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Wagner & Me - Movie Review - 2012

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Wagner & Me - Movie Review - 2012

'Wagner & Me' Poster Art

First Run Features

An Enthusiastic Tour of the World of Richard Wagner

In Wagner & Me, Stephen Fry, the popular British television personality and music enthusiast, takes a rather comprehensive tour of the key places where Richard Wagner lived, worked and is still celebrated on a regular basis.

Fry is obsessively enthusiastic about Richard Wagner. As he moves from one Wagner-related environment to another, Fry utters a constant flow of 'pinch me, I must be dreaming' and 'goodness, I can't believe I'm actually here' comments. Even as he interviews Wagner scholars and musicians famous for their interpretations of the maestro's works, he gushes with reverence. It's genuine, no doubt. But, it's a bit too much. It's distracting. Then annoying.

In fact, Fry's tour guide banter seems to express more about his own deeply felt impressions of Wagner and the Wagnerian world, than it does to impart and convey the requisite range of critical information that would shed more light on the music, life and times of Richard Wagner, and explain his impact on opera, on musical style, and on the evolution and expression of German culture, and why he is considered to be one of the finest composers of all time.

But Fry, the tour guide, does gain access to some very interesting Wagnerian environments. He takes the audience behind the scenes and into the orchestra pit, so to speak, at the renown Bayreuth Music Festival, the scene of the music world's annual Wagner tribute and Wagnerian extravaganza, and he invites viewers to sit in on his intimate one-on-one on camera interviews with accomplished Wagner scholars and famous musicians who are known for their marvelous interpretations of the master's works.

Fry and the Richard Wagner scholars discuss the unique style and attributes of musical composition in Der Ring des Nibelungen, Parsifal, die Walkure and other Wagner operas still adored in the Bayreuth canon.

There are also revealing visits to Richard Wagner's residences, the telling of relevant stories about his life in exile and his financial woes, his relationship with his second wife Cosima Wagner and the founding of the Bayreuth Festival, and tales of his many romantic dalliances.

Owning Richard Wagner's Antisemitism

As he breezes from one Wagner locale to another, Fry's commentary seems airy and a bit lightweight. That is until Fry he gets around to discussing the issue of Wagner's explicit antisemitism, and talking about the massive popularity of Wagner's 'music dramas' during the Third Reich.

Fry is Jewish. During the holocaust, many of his family members were among those murdered in the Nazi death camps. Fry has great difficulty reconciling the horrible realities of the holocaust and with his unconditional love of Wagner's music. The maestro died in 1883, long before the Nazi regime, but the antisemitism he expressed in his grand themes and conveyed through his music were wholly embraced by leaders of the Third Reich and used to spur antisemitic behavior. The public airing of Fry's personal dilemma is one of the most interesting facets of the film.

A Richard Wagner Primer

Although Fry's manner might be distracting, the film, all in all, does cover the Wagner basics, providing relevant -- if not profoundly insightful -- biographical material, a general historical context, and some analysis of the musical compositions, their style and their lasting influence. And, of course, the soundtrack is excellent, as you would expect it to be.

If you're looking for a Wagnerian environment. this is it.

The film might leave Wagner cognoscenti feeling a bit underwhelmed, but it will serve as an engaging primer for the as yet uninitiated people -- including school kids -- who don't know much about the composer and his 'music dramas.' And, of course, it will be a sure pleaser for fans of Stephen Fry and his personal style of exposition.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Wagner & Me
  • Director: Patrick McGrady
  • Theatrical Premiere: December 7, 2012
  • Running Time: 89 mins.
  • Locations: Bayreuth, Germany, and other European locations where Wagner lived and worked.
  • Language: English
  • Production Country: Great Britain
  • Production Companies: British Broadcasting Corporation, Wavelength Films
  • Distribution Company: First Run Features
  • Trailer
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