This epic film – described by Richard Hornak in Opera News as “one of the most beautiful motion pictures in history” – was originally made in 1982/3 to mark the 100th anniversary of Wagner’s death.
Filmed in 200 locations throughout Europe, many where the actual historical events took place, with a team from 19 different countries, the entire production was completed in less than a year. Sadly it was to be Richard Burton’s last major role, but the stellar cast assembled partly because of him - Olivier, Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Franco Nero, Marthe Keller, Gemma Craven, Gwyneth Jones, Peter Hofmann, Arthur Lowe, Ekkehardt Schall (Brecht’sson-in-law), Joan Greenwood, Sir William Walton, Gabriel Byrne, Andrew Cruickshank – the list is endless.
Multi-Oscar-winner Vittorio Storaro & Nic Knowland, the cameramen, produced a stream of astonishing images. And none of it would have been possible without the active and continuous support of Wolfgang Wagner, the composer’s grandson.
Much rubbish has been written about the film since its completion. Apparently it is nine hours long; two hours long; five hours long. It is none of those. It is seven hours and 46 minutes in length precisely. It is not, and never has been, a mini-Series, and was always intended as a single film. Apparently it went hugely over budget; was made as a ‘tax loss’; ITV refused to show it; the producers ordered the negative burnt.
Only the last is true. Fact: it cost less than £7 million. Fact: it was finished and delivered on time. Various distributors since, legal and illegal, have lied about its sales, misrepresented its contents, allowed cheap DVDs (made from poor quality VHS) to be marketed, and ignored the wishes of those who created it.
So here it is, finally, as it was originally edited by Tony Palmer, restored in wide-screen and Hi-Definition. The music, conducted more-or-less as a favour by Sir Georg Solti, has never sounded better. Storaro’s photography has never looked better. And the script by Charles Wood remains a miracle of historical compression and accuracy, given that Wagner himself was an appalling fantasist and the truth often hard to ascertain.
And Richard Burton, who towers above the production, reminds us what a great actor he was. This is a fitting tribute to his – and to Wagner’s – genius.
'Wagner can be mentioned alongside such exceptional film biographies as Gandhi,Reds and Abel Gance's Napoléon...Wagner is one of the most beautifully photographed motion pictures in history.'
'The great thing about Tony Palmer's film is that, on its epic scale, it takesover from real life and makes you submit totally. Richard Burton was the very embodiment of Wagner. this film is one of the truly great experiences of the cinema.'
An absolute bulls-eye...wonderful...technically brilliant...musically and filmically on the highest level... it will surely set out on a triumphant procession around the world.
A monumental film... a complete work of art... truly visionary...
The Sunday Times
A remarkable event... hardly a minute too long... a British Film of glory...takes the screen by storm... a big spirited work.
Tribune de Génève
The music is sumptuously played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under thedirection of Sir Georg Solti... Vittorio Storaro's photography is of the highest quality.
Corriere della Sera
Professionalism of the highest English standard... avirtuoso piece,
inspired, and quite simply colossal.
An incredible achievement... on the screen, just as in the music of
Wagner, the colour becomes action... an enormous and brilliant production.
Music and Musicians Magazine
Musically magnificent, dramatically stunning and visuallyawe-inspiring.
A winner all the way.
New York Daily News
Wagner - You've Heard The Music. Now You Can See The Man For Eight Brilliant Hours. Tony Palmer's Wagnerian-length cinematic tribute to history's most important composer bursts with just the sort of larger-than-life scope befitting its subject.
Women's Wear Daily (U.S.)
'Wagner' It is a work of such integrity, a landmark in the cinematic treatment of the way a man's ideas govern his life, that one hesitates to suggest alterations as if it were something conventional.
New York Times
Wagner's Life is in His Art Positively indelible are a fewscenes involving old stagers named Gielgud, Richardson and Olivier as the trioof court advisers. 'Wagner' is notable for the care it lavishes on the details of this strangely magnetic man's extramusical as well as musical life.