Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Examining the past

I've just been watching this extraordinarily gripping film, Taking Sides, which recreates the interrogation of Dr Wilhem Furtwangler during the post-war de-Nazification of Germany. Furtwangler is considered by some to have been the most outstanding conductor of the 20th century, but his role in continuing to provide music for the Nazi regime meant that he was a target for thorough questioning by the occupying Allies.

In the movie, Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgard) is interrogated by a tough-talking American major (Harvey Keitel), and it is this interrogation which takes up most of the film. The confrontation brings the role of the artist in an evil regime into the limelight, along with all the other moral ambiguities and issues emerging from World War 2. I was fascinated by my own reaction to all this: here was a musician who apparently shook hands with Hitler, directed concerts for him, seemed to be at ease with the regime - and yet, along with the sensitive Jewish American soldier assisting Keitel, I felt outraged at the bullying of the quietly-spoken Furtwangler by this brash soldier. Against the soundtrack of Beethoven and the images of concentration camp atrocities, I found myself wondering what any of us would have done in the circumstances. And in a telling newsreel clip, saved for the closing title sequence, we could see the actual handshake of which Keitel made so much in the interrogation. After bending from the podium to shake the Fuhrer's hand, Furtwangler - the real Furtwangler - clearly transferred a tightly-balled handkerchief from his left hand to his right, as if to wipe it clean.

Not a comfortable film, and not entertainment in the usual sense - but I feel I need to watch it again.

1 comment:

  1. History is written by the victors, or more probably these days by the propagandists - so who do you believe or trust.

    Possibly the message of the film?