Television: Poisoned legacy - a soundtrack for genocide

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Television: According to Gottfried Wagner, the composer's great grandson, the paper on which Mein Kampf was written was delivered to Hitler's prison cell by Winifrid Wagner, the composer's daughter. I don't know whether this is true or not - Gottfried, to put it mildly, has some problems relating to his relations - but it certainly should be. For one thing it presents such a suggestive image for the vexed question of Wagner's complicity in the anti-semitic crescendo of the Third Reich. Winifred was wealthy and dazzled by Hitler, so the paper was presumably of the best quality. But it can hardly have inspired him by its very texture, however Teutonic the deckle or the watermark. He had to fill those blank sheets himself. Is the association between Wagner's work and the ideology of genocide a similar story - a case of appropriation and overwriting? The music, with its heady fantasies of race and destiny, came to Hitler as a gift, but what he did with it (and what he did to it, in historical terms) is surely his business, not Wagner's.

To which Gottfried would probably answer that the music already had words on it and that there's never been much doubt about Wagner's acrid anti- semitism. In An A to Z of Wagner (C4), on Sunday night, you were offered a particularly choice example: when the Vienna Opera House burnt down, killing around 400 Jews among the audience, Wagner casually observed that it was as good a way of killing rats as any other. And even if the music wasn't a blueprint for genocide, it certainly provided an unsurpassable soundtrack for it, an orchestral persuasion for Hitler that what he had in mind was heroic and beautiful rather than tragic and squalid. Actually Gottfried went further still, singling out Parsifal and The Mastersingers as works which explicitly prefigure the Third Reich, but the programme as a whole couldn't get very deep into the intractable question of how music has meaning for its listeners.

Instead Gottfried travelled around Bayreuth furiously spieling about his poisoned inheritance. It was a fascinating performance, an untidy muddle of therapy session and polemic, in which the private and the public had become hopelessly tangled. Frequently you felt the indignation yourself - only six years after the war, he pointed out, Arno Breker, effectively state sculptor for the Nazi regime, was commissioned to produce a bust of Wagner for the Bayreuth gardens - a decision that seemed to sum up the wilful amnesia of the Wagner family. Elsewhere you wondered whether his agitation was driven by a narrower agony; his personal stake in the politics of racial purity is as plain as the nose on his face, an uncanny replica of the composer's familiar hooked profile.

The second half of David Thompson's Omnibus film about the director Jean Renoir (BBC1) alerted you to a particular shortcoming of the chronological structure, which is that the shape of a life may be at odds with the shape of a career. The first half of this engaging profile - which gave free play to the director's considerable charm - concerned Renoir's life in France up to the outbreak of war, and the slow evolution of his film-making from a wealthy young man's hobby into an artist's vocation. The narrative was satisfyingly ascendent, leading up to the masterpieces of La Grande Illusion and La Rgle du Jeu.

This week, which followed the director's move to Hollywood, couldn't help but feel like a diminuendo. Renoir's method didn't fit easily with industry accounting and the films that resulted never had quite the impact of the earlier works. It was a problem of translation; last week's film was about an amateur in France, where the word conveys the sense of a passionate affair, detached from any thought of commercial return. An amateur in America is not the same thing at all, which made you regret that the documentary as a whole was so evenly balanced in its attention.

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