Friday, February 01, 2008

Taking Sides *

Taking Sides (link to DVD at Amazon)
Eli: I was really looking forward to this film. It is by Istvan Szabo who is one is one of my favorite directors, and it is on a topic that I find fascinating, the culpability of the artist or intellectual within a totalitarian system. It's also about the trials in Germany after WWII and that's really interesting to me. But this film sucked. The characters were one-dimensional and the acting was flat. The American officer, who was trying to catch and punish Germans who had 'collaborated' with the Nazis, was a complete caricature and totally unbelievable. Watching this was torture. What a different experience than the 1950s film Judgment at Nuremberg! Kaja, what was your take on this?

Kaja
: Absolutely right, Eli. I couldn't agree more. The central motive of this movie seems to be to remake the classic, Judgment at Nuremberg, but with a different type of intelligentsia: the musician. Hey, they'd have a great soundtrack to boot. BUT, the film in essence rehashes an age old argument similar to the one about Wagner being a Nazi supporter, despite his inability to control how his music was manipulated. Rather, it was his sister who promoted him in the public eye. While she was an avid Hitler supporter, how can we begrudge her initial overtures (pun intended) to the public to support the brilliant work of her brother? Holding Wagner accountable is like holding Nietzsche accountable for the fact that his writings were disseminated to German recruits as they marched off to the frontier.

It's not possible, however, to completely dismiss the case that the movie is describing: it happened and is about very real people. But the manner in which the movie, and the characters within it, attempt to twist music's connection to mean so much more in supporting a regime than it did is rather sad and misguided. It overlooks the fact that music both inspires and heals, much more than it incites people to battle (those are simple fanfares). I guess I am mainly left guessing why Szabo portrayed his characters the way he did. The American is an abrasive, self-righteous fellow that makes me wretch; his obsession is to humiliate a dignified and brilliant maestro. Okay... spot on. Bravo, Szabo, you're very perceptive indeed. The Germans are two young people, a boy and a girl, who fall in love. Aw, how sweet. BUT they harbor secret sympathies with the poor conductor. Hmmm... thus they are two-faced, secretive and can't be trusted. So, who is the viewer to look toward for inspiration? Not the tyrannical and ignorant American, of course. Certainly not the weak, secretive and feeble German couple. No, we look to the solid dignity and pride of a musician being humiliated. So we have a black-and-white situation: artist=good; judgmental American=bad. The transparent way that Szabo manipulates the sympathies of his audience, is cheap and doesn't admit that it is a messy moral situation. Really, while this movie was beautiful to look at, it had me squirming in my seat (and not in the good way). I see no redeeming value that it may have. Even the music was cliche.

So there you have it. Don't bother with this one.