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Hilan Warshaw: Im Auge des Sturms

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Doku-NewsDer New Yorker Filmemacher, Schriftsteller, Lehrer und Musiker Hilan Warshaw widmet sich einer anderen Seite Richard Wagners. In der Dokumentation »Richard Wagner und die Juden« (Am Donnerstag, 6. November, im Haus des Dokumentarfilms in Stuttgart zu sehen) stehen die Frage nach Wagners Verhältnis zu seinen jüdischen Musikerfreunden, sowie dessen unglaublich wirksame Selbstvermarktung im Fokus. Seit Jahren erforscht Hilan Warshaw Wagners Musik und Persönlichkeit. Er kennt sein Thema sehr gut, das merkt man dem Film an.  In einem in englischer Sprache geführten Interview mit dem Haus des Dokumentarfilms spricht Warshaw über Details, die ihm als Filmemacher und Editor bedeutend sind.

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Haus des Dokumentarfilms (HdF): How did you find your topic, how much time did you spend on research and how did your cooperation with arte come about?

Hilan Warshaw (HW): For some time, I was searching for an artistic project in which I could try to come to grips with the subject of Wagner. I have a background as a violinist and conductor, and as such, I had many opportunities to study and perform Wagner’s music, which made a major impression on me. Later, when I started working in film, I also became interested in Wagner as an influence on the film industry, in terms of the impact of his theories of Gesamtkunstwerk and musical scoring on early filmmakers—a subject I’ve written and lectured about. The other side of this is that as the American son of an Israeli family, I’m deeply aware of and troubled by Wagner’s anti-Semitism. In fact, Wagner’s music was never listened to in my household, although my family is very musical—so the first time I heard his works was when I was performing them.

 


Filmabend in Stuttgart:

Richard Wagner und die Juden

Donnerstag, 6. November 2014

Beginn: 19:30 Uhr
Eintritt: 5,00 €

Haus des Dokumentarfilms
Mörikestraße 19
70178 Stuttgart

» Weiterlesen
 

I learned about Wagner’s Jewish assistants while I was researching another project, and the scenario instantly fascinated me—these relationships between gifted young people and an artist they revered, who was never anything less than open about his horrible anti-Semitism. I thought, what on earth could these relationships have been like? I spent a couple of years researching the subject and filming some interviews before approaching WDR and ARTE with the idea of creating this documentary in time for Wagner’s bicentennial. I had previously worked on a project for them as an editor and researcher, so they knew my work in that way.

I stayed fairly closely to my original concept, in terms of the story that I wanted to tell. Obviously, there are many aspects of structure and emphasis that you only discover once you begin to put it together. One thing that happened as I worked is that the figure of Hermann Levi moved quite naturally to the center of the story. His crisis and evolution became, in a sense, the climax of the film and an embodiment of the dilemma that the film explores.

HdF: The English title is »Wagner’s Jews« whereas in German it is »Richard Wagner und die Juden« instead of a direct translation which would be »Wagner’s Juden«. Was the title ever talked about?

HW: It often happens in co-productions like this one that the European titles are different, sometimes longer, than the English title. I think both titles suit the film very well. The English title does seem to imply that these people somehow belonged to Wagner; as such it’s perhaps provocative. But it’s meant to be somewhat ironic, because that --- Wagner’s Jews—is the way these individuals have been seen and spoken about, beginning with Wagner himself, who referred to them as his »house-Israelites« or »pet Israelites«. The point of my film was to rescue them from that label and its implications-- to show who each of them was as an individual, including as a musical being and composer in his own right.

HdF: Are there any passages in the film that were difficult to edit and which parts are your favorites (from the editor’s standpoint)?

HW: There were sections that were quite difficult from an emotional point of view. As someone who loves being Jewish and who was born into a time that is --thank God-- very different from the one profiled in this film, I found the timidity and insecurity of Rubinstein and Levi quite painful to face: the way they internalized Wagner’s anti-Semitism and felt profound shame simply for the fact that they existed as Jews. I would say that their quest to rid themselves of that “shame”— which Wagner himself encouraged them to feel, both through his writings and in the way he spoke to them—helped motivate their extreme devotion to him.

One section that I am pleased with from an editing standpoint is the sequence beginning with the revolution of 1848 and the origins of Wagner’s essay “Judaism in Music.” The tempo of the editing becomes very intense and builds up to a kind of climax-- also in the sound editing, with spurts of language from the essay mixed in with Wagner’s own music (the Nibelungen motif from the Ring cycle). Then suddenly, we’re in Switzerland, location shots of the gorgeous mountains and the house where he lived, and we get the story of how Carl Tausig entered Wagner’s life—and Tausig and his music are represented here by the wonderful teenaged pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner, who also closely resembles Tausig. So we get a sudden switch from this vitriolic hatred and spite, to beauty and even affection. In a nutshell, that’s the contradiction that I was trying to probe in the film—how those two worlds could seem to coexist in Wagner’s relationships with these Jewish musicians.

HdF: Could you say something about the meaning of the silhouettes which introduce each musician?

HW: Again, it has to do with the idea of restoring the identities of these people.
Early in the film, to illustrate how Wagner demonized the Jewish composer Meyerbeer, who was his first patron and role model, we see a picture of Meyerbeer fading into a silhouette. Wagner is erasing him, rubbing him out not only from musical history, but the history of Meyerbeer’s impact on his own musical development, which of course Wagner would never acknowledge. What this film is trying to do is to bring these people back, restore their individuality, which Wagner in many ways denied them.

HdF: The film also poses the question of whether personal/moral integrity is relevant or irrelevant when it comes to great artists or whether extraordinary talent overrules everything. In other words can we separate art from man?

HW: That is a question that every person has to decide for themselves. With Wagner, you’re dealing with an enormously influential figure whose works are at the center of the operatic repertory. Even in Israel, where the question of performing Wagner live is problematic, his music is sold on CD and DVD and played on the radio. So the objective fact is that Wagner’s art really has transcended the man. But that’s of course very different from saying that everyone needs to embrace Wagner or feel comfortable with him. There’s no one answer, nor should there be.

HdF: Last year Wagner’s 200th birthday was celebrated, there were numerous
documentaries, fiction films, concerts, exhibits etc. throughout . Are we still playing his game and why would that be?

HW: Wagner was a composer who really altered the course of musical and  artistic history in many ways. But in the world we live in, that by itself doesn’t guarantee the kind of fame and notoriety that Wagner has. I think all the controversies about Wagner have actually served to increase his artistic profile. There are Wagnerians who decry the fact that Wagner is considered so controversial—but I don’t think they would actually want that to stop, because if it did, Wagner would be much less of a magnet for discussion and attention. Why is that? Well, Wagner knew how to exploit the power of taboo and forbidden subjects. That includes sexuality—much of the controversy over Wagner during his lifetime circled around the sexually transgressive content in operas like Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde, and Wagner’s own lack of sexual morality—as well as revolution, nationalism and anti-Semitism. I think Wagner himself did this quite intentionally, provoking controversy and then benefiting from the resulting uproar and debate. Otherwise, why would he insist on going public with his anti-Semitism time and again? There’s a quote in my film where Wagner confesses that he wants to commit “acts of artistic terrorism.” He wants to agitate people, to unleash people’s fears and prejudices, and then be at the center of the storm that he himself created. And like it or not, this is part of what we talk about when we talk about Wagner. I don’t want to imply that it was all a game on his part to get publicity, because I believe Wagner absolutely meant every anti-Semitic word he wrote. He said all the same things in private as he did in his essays. But he knew the power of the issues and the passions that he was stirring up. And unfortunately, those issues are still powerful and problematic in our own time.

HdF: Thanks very much for the interview!

(Das Interview mit Hilan Warshaw führte Astrid Beyer)

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