Excerpt from : How Wagner Shaped Hollywood | The New Yorker

The composer has infiltrated every phase of movie history, from silent pictures to superhero blockbusters.

By Alex Ross

Illustration by Max Löffler

… And Hollywood has drawn repeatedly from Wagner’s gallery of mythic archetypes: his gods, heroes, sorcerers, and questers. This contradictory swirl of associations mirrors the composer’s fractured legacy: on the one hand, as a theatrical visionary who created works of Shakespearean breadth and depth; on the other, as a vicious anti-Semite who became a cultural totem for Hitler. Like operagoers across the generations, filmmakers have had trouble deciding whether Wagner is an inexhaustible store of wonder or a bottomless well of hate. But that uncertainty also mirrors the film industry’s own ambiguous role as an incubator of heroic fantasies, which can serve a wide range of political ends. When Hollywood talks about Wagner, it is often—consciously or not—talking about itself….

…The chief lesson to be drawn from the case of Wagner is that the worship of art and artists is always a dangerous pursuit. In classical music, the slow, fitful learning of that lesson has had a salutary effect: contemporary European productions of Wagner’s operas routinely confront the darker side of his legacy. Perhaps it is time to contemplate the less fashionable question of how Hollywood films and other forms of popular culture can be complicit in the exercise of American hegemony—its chauvinist exceptionalism, its culture of violence, its pervasive economic and racial inequities. The urge to sacralize culture, to transform aesthetic pursuits into secular religion and redemptive politics, did not die out with the degeneration of Wagnerian Romanticism into Nazi kitsch. ♦

How Wagner Shaped Hollywood | The New Yorker

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