beauty of the music. Fry suggests that while any sort of forgiveness may be out of the question, one must be able to step beyond the sordid history and appreciate the genius that created this beauty. This DVD follows Fry's search for a reconciliation, and is instructive, inspiring, and quite simply an incredible journey.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Stephen Fry is a much-beloved wit, storyteller, presenter, writer and actor. He’s also fanatically in love with the music of Richard Wagner.
So what? Lots of people love Wagner’s music. Some would say there is nothing grander. Adolf Hitler would’ve concurred.
And that, more or less, is the premise of WAGNER & ME.
Although it is an interesting premise it is far less dramatically impacting than the creators of this film would hope. For one thing, Wagner was long dead when Hitler came along. True, they are ideologically connected in that Wagner was a pronounced anti-Semite, but so was half of Europe. What Hitler saw in Wagner’s music was an artistic symbol of Nazi ideology, but Wagner had nothing to do with it. To suggest that Wagner’s music is inextricably linked with Hitler and National Socialism is like equating the music of The Beatles with Charles Manson and his “family”. It’s more a question of what a sick mind can do to exploit something already powerful and meaningful by layering onto it a perverted agenda (albeit, in Wagner’s case, with the blessing of his family).
And that, perhaps, is arguably a story of much greater resonance and interest. Problem is, the story of Wagner’s family’s relationship with Hitler has already been captivatingly told in Tony Palmer’s far more weighty study “The Wagner Family,” a film deemed so damning by the Wagner family that they have attempted to launch a law suit against Mr. Palmer (to no avail, it seems).
Further, any dramatic potential in exploring Fry’s guilt (he is Jewish) at finding so much enjoyment in Wagner’s music is quickly neutralized by observing his boyish sense of wonder at being in Bayreuth (the home of the Wagner Festival) and taking part in behind the scenes exercises like watching rehearsals, observing costume fittings (the Valkyries are more fun without Tom Cruise) and discussing Wagner’s considerable contribution to music with various musicians. The film is unfocused in its intent in this way. For anyone who loves (at least some of) Wagner’s music (as I do) can separate the music itself from the claims of Nazism and even the sympathies of Wagner’s widow and children.
Remember the play and subsequent film of “Amadeus”, which showed Mozart to be a braying little brat who, despite his moral failings (much to rival Antonio Salieri’s chagrin) was a musical genius of unparalleled achievement? The premise is more or less the same, if one can accept, for argument’s sake, the comparison of a propensity for telling dirty jokes to fanning the insidious flames of racism.
In the end, it’s the music that counts, which is the conclusion reached in WAGNER & ME. Were anyone inclined to feel guilty over their spine-tingling reaction to the opening chords of “Tristan & Isolde” for example, there is no need, we are assured. If Stephen Fry can separate the two, so can we. Where the film is maybe a tad anti-climactic is the assertion that we require Stephen Fry to tell us that.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Fry is an impeccable, fun and good-natured host. A true gentleman, I’m inclined to politely listen to what he expounds, on the subject of Wagner, at least.
Ultimately, it is Wagner’s glorious music – performed on the ultimate Wagner stage (actually, under it) – that really boosted my appreciation for the film. Definitely worth seeing, but not as revelatory as intended, WAGNER & ME is perhaps more of an indulgence than a thought-provoking essay. But it has the virtue of being fun, and how often can you that about Wagner?