Such is the question that one must ask while watching the entertaining, inspiring and informative documentary Wagner & Me, a music doc arriving on home video with distributor First Run Features that weaves together the extraordinarily controversial aspects of composer Richard Wagner and still dares to ask "Can we separate his masterful music from his embrace of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich?"
It's a legit question. After all, one need only be paying slight attention to see how difficult it is for anyone with a "criminal" past to move beyond what may have been simply a bad decision in an effort to reconstruct their lives. Sometimes, I'm thinking of you Chris Brown, America seems to turn a blind eye to unconscionably bad behavior. Other times, the person involved becomes forever a pariah or at least scarred by the choices they made.
There are few human beings who garner hatred with as much vigor as Adolf Hitler. Most, conspiracy theorists aside, have little to no problem agreeing that Hitler is one of contemporary history's most vivid personifications of evil. English actor and raconteur Stephen Fry, with his trademark wit and charm, examines his own passion for history's most controversial composer.
It's a bit of an odd passion when you realize that Fry himself is Jewish, not someone who can just easily "forgive and forget." Indeed, Fry doesn't minimize Wagner's past as much as he does acknowledge the greatness of music created by a man who himself made choices that seem unfathomable now.
Wagner & Me, especially for classical music fans, is a film with tremendous exuberance and heart and wonder amidst all the questions about Wagner's choices and controversies. Writer/director Patrick McGrady beautifully weaves together a wealth of interviews and biographical pieces into Wagner's larger than life compositions such as the Ring cycle and Parsifal and others. Even if you don't necessarily fancy yourself a fan of classical music, you will likely find yourself swept away by Fry's stellar hosting of this remarkably entertaining and informative journey.
Wagner & Me is now available on DVD from First Run Features, and it's a film that warrants being added to your personal collection if you are a devotee of Wagner, a history buff or simply can appreciate truly well made documentaries. For more information, visit the First Run Features website linked to in the credits on this page.