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"Wagner's Jews": A Film by Hilan Warshaw

San Diego Jewish Film Festival turns 24 this year.
JCC Publicity

Wagner's Jews


San Diego, CA---- The San Diego Jewish Film Festival has spread it wings this year. For those interested in attending some or all of the 60 or so films, documentaries and short subjects highlighting ‘the best contemporary Jewish themed films from around the world celebrating life, human rights and freedom of expression’ there are at least five theatre’s ready for the bidding including the Jewish Community Center on Executive Drive. The Leichtag Foundation is sponsoring the event.

All this will come to light in an eleven-day period from Feb. 6th through the 16th

Movie theatres mostly in the north county will be hosting the films at the following venues: the Reading Cinemas-14 on Clairemont Drive to Edwards, San Marcos Stadium 18 to ArcLight Cinemas in La Jolla, the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre in La Jolla (JCC) and Carlsbad Village Theatre in Carlsbad.

On Friday, Feb. 7th @ 10:30AM the West Coast Premiere of “Wagner’s Jews” directed by Hilan Warshaw, will air at the David Dorothea Garfield Theatre at the LFJCC, Jacobs Family Campus at 4126 Executive Drive, in La Jolla and on Sunday Feb. 9th @ 1:30 PM it will be shown at the Clairemont location.

I have to admit that when I hear Wagner’s name, my blood pressure probably jumps up more than my Dr.’s would like. Opera is one of my favorite mediums and I have attended the San Diego opera for more seasons than I can remember.

The feelings are real. I have attended several of Wagner’s operas as they have come through San Diego by way of the S.D. Opera, but can’t shake the knowledge of this man’s anti-Semitism. Old school thinking? Perhaps.

“Wagner’s Jews” poses the controversial questions about ‘whether or not Wagner’s music should be boycotted in Israel on the one hand, and can we separate the man’s personal and political thinking from his artistic prowess on the other? Here’s my take.

Let’s reiterate:

He was a vehement anti Semite.

His paranoia against the Jews first kicked in when his initial lack of success in getting into the music business in Paris in the 1840’s was because he believed the music business was in Jewish hands. He looked at anyone with Jewish roots as his reason for his early failures.

He brought anti-Semitism to the middle class and into their living rooms, their culture and their music.

He called for the elimination of Jews from German life.

Hitler (who cherished his music) and the Nazis embraced his anti Semitic sentiment that Jews were responsible for much of what was wrong in art and society (“Das Judenthum in der Musik”) “Judaism in Music”.

‘Nuff said on that. But is it really? The first part of Warshaw’s film (and it’s only 55 min long) delves precisely into just those issues chapter and verse with additional commentary on just how many prominent Jews of that time actually supported, sponsored and befriended Wagner.

It became somewhat of a conundrum for the budding anti Semite who would soon rock the world of opera, Jewish factions and all. He accepted their patronage, their money and oft times their friendship even going so far as to become a mentor to the upcoming Jewish teenaged piano prodegy Carl Tausig. Hermann Levi, a rabbi’s son conducted the premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal. And it goes on.

The controversy and complexity of whether Wagner’s music, led by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Israel, the same Israel that houses Yad Vashem, should be sanctioned or better yet performed burns into the fabric of the survivors. Is there a right or wrong answer? You have to be the judge. At least a dozen prominent experts and musicians are interviewed on the film. Their views are important but will it change any minds? Dunno!

Warshaw’s film is handled neatly and clearly giving insightful information especially for those not familiar with the personal side of Wagner. It might be an eye opener, if you’re open to it.

Nuvi Meta, the voice of San Diego Symphony will be the guest speaker after the guest speaker after the show

Dates: Feb. 6-16

Organization: San Diego Center for Jewish Culture

Phone: 858-362-1348

Production Type: Jewish Film Festival

Single ticket prices for most films: $11.75-$15.75-Teen Screen free. Festival passes and senior and student discounts are available by calling the Box Office.


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