In this biographical and musical road movie by Andy Sommer, Antoine Wagner, a young (30-year-old) photographer living in New York, heads to Switzerland on the trail of his great-great-grandfather, the renowned composer Richard Wagner.
It is not widely known that Wagner spent several years in Switzerland - first as a political exile then as an artist who had become famous. It was in that country that he wrote his great theoretical essays, began working on the composition of Der Ring des Nibelungen and wrote Tristan und Isolde, the Wesendonck-Lieder and Die Meistersinger. There, too, he lived the two great love stories of his life: first with Mathilde Wesendonck and later, with the woman who would become his wife, CosimaRead more Liszt.
In order to apprehend this complex personality, Antoine Wagner returns to Zurich and Lucerne and the sites where his ancestor had lived, meeting historians, musicologists, musicians and enlightened amateurs. He also sets off on a mountaineering expedition in contact with a grandiose, violent Nature, exploring those landscapes that Wagner so admired and which were a profound source of inspiration for him. With Antoine Wagner, Dagny Beidler, Katja Fleischer, Laurenz Lütteken, Albert Lutz, Eva Rieger, Armin Trösch, pianist Mikhail Rudy and conductor Philippe Jordan.
Extremely interesting Wagner documentaryNovember 9, 2013By Warren Harris See All My Reviews"This documentary by Andy Sommer details Wagners life while in exile in Switzerland, how what he saw there served as part of the inspiration for the music in the Der Ring des Nibelungen and Tristan and Isolde that we Wagnerians know and love, as well as detailing his two great loves, Mathilde Wesendonck and his future wife Cosima Liszt. The film also features Antoine Wagner, a photographer, who can claim that Richard Wagner was his great-great grandfather. Antoine essentially visits many of the places that Wagner himself visited, taking pictures and movies, and interviewing experts on his famous relative. While portions of interviews with Historical Musicologist Eva Reiger, conductor Philippe Jordan, and Armin Trosch (Wagnerian Society Switzerland) are shown during the film as events unfold, the Bonus material features full interviews with Ms Reiger and Mr. Jordan and each is quite illuminating with respect to Wagners history, mindset, musical construction (Mr. Jordan demonstrates and plays several passages on the piano), and way of grabbing the listeners attention and taking him/her on the very special Ring journey. Wagners anti-semitism is also touched upon and dealt with matter-of-factly, but the music is spectacular, as are the views in Switzerland that inspired Wagner who was, in fact, an avid hiker. This is a wonderful documentary, informative and well shot, with archival photos and fascinating interviews. If you want to know more about Richard Wagner, human being, this documentary is worth checking out. Highly recommended."Report Abuse
Tries to be a lot of things- but basically good!October 6, 2013By Joe S. See All My Reviews"Wagner: A Genius in Exile is a documentary by Andy Sommer that features Richard Wagners great-great-great grandson, Antoine Wagner. Richard spent two stretches of his life in exile in Switzerland, and was known for his extensive hiking in the mountains there. Antoine travels to Switzerland to experience Richard exile for himself by hiking in the Swiss landscape and investigating how it influenced Wagners music. He supplements this primarily-visual work with interviews by scholars and musicians. Add to that Wagners operatic music as the soundtrack, and you have a compelling mix of elements for a documentary. You cant help but watch this movie and try to draw the parallels between it and the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, Wagners idea of merging all art forms into a contiguous, psychological whole like the Ring Cycle. Just like Wagner attempted to integrate music, poetry, drama, architecture, and myth into a grand art form that also tried to be about literally everything, this movie tries to be about a lot of things. It is somewhat a road trip movie about Antoine Wagner finding himself and connecting with his roots. Its also an abridged biography of Richard Wagner and his music, focusing on his two extended stays in Switzerland. Its also a making-of documentary about a photography exhibition by Antoine that we dont ever see. Its also basically a tourism promo for Switzerland. These various threads never integrate to the extent of a Wagner opera, but who says they have to? I had a hard time figuring out if I was supposed to be bonding with Antoine or just taking in the scenery and the facts about Richards life. After watching, I think you should stick to the latter. Antoine Wagner has enough charisma on screen when hes riding around with his Super 8, or when he gleefully puts his sunglasses on a statue of Wagners head, but this charm doesnt carry over to the interview sections, which are highly segmented, even in the bonus features that show full interviews with two of the scholars. His questions arent too penetrating, basically asking about Wagner and his contemporaries appearances, any good stories, and then the basic historical facts. I rolled my eyes a little when he asked the Music Director of the Opéra National de Paris how Wagner depicted love in his operas. The big question in a documentary like this is how they are going to integrate Wagners music into the work. So much of his music doesnt resolve in easy ways, and its not really conducive to being cut up and excerpted in little snippets. Yet they make it work. Although I thought they kept returning to the megahits of Ride of the Valkyries and the opening of Tristan und Isolde too much, they were good about mixing it up a bit. They were good enough to show some scenes from some of the operas with very different stagings, which was really nice to see. Some of the most compelling moments of the movie were when the scenery and the music linked up explicitly. We have primary sources of Wagner saying that he got certain ideas for themes in certain places, and this movie was good about lining them up and pulling some great one-twos of scenery and music. Whats unfortunate about this movie is that Wagner himself was just such a huge jerk. Every anecdote, every tidbit, though sometimes fascinating, just solidifies what we already know. His infidelities, his misogyny, his whack-job views about just about everything in the world, and of course his anti-Semitism come to the fore at some point. The discussion of his anti-Semitism is very short, but they make sure to drive home that Wagner was racist in a much deeper way than your typical 1800s European Jew-hatred. But in the same way that you dont go out of your way to listen to past composers music because you heard he used to be really nice, you cant ignore Wagners legacy just because he was a jerk. His music is truly amazing, and you have no choice but to grapple with it in some way. Wagners exile in Switzerland removed many of his distractions and helped him consolidate his own theories about how to construct his epic Der ring des Nibelungen. He wrote some of his greatest music while under the influence of the landscape and people of Switzerland, and it truly shows in this movie. You dont need to know anything about Wagners work to enjoy this movie, and even those who do will inevitably leave enriched."Report Abuse