- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

R ichard Wagner invented — and perfected — the music drama. His operas were “total artworks” in which not just music, but also story, costumes and sets were all fundamental to the piece.

It’s no surprise this revolutionary composer had a lasting effect on music, but he’s also influenced those working in a genre that had barely been born in his lifetime — film.

You can sample a taste of his influence at the Goethe-Institut Washington’s “Wagner in Hollywood” film series, which runs through March 26. Filmmakers have been intrigued by the German composer since they began putting their ideas onto celluloid — the current Phillips Collection exhibition “Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film” features a partial staging of “Tannhauser,” one of the exhibition’s longest films. In fact, Wagner’s music can be heard in more than 400 movies, including the classic Hollywood productions at the Goethe-Institut. You’ll hear more than the “Wedding March” from “Lohengrin,” to which countless brides have walked down the aisle.

The series, presented in conjunction with the Washington National Opera’s performance of “Die Walkure,” runs Monday evenings at 6:30. “The Uninvited,” the successful 1944 film debut of British stage director Lewis Allen, is this Monday’s selection. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey play a brother and sister who move into an old house on the English coast that, as it turns out, appears to be haunted. The script was written by Dodie Smith, most famous for her charming novels “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” and “I Capture the Castle.” This ghost story includes part of Wagner’s “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde.”

The March 19 selection, “Humoresque,” also includes that piece from “Tristan.” This 1946 film stars John Garfield as an ambitious young violinist who catches the attention of a neurotic socialite played by Joan Crawford. As the musician’s star rises, his lover is destroyed. Mr. Garfield’s violin work was done by Isaac Stern.

Wagner’s music is used to famous effect in the final film in the series. Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (from 1979) screens March 26, and few who have seen it will forget the sequence set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” The film transports Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” to the Vietnam War as Martin Sheen’s Capt. Willard travels through the Cambodian jungle to assassinate the renegade Col. Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando).

Of course, the most fun a filmmaker has had with Wagner’s serious music may be the 1957 cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” This seven-minute short features Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny while singing “Kill the Wabbit” to the tune of “Ride of the Valkyries.” This mini-opera also has Bugs dressed up as an attractive Brunnhilde, with music from “The Flying Dutchman,” “Die Walkure,” “Siegfried” and “Tannhauser.” The Chuck Jones masterpiece has repeatedly been named the best cartoon of all time. The Goethe-Institut had a showing earlier this week, but since the parody is in the public domain, you can chuckle at will by watching it on the Web at www.metacafe.com/watch/430148/whats_opera_doc/.

Screenings take place at the Goethe-Institut’s German Cultural Center, 812 7th St. NW. Tickets are $6. More information can be found at www.goethe.de/washington.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Borat’s back

It’s a snap to call the DVD debut of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of 2007 — and not for the obvious reason that “Borat” was last year’s most sublimely sophomoric comedy.

DVD extras are a cottage industry unto itself, and given “Borat’s” guerrilla tactics, surely its DVD package will come teeming with extras.

There may be more unseen “Borat” footage waiting for some “special edition” yet to come, but the eight deleted scenes on the new disc, released earlier this week, should satisfy Sacha Baron Cohen’s fan base.

Hit the “surplus material” button and you’ll dig up “censored footage,” or deleted scenes; the “propaganda” icon featuring Borat’s publicity machine in action.

The excised scenes offer mixed rewards, but they’re still stuffed with humor.

One bit follows Borat trying to adopt a puppy from a suspicious kennel operative. He examines the critter by peering up what he would call its “ah-noos,” but when the Kazakhstan reporter starts talking about eating the pup, the bit takes a too-nasty turn.

A trek to an American supermarket becomes an exercise in annoyance, but it does underline one of “Borat’s” less heralded themes: the enduring patience Americans offer to foreigners.

A “Baywatch” parody is as vulgar as it is funny, and a mash-up of lost bits tells us the feature film could have gone longer and still not hit any dead spots.

The publicity tour material is less engaging, although it does showcase Mr. Cohen’s one-two punch of comic versatility and media savvy.

And don’t miss the real news snippet covering Borat’s trip to the rodeo. Watching reporters trying to make sense of the faux journalist is a hoot.

Christian Toto

Folk online

Independent filmmaker Tom Davenport doesn’t expect his movies to make him rich, or even pay for the occasional vacation.

But the Delaplane, Va., resident struck modest gold a couple of years ago when the makers of the French feature “Amelie” used a clip from his film “Born for Hard Luck” in that L’Hexagone hit.

The filmmakers found “Born” because of www.folkstreams.net, a Web site Mr. Davenport created to showcase the kind of independent documentaries that don’t star penguins, politicians or truths, inconvenient or otherwise.

The American Film Institute in Silver Spring will honor the Web site with a showing of Stephen Wade’s “Catching the Music” at 2 p.m. Sunday. After the film, Mr. Wade will perform with his banjo alongside multi-instrumentalist Zan McLeod, banjoist Mike Monseur, fiddler Liberty Dawne Rucker and guitarist Jason Byrd. The 1987 documentary “Music” tracks the musical growth of Mr. Wade, a fixture on the local arts scene, and features performances by country musicians like Hobart Smith, Pete Steele and Virgil Anderson.

Mr. Davenport says his fellow filmmakers aren’t looking to the Internet to make a quick buck. They just want to see their long-buried films enjoy a new life and a new audience.

“It lets everybody have access to it, to let [the films] become relevant again,” Mr. Davenport says.

Many of the films on www.folkstreams.net hail from the 1960s, but finding them over the last few decades hasn’t been easy. The features, which explore the American roots culture, aren’t what anyone would call commercially viable. Even outlets like PBS find their unconventional appearance off-putting, he notes. Some videos feature narrators with cultural accents that sound a million miles from the narration heard in conventional films. It doesn’t help that they come in a variety of lengths that make it hard to squeeze them into a television schedule.

That’s where the Web comes in. Anyone interested in the site’s indie films — which Mr. Davenport describes as both populist and rebellious at times — can download them for free.

“It’s totally dependent on grants,” says Mr. Davenport, adding that the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) underwrites the site. “I don’t know if it could work as a commercial site.”

The site does more than just display neglected films. It also helps store and protect them. One filmmaker nearly lost his film collection in a home fire before Mr. Davenport started logging them on the site.

Other films tell colorful, sometimes tragic stories of American history.

“Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison” details the music black prisoners sang to coordinate their labor, work done in segregation from other prisoners.

“They integrated the prisons shortly after this,” Mr. Davenport says.

The Web site also teams with www.youtube.com to offer video previews of the various films.

But unlike that popular video site, www.folkstreams.net vets the material on its site, adding background information to put the films in context.

Mr. Davenport says films capture valuable snapshots of this country’s evolving culture.

“We have all these different traditions in America, and they all change,” he says.

Christian Toto


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