February 24, 2004

'Hitler's bandleader' topic of film, panel discussion

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. - Filmmaker Elia Kazan and baseball player Pete Rose have something in common with Wilhelm Furtwängler, the man his American prosecutor called "Hitler's bandleader" and the subject of "Taking Sides," the third offering in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's spring International Film Series.

They did bad things," said Scott R. Furtwengler, film series coordinator (and no direct relation to the bandleader guy). "But does that mean their achievements should not be honored?"

That question and others will spark discussion among a panel of SIUC professors from different disciplines after the film's free 7 p.m. screening Monday, March 1, in the Life Science III Auditorium.

I got interested in this kind of dilemma after the controversy over Kazan's being given a lifetime achievement award during the (1999) Oscars," Furtwengler said. (Under pressure from Joseph McCarthy's House Committee on Un-American Activities, Kazan in 1952 named eight of his Hollywood colleagues as Communist Party members, an act that ruined their careers.)

It's something that's been on my mind - where is this intersection of art and politics, morality and ethics? It's an interesting question, so I've gotten some people from different areas to discuss it. I think the film will be a good jumping-off point."

Furtwängler, who succeeded Richard Strauss as conductor of the Berlin Opera when he was only 30, has been called one of the last century's greatest conductors. Remaining in Germany by choice throughout Hitler's reign, he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and became a Nazi cultural figurehead, though he never joined the Party and in fact used his position to save many Jewish musicians from concentration camps.

After the war, the American Denazification Committee investigated him and although it exonerated him, the taint of his Nazi associations clung to him for the rest of his life (public outcry forced the cancellation of his 1949 appointment as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

Hungarian-Jewish director Istvan Szabo adapted the film, which centers on Furtwängler's post-war interrogation, from Ronald Harwood's Broadway play. Both versions take some liberty with the facts in order to tell a good story and lay out a more clear-cut moral and ethical debate.

Two kinds of human behavior, both quoting higher moral principles, collide," Szabo wrote in his director's notes.

Who has the truth on his side? In filming this story, both arguments must seem valid. If the viewer can identify with one protagonist and then with the other, we can create a tension which will deliver a form of truth discovered by the audience through doubts, perplexity, reflection."

The SIUC panel discussion will begin at 9 p.m. and will include Randall E. Auxier, philosophy; Edward M. Benyas, music; Peter Chametzky, art and design; Susan Fellemen, cinema and photography; Tom J. Godell, Broadcasting Service; Mary K. McGuire, history; Michael L.Thomas, a doctoral student in business administration; S. Jonathan Wiesen, history; and Marvin Zeman, mathematics.

"I don't know if we will come up with any answers, but I think it will be a lot of fun exploring the questions," Furtwengler said.

Enhancing cultural outreach is among the goals of Southern@150, the long-range plan for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.