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Was Wagner the subject of the first-ever biopic?

It claims to be the Life of Richard, the one that Ken Russell missed.

wagner filmBetter still, its promoters argue that it is the first biopic in movie history.

Shot in 1913 for the Wagner centenary by Carl Froelich and William Wauer, it is a silent film. Another plus for Wagner sceptics.

Exhumed for the bicentenary, it is showing in Berlin at the end of the month with a live orchestral score by Armin Brunner. Here’s the link.

wagner fake


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  1. New musical settings with live orchestras for silent films are rather popular in the German-speaking world. Brunner’s website notes that he has written scores for „Carmen“ (Lubitsch), „Nosferatu“ (Murnau), „Panzerkreuzer Potemkin“ (Eisenstein), „Metropolis“ (Lang), „Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari“ and others. Perhaps readers could list examples by other composers.

    A setting of a Wagner biopic could be occasion for some rather keen irony — but as Fawlty Towers has reminded us, “whatever you do, don’t mention the war.” (Even this comment, of course, will likely be occasion for outrage. Forgive me if I don’t respond.)

    Here’s the famous Fawlty Towers sketch:

    Interestingly, not long after this sketch was produced, the German government hired John Cleese for various projects to combat anti-German attitudes – though I don’t know the details.

  2. I once saw an excerpt from this on Swiss tv while visiting an elderly Swiss lady who lived up the mountain in Zermatt. I’d had a schnapps or two and the likeness of the lead actor was so convincing that I heard myself calling to my friend “Gertraud, Gertraud – get in here! Wagner’s on telly! The real Wagner! And the real Ludwig!” For a minute or two I truly believed it and was absurdly excited.

  3. Michael Endres says:

    There seems to be a renewed interest in Silents with live orchestra and when “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang was shown last year here in Wellington and Auckland ,New Zealand,it was a huge success.
    The New Zealand Symphony played the score by Gottfried Huppertz in a revised version and the film had been newly put together after a painstaking reconstruction,which added about 20 minutes.
    I attended the sold out Auckland Town Hall performance and was surprised how visionary and artistically bold the film still comes across,but for the music as such: it was a brutal onslaught to my ears,2 1/2 hours of a fairly noisy score,though excellently played and the audience reacted enthusiastically .

    I have some hope for the Wagner biopic that the musical ideas there might be a bit more diverse and interesting… what a great find for the remaining Wagner desperadoes ……thanks Norman for posting this.

  4. Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:

    I wonder if this old 1983, nine part dramatic series on Wagner will make a comeback during this bicentennial of the composers birth?

    • Fred Lieberman says:

      Tony Palmer’s epic “Wagner”, in both the 4-hour and 8-hour versions have been available pretty much continuously in one form or another–what would a “comeback” mean? It would take a village to convince a modern movie theater to show the 8-hour version, though perhaps some cinema societies might manage it. For home use, the Region 2 DVD box is available at Amazon for $30. Palmer’s “The Wagner Family” and “Parsifal” are related but much shorter documentaries, also available on DVD. Of course it would be lovely to have all of the Wagner-related films on BluRay, but perhaps that’s asking too much :-)

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