Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Patrick McGrady.
Actor, author and raconteur Stephen Fry loves the music of Richard Wagner. But he is also a Jew and lost many relatives at Auschwitz. So he is feeling a little conflicted over his love of the glorious music that was written by an anti-Semite and hijacked by the Nazis. Wagner’s music has become synonymous with their evil legacy, although most people today associate it with that wonderful sequence from Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now when the helicopters fly in to napalm a village into oblivion.
Fry makes a pilgrimage to Bayreuth in Bavaria, to examine Wagner’s musical legacy and reconcile his own feelings about the man and his music. He talks to many historians and authorities to gain further perspective. We learn about Wagner’s extended exile in Switzerland, and how his life was crippled by debt before he found a supportive patron in King Ludwig. There is also a poignant interview with a Holocaust survivor who played cello in one of the Nazi death camps.
But the greatest joys for Fry come when he listens to musicians rehearse for the annual music festival and a performance of Wagner’s epic opera The Ring Cycle held in a purpose built theatre. Wagner’s music is interspersed throughout the film, providing a fine counterpoint to Fry’s narration.
This is a very personal and emotional film for Fry, as he tries to put his passion for the music of the controversial composer into context. Fry is an erudite, entertaining and engaging guide as he takes us to places of interest and importance, including Bayreuth and Nuremberg, which is famous for Hitler’s Nazi rallies.
Although Wagner And Me was originally produced for BBC, documentary director Patrick McGrady brings a superb cinematic sensibility to the material. Jeremy Irving uses digital film to capture some superb, crisp images, and the film has been beautifully shot on location in Germany, Russia and Switzerland.
Wagner And Me is a handsomely mounted documentary and a must for fans of Wagner’s music, as it offers so much insight into the man and his music.