Richard Wagner

Active - 1977 - 1977  |   Born - May 22, 1813   |   Died - Feb 13, 1883   |   Genres - Music, Theater, Dance

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Biography by AllMovie

The music of this controversial composer has been quoted in approximately 215 films, discounting numerous newsreels and documentaries. Wagner's music has been appreciated for its transcendentally romantic and noble textures, its innovative orchestration, harmonic and melodic originality, and the Gesamtkunstwerk concept (an artistic effort coordinating all the arts, the very definition of a motion picture), yet his opera plots have been criticized for "paganism," absurdity, and proto-Fascist tendencies.

The Ride of the Valkyrie from Die Walküre has occurred in at least 27 films, one of the earliest being D.W. Griffith's controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915) (aka The Clansman), admired for its epic brilliance and innovative techniques, and infamous for its racism. This music underscores other breast-beating heroism (pro and con) in Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) and Apocalypse Now Redux (2001), and Education for Death (1943). The theme comically chimes in as the Chicago police force racing after bluesmen Jake and Elwood are joined by local neo-Nazis in a hilarious car chase in The Blues Brothers (1980). In the cartoon What's Opera, Doc? (1957), Ride of the Valkyrie appears at the onset as Elmer Fudd, in Viking outfit, casts a huge shadow while conducting a storm scene. He finds a rabbit hole and stabs at it with his spear singing, "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!" Bugs Bunny inquires, to the tune of Siegfried's Horn Call, "Oh mighty warrior of great fighting stock, might I inquire to ask, eh, what's up, doc?" Bugs later appears as dashing blonde Brunhilde riding a white horse to the tune of the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhäuser.

The thrilling overture to The Flying Dutchman has accompanied television's Young Indiana Jones and the Attack of the Hawkmen (1995), Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949), The Lone Ranger (1949), and the background of a Navy recruitment commercial. The subtle and lovely Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde has graced 18 films (including Romeo and Juliet [1996] and L'Age d'Or [1930]), and the complete opera has received several television productions. The Bridal Chorus (Here Comes the Bride) from Act III of Lohengrin are found in almost any wedding scene, for example, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and Andy Hardy's Dilemma (1938).

Wagner's last and most controversial opera, Parsifal, a Grail story mixed with eroticism, was brilliantly interpreted in Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's insightful 1982 production that introduces extra historical and psychological imagery through background and magic lantern-type projections, puppets, scale models, otherworldly lighting, a cavernous set (eventually seen to be a giant death mask of Wagner), alternate male and female Parsifals (with the same voice), and militaristic Christian knights. Wagner's lines concerning the cessation of time and space that Parsifal experiences could describe the viewer's sensations during the film's hypnotic stronghold.

Wagner's opera Tannhaüser is heard in The Gold Rush (1925) and Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein (1974); Rienzi and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Riefenstahl's notorious Triumph of the Will (1934); Götterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods) in Le Bassin de J.W. (John Wayne's Pelvis, 1997); Das Rheingold and Siegfried have also received many full television and film treatments. Visconti's Ludwig (1972), The Architecture of Doom (1989), The Scarlet Empress (1934), Buñuel's Cet obscur objet du désir (1977), Ken Russell's Lisztomania (1975) depicting Wagner as a satanic revolutionary, Markoupoulos' Ming Green (1966), and The Testament of Orpheus (1960) are but a few significant films employing this influential genius' inspirations.