Walter Metz: Wagner, intertextuality, & audio-visual culture

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Walter Metz: Wagner, intertextuality, & audio-visual culture

Post by alberich00 » Wed Sep 04, 2013 1:45 pm

Paul Heise's mini review of "Wagner, Intertextuality, and Contemporary Audio-Visual Culture," a talk presented by Walter Metz (So. Illinois Univ.) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina during the winter of 2013:

PH: A disclaimer: I must confess that I am an alumnus of So. Illinois Univ. (where Metz teaches), where I briefly attended graduate school in the Anthropology Dept. before quitting school to spend the rest of my life descending into poverty to devote myself as close to full-time as possible to the demonstration of the conceptual unity of Wagner's "Ring" and his other repertory operas and music-dramas (there's a loaded sentence for you!).

Metz observed that cinema can produce both subjective and objective space. He noted Wagner's influence on the cinema. Theodor Adorno stated that Wagner's elaboration of the leitmotif gives birth to cinema music, from Erich Korngold to John Williams. He also noted the use of the 'Ride of the Valkyries' music in "Apocalypse Now."

Metz identifies Wagner's Gesamptkunstwerk (total work of art) with the cinema.

Metz noted the employment of both the so-called wedding march from Wagner's "Lohengrin," and the music from Mendelssohn's orchestral take on Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," Here comes the bride, in movies.

He also noted the cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" as well as the employment of 'The Ride of the Valkyries' music in D.W. Griffith's infamous "Birth of a Nation" to accompany scenes of the Ku Klux Klan gathering.

A particularly amusing example of Wagner's influence on popular culture, Metz observed, is the scenes inspired by Wagner from the cable tv show "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Larry David is whistling music from Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" outside of a movie theater, when someone standing in line accuses him of celebrating the music of an anti-Semite. David is also accused of being a self-hating Jew. David's antagonist asks him why a Jew would be whistling Wagner. But David counters that his self-hatred is not owing to his being Jewish. This episode culminates with David deliberately playing a recording of Wagner's overture to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" outside of his antagonist's house in a tony neighborhood. [PH: I can't help noting a couple of references to Woody Allen here: 1. Allen's remark in one of his flicks that whenever he hears Wagner he thinks of invading Poland, and also the scene outside of a movie theater during which somebody holds forth, obnoxiously, about the thinking of a well-known contemporary pundit (I'm having a mental block: who was it?), and Allen remarks how nice it would be at a moment like this if the pundit in question would actually show up to confront the pretentious ass, and this pundit does, indeed, appear out of nowhere and confront him]

Metz also referenced a film or tv show with which I'm not familiar, "The Cabin in the Woods," as presenting a sort of Wagnerian struggle between civilization and nature.

Then he came to "Django Unchained," in which the slave Django's wife, who is in the hands of a nefarious, sadistic white master, is named Bruennhilde. Wotan punished the heroine Bruennhilde, but she was rescued by Siegfried. This Tarantino could have taken from one of the versions of this story found in the Icelandic Eddas or the Volsunga Saga, without a nod to Wagner. Metz also noted a possible influence on Tarantino in Karl May's novels (written in German) about the American West [PH: Hitler evidently liked them]. Metz calls "Django Unchained" a Sauerkraut Western.

A theme of "Django Unchained" is white guilt over slavery. But the film "Django" is what Wagner looks like in 2013. Django burns up the plantation of the nefarious master in a sort of "Goetterdaemmerung." This is a victory of free men over Jim Crow.

We live, Metz stated, in a culture of shattered texts. His students look at art in shards, on their ipads, in itunes. But Wagner's influence can be felt all through popular culture.

Q&A: Somebody mentioned that Wagner used a lot of advertising. They also noted that most people know Wagner only in snippets and sound bites. PH failed to record any response by Metz.

Someone else asked whether our fragmentary modern culture is inherent in Wagner. I believe that Metz responded that great artists always reconstruct past works. [PH: Note Siegfried's reforging of his father Siegmund's broken sword Nothung, his re-conceiving Nothung, in a sense, in his own image. In fact, in my interpretation, Siegmund doesn't represent so much Siegfried's literal father, so much as the great body of creative geniuses to whom the artist-hero Siegmund has fallen heir. Nothung represents that legacy, that inheritance, which the new artist must remake as his own.]

Someone asked whether Metz is invested in Wagner's Gesamptkunstwerk if all is shards. Metz responded that some artworks have a long shelf-life because they're dense with meaning. [PH: Hooray for Metz! Just because a ton of contemporary morons feel that it is chic and current to regard our necessary modern way of grasping art, the art of the past, piece-meal, as shards, does not mean we are bound to do this. Wagner's "Ring" is great precisely because it is a glorious unity of word/music/concept, an entire unified worldview embodied in musical theater.] However, Metz said he doesn't like the notion that Wagner is a genius who wrote masterpieces. [PH: Heise suspects Metz fears that such idolatry taints our proper reception of works of art]

Alex Ross noted that "Django" has no obvious reference to Wagner. Someone (perhaps Metz) responded that German liberals who fought for the union were abolitionists. Evidently the German actor [PH: Sorry, I can't recall his name, though he's won Oscar's twice now for his roles in recent Tarantino movies such as "Inglorious Bastards" and "Django Unchained"] whom Tarantino cast in his two most recent Oscar-winning films took Tarantino to see "The Valkyrie" in San Francisco, the Achim Freyer production.

I believe Metz closed with the remark that Wagner was becoming detached from the author Wagner's intentionality as early as 1861, when Baudelaire wrote his essay about Wagner and "Tannhaeuser."

PH: Bits and pieces of Wagner have indeed been referenced in thousands of instances within popular culture, but I fear that itemizing and analyzing these references in the end gives us little or no entre into Wagner. To grasp Wagner, I feel, we need really to do a deep analysis of what is at stake in each of his artworks, and also to relate them to each other and to Wagner's writings, recorded remarks, and influences. This I've endeavored to do here in The fact that we are still, after more than a century since Wagner's death in 1883, merely in the opening phase of this endeavor, is proved by the simple fact that I, so late as the period of development of my interpretation, from 1971 until 2009, could still say so much that is, I think, new.
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