Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

How Spaghetti Westerns Shaped Modern Cinema, Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Year of Marvels, and Wagner and the Spanish Civil War

Also: Walker Percy and the age of suicide, Salzburg, and more.

I read over the weekend that Leon Redbone has died. He was 69. Watch his performance of Louis Armstrong’s “Walking Stick” here.

A curator who was listed as attributing Salvator Mundi to Leonardo before the painting was auctioned for $450 million in 2017, claims the painting was done mostly by an assistant. In “her forthcoming four-volume study of the polymath – a vast project spanning more than 1m words and 1,500 images – Bambach attributes most of the picture to Leonardo’s assistant, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, with only ‘small retouchings’ by the master himself.”

A “remarkably fresh” account of the year that made Wordsworth and Coleridge: “It all began in June 1797, when Coleridge summoned the Wordsworths from their retreat at Racedown Lodge, deep in remotest Dorset. He was already settled with his family at Nether Stowey, Somerset, and the Wordsworths were soon installed nearby in Alfoxden House. The poetic incomers were helped with their arrangements by a 28-year-old tanner called Thomas Poole, a well-known democrat who was rumoured to have a ‘private army’ at his command. To write his book, Nicolson ‘embedded’ himself in the Quantocks for a year, living there as the poets had done more than two centuries ago. Month by month he walked the combes and heights, in all weathers and at all hours of the day and night, attentive to the sights and sounds of sea and hill and wood, feeling every wind that blew.”

Jessica Hooten Wilson reviews John Desmond’s Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the Age of Suicide: “Love in the Ruins is set a dozen years in the future from when Percy published it, set in 1983 in an apocalyptic USA, vines are sprouting everywhere and taking hold, violence is an acceptable form of arguing oppositional ideologies, love equals orgies and multiple sexual partners, and demonic forces sell technology and scientific advances to eager consumers. Percy borrowed the idea from Dostoevsky’s The Demons. Although both novels appear panoramic in scale, the problems arise from persons who, like Dostoevsky’s title suggests, act devilishly, and the evil is contagious. Both novels depict worlds where no one believes in God any longer. Dostoevsky predicted, if God does not exist, all things are permitted. Going a step further, Percy argues that this explains ‘the rise of all these ideologies.’ Anyone want to live in these fictional brave new worlds? Cultural diagnoses like these are easy and go rather unheeded if an author only foretells gloom and doom. The prophets of genius must also elucidate the cause and offer an alternative vision. Novelists like Dostoevsky and Percy strive to prevent World War III not by lamenting the destruction, but by depicting narratively how a person’s erroneous perception of herself may lead to nuclear holocaust.”

And speaking of Walker Percy, check out Rod’s round-up of the 2019 Walker Percy Weekend. If you’ve never been, you should really go one year.

A defense of globalization: “Open is an even-handed, fair-minded and up-to-the-minute primer on some of today’s most important economic debates. In her consideration of who gains and who loses from economic openness, she makes a stout, evidence-led defence of the worldview disparaged as ‘globalism’ by both the Right and the Left. The point, Clausing argues, is not that the free(ish) movement of goods, services, labour and capital is without costs but that those costs are outweighed by the benefits.”

Quentin Tarantino explains how spaghetti westerns shaped modern cinema in Spectator: “People sometimes think that Leone was the first Italian to make spaghetti westerns. But of course he wasn’t. Sergio Corbucci was doing a spaghetti western in 1964, the same time Leone was doing Fistful of Dollars. But he wasn’t trying to do something different at that time — he was actually trying to be more like the American westerns, and this is reflected in the music, which isn’t operatic at all. It was Leone who put the music to task and turned it to opera. I know there are examples that will be contrary to what I am saying, but it feels as if Leone is the first guy ever to cut picture to music in that way. Before him it just happened by accident where somebody thought it would be cool for a little sequence, but didn’t think they should do it for the rest of the movie. But the way we cut to music now: you pick some rock song and you cut your scene to that song. That all started with Leone and Morricone, and particularly with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Hudson Review, Antonio Muñoz Molina reminds us of the power of art in the case of Hitler’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War:

“Were it not for a brief passage in the second volume of Ian Kershaw’s biography of Hitler, I would never have learned of the direct connection between Wagner’s Siegfried and the first crucial victory of Franco’s army during the uprising that set off the Spanish Civil War. On July 25, 1936, as Kershaw recounts, Adolf Hitler attended a production of Siegfried in Bayreuth, which brought him to the state of exaltation that Wagner’s music had always caused in him from early youth. From the age of 17, to be precise, when he first heard Rienzi in Linz—as August Kubizek, friend, countryman and companion during his early years in his native city and then in Vienna, would reverently record years later. On that day in 1906, a young Hitler left the opera house in a fevered state of musical and patriotic excite­ment, rapt in a sense of kinship with the figure of the Roman tribune who in the fourteenth century tried to revive the glories of imperial Rome, only to meet, in Wagner’s opera, an heroic, glorious end at the hands of his betrayers. In June of 1936, exactly thirty years later, Hitler’s deranged dream was being fulfilled. He was a triumphant Cola di Rienzi lifting Germany to its redemption; a Lohengrin in silver armor, rescuing the nation from dishonor; a Siegfried, forging once again the Notung sword, which had been shattered by Germany’s defeat in 1918 but was now whole, and battle-sharp, and shining. In the summer of 1936, three years after his rise to Chancellor of Germany, Hitler enjoyed a mythical stature heightened even more by the dramatic entry of German troops into the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland earlier that year, a first act of international self-assertion by the Nazis that the allied French and British powers were unwilling or unable to confront.

“That day in late July of 1936, when the opera ended, Hitler retired to the rooms that the Wagner family reserved for him in the Wahnfried villa. Their hospitality was a personal triumph for him, a measure of all he had accomplished since the beginnings of his passion for Wagner in his adolescence, when he went hungry in Vienna with his friend Kubizek, spending a portion of the little money he got from selling watercolors to buy the cheapest tickets to the opera so he could watch, enraptured, high up on a distant seat, productions of Wagner conducted by Gustav Mahler and staged on stark, modern sets by Alfred Roller. Nor did the generosity of the Wagner family toward Germany’s new dictator arise from servile expediency. Bayreuth had been one of the first places to welcome him when he was the obscure leader of a rather preposterous party with a small number of followers. It was partly in the parlors and reception rooms of Wahnfried that his social rise began. Though Siegfried and Winifred Wagner were among his earliest followers, it was perhaps the family’s most disturbing member, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who first openly invested Hitler with the honorific mantle of Wagnerian myth, declaring him a new Siegfried and a Parsifal come to redeem a German land broken by defeat and corrupted by Judaism.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Salzburg

Poem: Elisabeth Murawski, “The Luck of Edward Thomas”

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