After Kubrick, what?

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 

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 
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.

     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 

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.)


                 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. 


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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