Many of us who like Kubrick have an appetite for "more of the different", as well as "more of the same". A new two CD set has been released that will be, for many people, a gateway into a fascinating artistic world both unlike and something like the world of cinema. The great thing is that we don't have to rely on the medium of cinema to provide "more of the different/same". Film is expensive, and for that reason, most films rely on time-proven formulas/cliches to "bring in the crowds" and recover the cost of production. So we're lucky that other formal genres (not saddled with these prohibitive costs) can give us the same sort of multi-leveled and formerly-unexperienced experience Kubrick has given us. Film was not the first multimedia genre. It was preceded by OPERA, a synthesis of theatre and symphonic music (the music functioning as "soundtrack"). In the eyes of many people (millions, to be im/precise), this composite genre reached its zenith in DER RING DER NIBELUNGEN by Richard Wagner (known more commonly as THE RING). Wagner took the medium of theatre, overlaid a "soundtrack" of a very unique sort, and in turn layered over these formal domains the content domain of mythology, a mythology which carried an uncommonly keen analysis of the human condition (integrating insights from the political, psychological, historical, and even biological disciplines) that preceded many major thinkers following Wagner, from Nietszche to Freud to Jung. In this fifteen-and-some hours masterwork, Wagner seems to want to explain the entire history of the world -- and comes closer than might seem possible, via his unparalleled use of the "leitmotif" (clue-theme) technique, an artistic technique which foreshadowed developments in object-oriented programming (e.g. languages like C++) by nearly a century! "Inheritance" and "polymorphism", recently taught as the "new wave" in programming at MIT, are concepts at least as old as the Civil War. Only when one begins to understand this work and its modus operandi will one begin to understand why over 20,000 articles and books have been written on Wagner and his epic -- and why that many might be needed. "A picture is worth a thousand words." That brings us to the CDs. Formerly, getting a reasonably simple, inexpensive introduction into the sound world of this work was very difficult, especially for those people unable to read music and therefore trace these musical motifs over their development. But recently, London has released an invaluable introduction to the work titled AN INTRODUCTION TO DER RING DER NIBELUNGEN by Deryck Cooke, a 2 CD set with musical examples played by the London Philharmonic as conducted by George Solti (London Records: 443 581-2). Over the course of two hours, the orchestra plays over 190 musical examples illustrating leit-motifs from THE RING, with some very concise and perceptive commentary by Cooke describing how Wagner developed his conception of "the Artwork of the Future." At $20 for two CDs, this is an essential purchase for those who want a peek into the workings of this masterwork. I have just finished listening to these CDs, and among other things, now see why it took Wagner 26 years (1848 to 1874) to pen THE RING. It's "all on the screen", so to speak. When I think "what does Kubrick appreciate?", THE RING comes to mind. Maybe it's one of his textbooks. Three useful books, very inexpensive as well, make good companions to the two-CD set. They are short, easy to read, and get right to [some of the] point(s) behind the music: WAGNER'S RING: TURNING THE SKY ROUND by M. Owen Lee (Limelight: 1994) $10 THE PERFECT WAGNERITE by George Bernard Shaw (Dover: NY) $3.95 ASPECTS OF WAGNER by Bryan Magee (Oxford: 1988), $6.95 For a recording of the complete work, Solti's is still the one to get (they even made a video of some of the recording sessions called THE GOLDEN RING, documenting conducting by a man possessed). Levine's recent Met videotapes have the very singular virtue of allowing speakers of English to understand the text while the music is playing, restoring a former (critical) missing dimension. Students of Mr. Kubrick's work will find many of his themes -- recurring cycles, the tool as a unit of destruction, death of love, end of the world, death and resurrection, etc. -- anticipated in THE RING. And not only themes, but artistic technique (e.g. Wagner quotes Beethoven's "dit-dit-dit dah" theme in his "Fate Motive"). Etc. ETC. ETC! Check it out. (B.K.) Some great filmmaker, though, could do wonderful things with these demands, assuming of course that realism is worth achieving . . . Directors like Kubrick or Fellini could create a film version of THE RING; their visual imaginations are already Wagnerian. -- John L. DiGaetani, preface to PENETRATING WAGNER'S RING, p. 10 Kubrick's work bears many similarities to Wagner's. People have already commented on the structure of Kubrick's films, often comparing 2001 to a symphony -- well, Wagner's operas are similarly structured (2001, like the RING, is in 4 parts -- and I often think this is NOT mere coincidence). Wagner made extensive use of the leitmotif concept -- which seems to me analogous to Kubrick's use of recurring imagery (and music). Kubrick's films are always about the failure of a plan. The RING is about one of the most colossal failed plans in dramatic history -- Wotan's plan for the history of the world. Kubrick's films are always epic in scope and theme, and full of mythological imagery -- like Wagner's operas. Those without a background in music may not quite appreciate the similarities. Wagner was not an ordinary opera composer -- he sought a synthesis, or "Gesamtkunstwerk,"* of ALL the arts -- music, poetry, and drama, into something new which he termed the "music drama." This seems to me to also be Kubrick's vision, seen most clearly in 2001 -- the attempt to create something in a new medium that cannot be expressed in any other way. . . . * "Gesamskunstwerkheit" = 'the integral work of Art' (G.A.) (J.M.) PARALLELS BETWEEN 2001 AND THE RING I think it's extremely unlikely that SK had Wagner in mind when he did 2001 in four parts, but . . . the works resemble each other . . . The first part of 2001 shows the introduction of the object that, seen or unseen, directs the action of the rest of the film - the monolith. In the RING, it is the ring itself. The first part also sees the introduction of error into humanity -- the development of technology which leads to disaster later in the film. This corresponds in the RING to the stealing of the gold and its use by Alberich to enslave others, and the resultant curse upon all wearers of the ring. The second part of 2001 deals with the discovery and activation of the monolith, which results in the Discovery's quest to Jupiter. In the second part of the RING, Wotan attempts to create a race which will win the ring for himself, which leads to the coming of Siegfried. The third part of 2001 deals with the voyage to Jupiter, and the consequences of earlier errors (both in HAL's programming and human history in general) nearly lead to disaster, but the hero, Bowman, saves the situation against all odds. In the third part of the RING, Siegfried, the hero, is introduced, and also must do battle against the consequences of Wotan's earlier errors (i.e., the fight with the dragon, and Wotan himself). The fourth part of 2001 portrays Bowman's transformation into a higher being. The end part of the RING brings about Siegfried's death and the destruction of the world, although a new world is ushered in (although this point is debatable). Those familiar with both works will see that I am oversimplifying, but I just don't have the space or time here to do a thorough comparison. But, whether by design or not, I think the RING and 2001 have a lot in common. (J.M.) Wagner once said something very startling about his RING. He said that it teaches us that "we must learn to die." We must "will what is necessary and bring it to pass." The great deaths in myths are symbols of inner transformations in man, who makes the myths. . . . The RING, which began as a parable of Europe's evolution towards a classless, progressive society, eventually -- to Wagner's surprise, and after many revisions -- became a parable of a god's voluntary death, and the transformation that results. It is indeed about evolution, but it is as far in advance of Darwin's theory (developed at almost exactly the same time) as myth has always been in advance of science. It begins with a god newly established in power and ends with that god consumed in flames. That is to say, it begins with the emergence of man into consciousness, and ends with consciousness voluntarily yielding to -- the next evolutionary development in human nature. . . . Now PERHAPS I can align the RING with an evolutionary parable of our own century. A parable millions of young people responded to, though they couldn't say why. A parable introduced by the music Richard Strauss wrote for Nietzsche's ZARATHUSTRA. In that marvelous film, 2001, Stanley Kubrick shows (in his prologue) the evolution of ape to conscious man and (in his epilogue) the evolution of man to his next stage, completed when he lands his spaceship on Jupiter. There is a computer brain on the ship, the sum total of man's present intelligence. The computer tries to prevent man's further evolution, for that would mean the end of its power. The lone surviving astronaut realizes that the computer must be destroyed. He defuses it, function by function. And when its last two functions -- reason and memory -- are defused, man lands on his new planet and evolves to his new stage. He is transformed. That intuitive film is very close to GOTTERDAMMERUNG. In the old prose . . . that Wagner used as one of his sources, Wotan's two ravens are called Reason and Memory. In GOTTERDAMMERUNG, Wotan sends them off to witness Siegfried's death. Then they fly back to die with their god, whom Wagner called "the sum of our present awareness." And the world is transformed. . . . (from M. Owen Lee's WAGNER'S RING, pp. 94-6)
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