Canada / Germany 1996
Dir: Larry Weinstein , Thomas Wallner
84 min., Video and 35mm, 1:1.66, Color, WP
Produktion: Rhombus Media Inc., Arte/ZDF. Buch: Larry Weinstein, Thomas Wallner, nach Briefen, Schriften und Interviews von Hanns Eisler. Kamera: Horst Zeidler. Ausstattung: Christian Krüger. Ton: Eckardt Hellmich. Schnitt: David New. Kostüme: Inez Raatzke. Maske: Angelika Baumeister. Regie-Assistenz: Barbara Bauer. Produktionsleitung: Rolf Hermann. Aufnahmeleitung: Jochen Uhlig. Produzenten: Gabriele Faust, Niv Fichman. Stimme von H.E.: Benjamin Wilchfort.
Mitwirkende: Gisela May, HK Gruber, Robyn Archer, Richard Stoltzman, Stefanie Wüst, Christoph Keller, Carmen Maja Antoni, Andreas Scheibner, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Berliner Rundfunkorchester und Chor.
Uraufführung: 27. August 1996, Bravo! The New Style Arts Channel, Kanada
Weltvertrieb: Sheena Macdonald-Rhombus International Inc. 489 King St. W., Suite 102, Toronto, ON M5V 1L3, Kanada. Tel.: (1-416) 971 7856, Fax: (1-416) 971 9647
Sat 15.02. 17:45 Arsenal
The film features interviews with close friends and relatives of Eisler, rare and previously unknown footage from the explosive events of his life, and newly recorded performances of his music. Filmed on location in Berlin, Vienna, Bremen, New York and Los Angeles.
It seems, at first, like a project driven by sheer folly. Toronto's Rhombus Media, acclaimed for its perceptive movies about artistic topics, has poured time, effort and money into a documentary about a modern composer hardly anyone has heard of.
The sprawling, 84-minute portrait also appears to venerate Hanns Eisler for his passionate love of Communism, while re-presenting music that extols the glories of life under the hammer and sickle.
The fact is, SOLIDARITY SONG: THE HANNS EISLER STORY (...) does not treat the German composer as a paragon, although it acknowledges his notable achievements.
Instead the film uses his life as the springboard for a shrewd, ironic and ultimately tragic comment on the clash between art and politics.
This is no routine conflict, but one that incorporated a cruel twist. Despite Eisler's unwavering belief in Communism, his work in the 1950's was harshly criticized by the Soviet authorities for failing to conform to the rigid requirements of the state.
Small wonder that just before his death in 1962, Eisler fell into deep despair over the immense gap between his socialist ideals and the stark reality of life under Soviet rule.
As this Canadian-German co-production makes clear, Eisler's relative obscurity is undeserved. He studied under Arnold Schoenberg in the 20's, collaborated extensively with Bertolt Brecht in the 30's and wrote stirring, working-class calls-to-arms that were embraced around the world.
With the rise of Nazism, he fled from Germany to the United States where, curiously, he settled in Malibu. There he composed background music for numerous films in the 40's while socialising with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Ava Gardner.
After World War II, Eisler's Communist sympathies made him a prime target for Red-baiting paranoia that swept the U.S. So he returned to the Communist sector of rubble-strewn Berlin and composed East Germany‘s national anthem.
Though packed with revealing and heartfelt remarks from relatives and friends, SOLIDARITY SONG might easily have deteriorated into a superb staging of Eisler's music by director Larry Weinstein.
The danger is that these cabaret tunes, choral works, symphonic fragments and operatic excerpts might seem dated or quaint in championing a discredited political system.
To give the material immediacy and universality, emphasis has been placed on accessible items that advocate justice and equality. One biting example of anti-racism is ,The Ballad Of Nigger Jim', in which a singer and backup band appear in black-face for a stinging ditty about a black who's barred from an all-white train compartment.
Satire is also brought to bear against the fascists, but Weinstein expands the focus to encompass Eisler's sombre side. Included is a touching lament delivered by a German mother who fears her son's brown shirt will become his funeral shroud.
Heightening the impact of the songs is their setting. Weinstein and co-director Thomas Wallner have staged several of the rabble-rousing pieces in abandoned factories to give a sooty smear of authenticity and context to lyrics about working-class rights and self-respect.
At odd moments, one steel mill even comes to life, allowing us to glimpse bright orange-yellow explosions of molten steel in a blast furnace. All these shots coincide with musical crescendos and convey a sense of the shining, tumultuous impact that Eisler's songs had on the masses during the depressed 30's.
And even if we sigh over the composer's misguided hopes for a Communist Eden, SOLIDARITY SONG still leaves us shaken by the broader notion of big government and nonconformist artistry on a collision course of disastrous proportions. Henry Mietkiewicz, in: The Toronto Star, August 27, 1996
In recent years, Larry Weinstein has become Canada's pre-eminent director of films on musical subjects. Feature films documenting the lives of twentieth century composers, such as Ravel, Manuel de Falla, Arnold Schoenberg and Joaqúin Rodrigo have been screened at major film festivals throughout the world and have received top awards in Toronto, Montreal, Banff, New York, Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Oakland, Paris, San Sebastian, Prague and Melbourne. His films have earned numerous Gemini Awards, which celebrate the best Canadian television production. He is currently shooting a documentary with the renowned Maestro Valery Gergiev about Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
1984: Making Ouvertures - The Story of a Community Orchestra. 1985: All that Bach. 1987: A Moving Picture (Co-Produzent); Eternal Earth. 1988: Ravel. 1989: The Radical Romantic; For the Whales. 1991: Master Peter's Puppet Show / Nights in the Gardens of Spain; When the Fire Burns: The Life and Music of Manuel de Falla. 1992: My War Years: Arnold Schoenberg. 1993: Concerto!; Shadows and Light: Joaquin Rodrigo at 90 / Concierto de Aranjuez. 1994: September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill. 1996: SOLIDARITY SONG: THE HANNS EISLER STORY.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.