Nazis plundering art has been a subject of much consideration and curiosity ever since the objects began to be recovered. Plenty of focus has been placed on paintings that were lost and found in this way, and the reasons for it are plain to be seen: the paintings have famous, long-deceased names attached and, due to their singular status, they can only be experienced by a limited number of people and can be valued at millions of dollars in a capitalist landscape.
It is precisely for these reasons that not much attention is paid to other plundered art forms, ones which can be reproduced and enjoyed by a wider audience. Exit: Music, a joint effort between director James Murdoch and writer-narrator Simon Wynberg, attempts to remedy this oversight by looking at the lost musical works of a generation of Jewish Germans and other “degenerate” (e.g. jazz) musicians.
Wynberg uses discovered music from several subjugated musicians as a way to study the treatment of music and musicians during World War II Germany and beyond, tracing a path to explain where these musicians went. Along with the story, there is plenty of historical footage that will be a bonus for any history buff in the audience. The strongest element of this documentary is the recreation of the music, which becomes the score for the majority of the film, allowing the audience to hear the lost music for the first time.
The stories that Wynberg tells are often fascinating, but he may also be the film’s biggest weakness and, perhaps, even its downfall. Wynberg’s narration never allows the viewer to forget that they are watching a documentary; in other words, the narration is a sub-par Ken Burns knockoff. After about twenty minutes, it becomes apparent that this film is on par with a television production from TVO.
Exit: Music doesn’t really take many filmmaking risks, but that can be forgiven – not every documentarian has to be Werner Herzog. However, if filmmakers cannot muster up a hint of interest, they can’t expect the audience to do so either.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam