Wagner & Me | Movie review
Actor Stephen Fry interrogates his fondness for the composer.
With an enthusiasm as genuine as it is infectious, actor Stephen Fry investigates his fondness for the imperial 19th-century opera of Richard Wagner. Wagner & Me functions as a primer on the composer’s music as well as the historical context of his career, its relationship to Nazi Germany and its hold on Fry’s own life. The film is a curious hybrid held together by Fry himself; the raconteur proves a knowledgeable and gregarious tour guide, delivering historical time lines and personal anecdotes as he travels to key locales (Germany, Switzerland, Russia). Whether talking with Wagner biographers, sitting in on rehearsals for stagings of the Ring Cycle, or getting the chance to play the famous “Tristan chord” on Wagner’s own piano, Fry details his enthusiasm for the composer’s technically and emotionally complex art with a fan’s passion and a scholar’s insight.
Wagner & Me doesn’t sell its subject’s compositions short; more impressive, however, is Fry’s candid confrontation of the profound disrepute bestowed on Wagner by Hitler’s affinity for his work—a legacy that Fry, a Jew deeply troubled by this unavoidable fact, likens to a beautiful tapestry besmirched by an irredeemable stain. In honestly questioning whether his Wagner fanboyishness is a betrayal of his Jewishness, Fry uses his film as a means not just of celebration but of thorny cultural-historical analysis.