Seattle Jewish Film Festival: Wagner’s Jews **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 22, 2014)

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Operas weren’t the only things that Richard Wagner (1813-1883) composed. He also published some virulently anti-Semitic manifestos (later parsed and re-branded by the Goebbels propaganda machine). Yet, an historical conundrum remains: Some of his most stalwart patrons and artistic collaborators were Jews (even Wagner scratched his head over their unwavering devotion). Director Hilan Warshaw sets about trying to make sense of it all in his documentary, using a mix of historical re-enactments and interviews with biographers, Israeli classical musicians and academics. While predicated on an intriguing premise, I found the film a bit on the dry side; although at just over an hour, it isn’t pretending to go too deep. It does raise an interesting question regarding whether it’s possible to separate an artist’s creative achievements from their peccadilloes and/or politics (for a more absorbing exploration on that theme, see Ray Muller’s great 1993 documentary, The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl).

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