Archive for September 2nd, 2011

by Sam Juliano

One of Western culture’s most famous contradictions is an oddity that broaches but never solves one of life’s greatest mysteries.  Richard Wagner, celebrated creator of a brace of philosophically complex “music dramas,” and most influential composer who ever lived, was also a well-known anti-Semite, and a mean-spirited and abusive family man.  That such a person could write what is quite possibly the most ravishingly beautiful and spiritually infused music of all-time is a testament to to the concept that beauty can emanate from the most unlikely sources, where the most soulful kind of artistic expression takes no sides in choosing its creator.

But the composer’s final work, Parsifal, which premiered at Bayreuth in 1878, yields further incongruities connected to its reception and political standing, both of which seem to suggest that Wagner purged himself of his demons and embraced ideals that were in diametric opposition to his inner self.  Adolf Hitler, whose adoration for Wagner’s previous work -especially his monumental Die Ring der Niebelungen and Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg- was infamous, banned any performances of the opera in 1939, presumably because the work’s message of pacifism and its seeming promotion of the Christian ideal of suffering ran counter to the ideologies of the Third Reich.  Hence, Parsifal has never been a work to attract tame response, and the opera has been variously described as sublime, heinous or decadent, which specifically some critics have simultaneously embraced its epic wonderment while still judging it as  “a profoundly inhuman spectacle, that glorifies a barren masculine world whose ideals are a combination of militarism and monasticism.” (Peter Wapnewski)  Considering the suggestive allegory Wagner designed for what he called his ‘last card’ and ‘farewell to the world’ the controversy is hardly surprising.  However, whether Parsifal is a sinister militant fantasy about the redemption of an Aryan Jesus from Judaism or just a feeble Armeggedon cocktail with a strong twist of Shopenhauer, critics of its supposed humanity will never be able to solve the magisterial beauty of its score nor account for the fact that aggression is completely contrary to the opera’s central idea.  Indeed, the opera’s first act overture is among the most sublime passages in all of music with it’s slow tempo mid-way coda, one of the most ravishing themes ever heard by the human ear.  The theme is encored generously through the work, and basically serves as it’s musical identification, with it’s majestic sweep and melodious flow evincing an unusual but indellible blend of bliss and melencholy. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

the first in a series of guilty pleasures from the 1930s.  Not quite masterpieces, but personal favourites.

(USA 1932 121m) DVD1

The delicious debauchery!

p  Cecil B.de Mille  d  Cecil B.de Mille  w  Wilson Barrett, Sidney Buchman  play  Wilson Barrett  ph  Karl Struss  ed  Anne Bauchens  m  Rudolph Kopp  art  Mitchell Leisen  cos  Mitchell Leisen, Travis Banton

Fredric March (Marcus Superbus), Elissa Landi (Mercia), Claudette Colbert (Poppaea), Charles Laughton (Nero), Ian Keith (Tigellinus), Vivian Tobin (Dacia), Joyzelle Joyner (Ancaria), Harry Beresford (Favius), Arthur Hohl (Titus), Nat Pendleton (Strabo), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Glabro), Tommy Conlon (Stephan), John Carradine, Rex Ingram,

For fans of the one and only Cecil Blount de Mille, it doesn’t get much better than this.  This is pure prurient dreamtime, a joyously sadistic, oh-so-serious yet tongue in cheek wallow in a heady mixture of de Mille’s two favourite ingredients – religion and sex.  It was the film he made upon his return to the studio, Paramount, he’d help to put on the map.  It was the peak of his excesses before the Hays Code turned them into solemnity and often downright tedium.  Compare for example, the religious hollowness of The Ten Commandments and the awful hokum of Samson and Delilah with such an orgy here offered. (more…)

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