It’s that time again to put The Spin your hands! The topic this round: The Greatest Piece of Richard Wagner Music.
As Sam Juliano from Wonders in the Dark so eloquently mused, “Richard Wagner was a racist, an anti-Semite and a bigamist, yet he wrote some of the most extraordinarily beautiful music in the history of Western civilization.” And it was Sam’s chatter on the facebook that spurred this post.
It got me wondering, not only about all that great music (that lends itself so eerily well to cinema) but also, “What the hell was going on in Wagner’s head?” His music has spawned men like Adolph Hitler to score their epic and vile plans for world domination, while it left others rapt and spellbound with fevered dreams of those pearly gates. What did Wagner see when he composed? What inspired him? And what lead him to spew hate while also birthing so much aural beauty, bequeathing to us an unrivaled output of operatic art that will last as long as human beings have ears to listen to his work. There’s something both ominous and serene about his best pieces, moods that swoon to an emotional climax before bringing the listener back down from heaven (or up from hell) to solid ground where the world lays itself out before us in all its mysterious glory. His is the stuff of both the calm and the storm, the worldly and otherworldly.
But back to the music. I’ve left out his most recognizable pieces to the layman…The Lohengrin Bridal March – yes, the wedding march used at almost every wedding – and Ride of the Valkyries – used so devilishly in D. W. Griffin’s hate mongering Birth of a Nation and overused since then to death. And, yes, I’m trying to bias the vote by putting my pick at the top. But without further adieu…the nominees: Continue reading →
Lars Von Trier’s epic ode to depression and the end of the world – perhaps one and the same – opens with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde playing over a series of breathtaking, beautiful and perfectly composed shots that at first appear to be stills until you realize they are moving in ultra slow motion. With the hauntingly operatic music full of swooning lilts and gasping rises into the stratosphere, Von Trier symbolically (and in some shots literally) transmits what we are about to experience. The slow motion represents the trudging through emotions while the music elicits thoughts of a great tragedy about to befall us all. And then boom! – he lays all of his cards right on the table as we watch in simultaneous horror and joy as two worlds collide. It’s an eerily quiet yet emotionally bombastic counter action to Terence Malick’s creation of the universe sequence in The Tree of Life. Both films, operating at opposite poles and giving us glimpses into the vast outward expanse of human imagination through the precipitous downward spiral into the mind and madness of one, are miraculous masterpieces.
And while it’s true, many of the greatest films are also imbued with beautiful original musical scores where the moving images flow in perfect harmony with the composers’ notes…it made me wonder…
What of the artists who take a well-known existing piece of music and create moving images that become married to the music’s rhythm?
It’s been so parodied over the years…but can anyone deny the jaw-droppingly imaginative conceit of Stanley Kubrick using Richard Strauss’ “The Spoke Zarathustra” for the opening to his greatest cinematic achievement (hell, THE GREATEST CINEMATIC ACHIEVEMENT) 2001: A Space Odyssey? Continue reading →