On Sunday evening the 24th, Georgie and I went to the movie theatre at the UWM Student Union, to see a movie by Istvan Szabo entitled "Taking Sides". "Taking Sides" has as its subject the de-Nazification hearing on Wilhelm Furtwangler, who, up until that time had been considered one of the world's greatest orchestra conductors. The premise was that Furtwanger, who had stayed in Germany during the Nazi regime, was a high-profile character and deserved to be treated as a former Nazi due to his alleged collaboration. In fact, Furtwangler had avoided entanglement with the Nazis as much as possible, only accepted honors that couldn't be avoided (when Goering calls you up and says he's made you a senator, you can't refuse any more than Caligula's horse could have--), and worked continually to get Jewish musicians out of danger. The movie is based upon historical fact, although it takes considerable liberty with the presentation of the facts for dramatic effect. (See below.)
Furtwangler's chief antagonist is Major Steve Arnold (ably played by Harvey Keitel), an insurance fraud investigator in civilian life, who has been given unambigous orders by his superior to "get" Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgard). The character of Arnold seems taken from the stories of Dashiell Hammett, complete with an arsenal of "third degree" interrogation tactics, including turning off the fans in a hot room when his target is present. He represents the "typical" American viewpoint of the period, which is deprecatory toward "culture"—especially German culture—and of the opinion that almost all Germans share the Nazi guilt. He is assigned a German secretary, Emmi, who is considered a "good" German since her father was executed for plotting against Hitler's life, and she herself survived interrogation and imprisonment as a result. His other co-worker is Lt. David Wills, a Jew who was sent to America as a child by parents who did not escape, and who is now assigned to the cultural preservation commission.
Furtwangler, on the other hand, seems to have found himself in a Kafka story as he is made to wait pointlessly, and questioned harshly about inconsequential topics.
The great value of this piece is in the study of the characters. Arnold sinks into cruelty in response to his many frustrations: his case against Furtwangler goes nowhere; he is under increasing pressure from other occupation authorities to clear the conductor; and his advances to the attractive Emmi are turned down in favor of the young lieutnenant. Furtwangler flounders under his attack, until Emmi cannot take it any longer, and tells Arnold his tactics are those of the Gestapo. Wills gets her to return, telling her she "may be able to have a positive influence," (ironically, of course, one of the same reasons Furtwangler stayed in Germany). The two young people gang up against Arnold to protest the unfairness, Wills bringing out evidence in Furtwanger's favor, and Emmi debunking her father's martyr status, admitting he was a loyal officer who only turned against Hitler when it obvious the war was lost. Excellent performances by all, including Moritz Bleibtreu as Wills, and Birgit Minichmayr as Emmi, contributing to a very thought-provoking movie.
In actual fact, Furtwangler was not interrogated prior to his appearance before the de-Nazification commission, and walked into the hearings entirely unprepared and secure in his assumptions of innocence. The commission flailed him with the same charges mentioned in the movie, which were poorly prepared and supported and eventually all dismissed, but not without causing the conductor serious embarassment and distress. The proceedings were reported in a light very unfavorable to Dr. Furtwangler in the US news, with the result that the great conductor was never invited to play in the United States after the war. Furtwangler died in 1954. His interpretations of Wagner and Beethoven are still studied.
Big Lies 2:
After a long wait for a library copy, I'm finally getting to read "Fair and Balanced: Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them," by Al Franken. While waiting for Franken, I've also had opportunity to read some others of the impressive number of volumes that document the corruption of this regime and the disregard for the truth on the part of its lackeys. Franken is a humorous writer, and tends to give more attention to media counterparts like Sean Hannity than some of the other books do. "Big Lies," by Joe Conason is a very well researched and documented work, which I strongly reccommend . James Carville's "Had Enough? A Handbook for Fighting Back," covers much of the same territory, but also provides commonsense counter-program ideas, which I recommend to any Democrat as a platform. I'm also waiting for "Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America", by Scott Ritter, and haven't yet gotten to Molly Ivin's "Bushwacked". I know a there was a lot of anti-Clinton propaganda put out during his term in office, but most of it was from VERY questionable sources and a lot of it made up out of whole cloth. It seems remarkable to me that there is such an amount of well researched dirt on this regime being published by respectable houses and there is not a greater sense of outrage in the public.
Romeo and Juliet
On Sunday the 1st, we went to the matinee performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Skylight Opera in Milwaukee. The Skylight normally specializes in "light" opera, so seeing the grand opera by Charles Gounod (better known for his famous Faust) on the season schedule was somewhat of a surprise. This production was actually an experiment, with mixed results. Of necessity, the company heavily cut the five-act original down to two acts, each made up of several scenes. In order to preserve the story, dialog and scenes from the Shakespeare play were inserted, resulting in a hybrid production, which seemed more like a slightly abridged play with music rather than an opera with spoken dialog.
There were a number of things about the production that unfortunately jarred, among them costumes: Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and other supporting cast members sport Ren Faire garb. Papas Montague and Capulet wear modern-seeming business suits under their fur-trimmed robes. Paris and other noblemen sport frock coats and riding boots. Tybalt looks like a gunfighter in his long black leather duster, and Juliet's wardrobe seems borrowed from a Jean Harlow picture. All in all the effect is as though the show had no costume budget and was dressed in whatever could be scrounged from storage. In the Capulet's ball scene, all the guests carry decorated quarterstaves, largely for no discernible function. I hoped to see some clever choreography with the sticks, but what little there was was clumsy and distracting. The absurdly long train of Juliet's pregnoir in the balcony scene was handled a bit better, though it was still a distraction. I kept expecting to see Romeo clamber up it like Rapunzel's hair.
The Journal-Sentinel reviewer was rather harsh on Matt Morgan as Romeo, alleging he had only two volumes, loud and louder. It did not seem so to us. His performance could have been a bit more nuanced, but was not at all bad. Vanessa Conlin enjoyed her first starring role as Juliet, and, in the first act, seemed to not be acting much, relying on her doll-like prettiness and undeniably beautiful voice to carry her through. However, she warmed up in the second act, which she opens with a bravura aria, and continued to be more engaging. Michael A. Mayes was good wild Mercutio, although in his duel scene, his Warner Brothers-inspired cries of "woo woo" and the big smooch he plants on Tybalt were further indications of the lack of a unified vision for this production. Robert M. Bolden was appropriately sinister as the vengeful Tybalt.
My final criticism was that the swordplay was clumsy and uninteresting. I expect we are somewhat spoiled by American Players Theatre, but I have come to expect one of two standards for stage fighting—it should either be fast and realistic, or flashy and balletic in the old theatrical style. This was neither.
All that said, we still had a good time and thought the experiment well worthwhile. The cast members sang well and generally acted adequately, making good use of the minimal set, and the orchestra handled Gounod's romantic score very nicely.
We met for Ashram at the residence of Tim Kosinski and Shelia Haberland, the topic to be "Separation of Church and State," with the subtopic of "What is a Cult?" The group was generally in agreement that separation is a good thing for both Church AND State, and that actions such as those taken by Bishop Burke of La Crosse to pressure Catholic legislators into toeing the Vatican party line would have the effect of marginalizing Catholic voters. On the other hand, we disagreed as to whether or not French authorities went too far in banning all religious symbolism including Muslim headscarves from public schools. As to cults, we had great fun pointing out the cultic aspects of sets and subsets of all religions, and rather wryly agreed that the difference between a cult and a "legitimate" religion was based upon time and success.