The Iron Curtain (1948)

The Iron Curtain is not by any means a great movie—it’s rather didactic, with voice-over narration to help the slow-witted viewer follow the plot—but it does provide an interesting look at the outset of the cold war. The movie covers the 1945 defection of Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa. As well as defecting to Canada, he also turned over a pile of documents detailing Soviet spying on the Canadian nuclear program and implicating various civil servants and one sitting MP working to help out Uncle Joe.

For some reason, a lot of the names have been changed, but it doesn’t take too much effort to work out that Leonard Leitz is a stand-in for Fred Rose. He was the only communist ever elected to Parliament. His riding, Cartier, no longer exists, though as best I can make out, most of it is now Laurier—Sainte-Marie, Gilles Duceppe’s riding until he lost it to the NDP in 2011.

The exterior scenes were shot on location in Ottawa. (Well, most of them were. There are two scenes with rolling hills in the background that were obviously shot nowhere in the vicinity.) To be honest, that’s really the main reason I watched the movie. Gouzenko’s apartment is across the park from where I live and I was curious to see if my house made it into the movie. It’s almost visible in the shot where Gouzenko and his wife get out of a car (about 23 minutes in), but in the background, out of focus, and hard to make out between the trees.

Solipsistic reasons aside, the movie provides some interesting views of Ottawa in the 1940s. And of all the locations which make an appearance, virtually none of them have changed in the past sixty years. The apartment building is still there (a plaque in the park across the street notes its significance), though the row of houses immediately to the west have been demolished and replaced with a Beer Store. Parliament obviously looks the same, though it’s probably not so easy anymore to drive your car around back and drop someone off at the Parliamentary library. There’s a shot of a train next to the canal, pulling into Union Station and some brief interior views of the station itself. The tracks along the canal were removed in the 60s and the station is now the Government Conference Centre. Across from Union Station, the Chateau Laurier is visible in one shot, its facade virtually unchanged except for the lettering on the porte cochère.

In fact, the only major change that I could see was in the scene where John Grubb picks up Dr. Norman on the east side of Major’s Hill Park. In the movie there’s an open plot of land with the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral visible in the background. Today that plot of land is occupied by fortress America, protected by an ugly row of jersey barriers cluttering the entire left lane of MacKenzie Ave.

There are still a few commies around Ottawa today too. A lot of the dialog in the movie comes across a bit stilted, but as I can testify having been on the CUPE 4600 email list for seven years, Marxist cant hasn’t changed a bit.


Good Friday Music

From Act 3 of Parsifal, Wagner’s rewriting of Christianity for Wagnerians, the Karfreitagzauber:

The concert piece is performed without the vocal line, but in the staging of the opera this is the music to which Parsifal is anointed by Gurnemanz, his feet are washed by Kundry, who then dries them with her hair, and Parsifal baptizes Kundry. Subtle Wagner was not. And in fact, chunks of the libretto of Parsifal, carefully excerpted, can even sound orthodox. Nietzsche, one of the more perceptive Wagner acolytes, famously broke with Wagner on account of the opera, writing that Wagner “apparently most triumphant, but in truth a decaying and despairing decadent, suddenly sank down, helpless and broken, before the Christian cross.”

That overstates the case. Considered as a whole, Parsifal is impossible to comfortably reconcile with Christian orthodoxy of any stripe. (Reconciliation with heresy comes much more naturally: similarities to Marcionism in Wagner’s writings are not hard to locate. Not coincidentally, both were appropriated by the Nazis.) To his own way of thinking, Wagner was creating a new redemptive mythology to replace the old. Neither pagan nor Christian, it sits somewhere between the two. As David Goldman writes in First Things:

Wagner’s native habitat is not Teutonic paganism so much as the murky medieval frontier through which the newly Christianized Germans passed during the High Middle Ages. His main sources are twelfth-to-fourteenth-century epics that blend Christian content and pagan legend: Wolfram von Eschenbach’s thirteenth-century Grail poem Parzifal , which provided the material for both Parsifal and Lohengrin ; the thirteenth-century Minnesinger Tannhäuser ; the twelfth-century legend (in several versions) of Tristan and Iseult; and the Nibelungenlied itself, a half-Christianized redaction in Middle High German of eighth-century pagan legends. If Wagner himself was not quite a premature Nazi, he remains a horrible affirmation of Franz Rosenzweig’s claim that Christianity, once severed from its Jewish roots, would revert rapidly to paganism.

The entire Goldman piece is highly recommended. Assuming that essays on music theory are the kind of thing you find interesting.