Richard Wagner (1913)

I thought it was ironic how, in Pasolini’s Medea, Maria Callas wound up being dubbed with someone else’s voice. Even better: a silent film about Richard Wagner released on DVD without any music score… not even the score assembled for the film by its star. Makes perfect senseNot everyone is happy that Tony Palmer’s responsible for releasing the film—he of the 1983 Wagner miniseries with Richard Burton and various other music-themed productions since the 1960s—and I will admit to slight frustration with Palmer’s commentary, which demonstrates that his grip on film history is somewhat less than what I presume is his grip on music history (try a bit more research on the art of silent film tinting, mate, and you’d be surprised by just how many feature films actually were being made before Birth of a Nation too). Still, some lapses of judgement aside, give him some credit for resurrecting a film of markedly minority interest. Giuseppe Becce plays Wagner, for whom he’s a pretty fair ringer, in one of only two acting roles (well, two credited on IMDB); he was better known as a composer of film music (Caligari and The Last Laugh being merely two of many; some of his stock music even wound up in Hollywood productions), and I really don’t understand why his score for this film wasn’t used.  The film itself gave me the odd feeling of watching a 1930s Hollywood version of the story ahead of its time, not in terms of technique (comparatively limited though certainly advanced from the last film we saw) or production values, but in terms of the narrative approach… it’s a bit of a whistle-stop tour through the high-points of the life and times in the way a 1930s Hollywood film might’ve done (skating over some of the less savoury details like the anti-Semitism), to the point where you do need some familiarity with the life and times to understand the import of some scenes. Not a masterpiece but a pleasant enough watch (Palmer at least utilised a really nice print for the DVD)…

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