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Featured DVD Review: Wagner and Me

May 16th, 2013

Wagner and Me - Buy from Amazon

Wagner and Me is a documentary look at Richard Wagner hosted by Stephen Fry, who has a complicated relationship with the controversial composer. It earned very strong reviews, but failed to find an audience in limited release. Will fans of Wager or Fry want to check it out? Will it appeal to fans of documentaries in general?

The Movie

The film begins with Stephen Fry granted a behind-the-scenes look at the Bayreuth Festival, the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany. Stephen Fry is a huge fan of music and he has a special love for Wagner. However, Wagner was political and among his political works was an essay decrying the Jewish influence in music. Antisemitism was very common in the 19th century, so his embracing of common prejudices of the day wouldn't be too damaging to his legacy, except for one fact: Adolf Hitler was hugely influenced by Wagner's work. Adolf Hitler wasn't just a fan of the music, he thought it showed the true heroism of the German people, and warned of the evils of the Jewish people. It is this connection to Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust that taints Wagner's work and makes Stephen Fry question his love for Wagner's music.

The film can be divided up into three sections. We do hear a lot of Wagner's music throughout the film in various forms, from rehearsals to final performances. We also learn a lot about Wagner's life and his influences, including the darker aspects of both. We also see a lot of Stephen Fry going all Fanboy over some of the places he goes to, the artifacts he gets to touch, and the people he meets. While the film works as an introduction to Richard Wagner's works and does a good job as a biography, it is Stephen Fry's infectious enthusiasm that will draw in most people. However, this enthusiasm is tempered by a real conflict over the music and the man who made it.

If you go into Wagner and Me wanting an in-depth biography, you will probably walk away disappointed. If you go into the movie wanting to see performances of Wagner's music, especially at the Bayreuth Festival, you will probably walk away disappointed. If you go into the movie wanting to see a discussion about separating art from the arts, you will probably still be a little disappointed. The documentary doesn't focus enough on any one of these aspects enough to do the subject justice. However, with Stephen Fry as your host, he is able to tie all three elements together to make a very engaging film. In fact, his enthusiasm might make you a fan of Wagner, even if you were not to begin with.

On a side note, this subject has a modern equivalent with Orson Scott Card. He wrote Ender's Game, which is the basis for the upcoming movie. He was also supposed to write an arc in a Superman comic. However, he is an outspoken opponent of same sex marriage, to put it mildly, and many wonder if they can support his work without supporting his opinions. In the movie, Professor Chris Walton says of Wager, "Just because he may have been a nasty little man, and a nasty anti-Semite, but that doesn't mean the music is not as supreme as it is." That's a good point. Also, with Wagner, he's dead. Listening to his music won't give him any more money or a larger platform from which to spread his hate.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD.

The Verdict

Wagner and Me tackles the subject of Richard Wagner from a few different angles and thanks to Stephen Fry, it all comes together. There are no extras on the DVD, but it is worth the price.

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Filed under: Video Review, Wagner & Me, Stephen Fry