The legacy of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen as reflected in select late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century film media
Bridges, Rose Elizabeth
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Richard Wagner is one of the most important and influential composers for scholars of film music. His concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk or "total art work," which combined music, visuals and storytelling, played an indelible role in the creation of film aesthetics, especially with regard to music and sound design. Yet, Wagner's actual music has its own curious legacy in film history, in terms of how it is used to interact with a story that often bears no relation to those of Wagner's operas. This is particularly interesting with regard to the Der Ring des Nibelungen (aka "the Ring Cycle"). The Ring is his most ambitious and influential, and densest work, and perhaps the one with the greatest lingering legacy in popular culture. For example, "Ride of the Valkyries," an excerpt from Die Walküre made famous by Looney Tunes shorts and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, is still a frequent presence in film, television and advertising that want to evoke sounds of war and conquest--associations created more from its use in those contexts than the original opera. This thesis will examine films and television series of the last half-century that have used musical examples from the Ring in their soundtracks. Works given particular focus will include Apocalypse Now (1979), the Japanese anime series Princess Tutu (2002-2003) and Terrence Malick's historical romance The New World (2006). The examination will discern both how film media has influenced modern cultural perceptions of the original operas--and of Wagner's legacy in general--and also how said film media is itself a reflection of modern attitudes about Wagner and his masterwork.
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