As you’ve doubtless realised, today is the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner. Last year in a survey of movies about Wagner’s royal patron, Bavarian King Ludwig II, I mentioned the first biopic of the German composer, which was in fact the first biopic of anyone. It was made by director Carl Froelich to mark Wagner’s centenary in 1913. Wagner himself had died 30 years previously but his widow Cosima was very much alive and the Bavarian monarchy still, technically, in place, with Ludwig’s brother Otto its deranged, titular head.
It appears that there is a case for regarding Froelich’s creation as the very first feature film, with a then unprecedented run time of 80 minutes. However due to Cosima’s vehement opposition to the project it was accompanied not by a Wagner score but – in a truly impressive piece of method acting – a pastiche of the composer’s music written by the actor who plays him, Giuseppe Becce. Tonight the film is being presented in Baden-Baden with an orchestral arrangement of Becce’s para-Wagnerian accompaniment (to be broadcast on Arte if you happen to be in Germany or France).
Meanwhile, here is the silent original of Richard Wagner (and apologies for the puerile title…I’m going to sit in a corner and read this high-minded work of Wagnerian scholarship as penance):