THE HARMONISTS directed by Joseph Vilsmaier

Film / Video Reviews
THE HARMONISTS directed by Joseph Vilsmaier
Jul 2, 2002, 06:36

THE HARMONISTS directed by Joseph Vilsmaier; Miramax, 1996

Based on the rise and fall of The Comedian Harmonists, one of Europe's most successful a cappella acts in the '30s, The Harmonists is an exploration of the ramifications of Nazi Germany during the rule of the Third Reich. In 1927 Berlin, actor/composer Harry Frommermann (Ulrich Noethan) placed a newspaper ad seeking to form a “unique performing ensemble.” Inspired by the American quintet The Revellers, Frommermann set out to create a German version of the quintet. What he didn't realize is that he'd form an overnight sensation that would capture and dazzle European audiences. The success of The Comedian Harmonists would bring fame and fortune…for a price. The ensemble consisted of both Aryan and Jewish members. At first it was requested that they restrict their use of material written by Jewish (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin) composers and focus on a national slant. As the restrictions grew tighter, it was demanded that the group stop performing because three of the members were Jewish. The success of The Comedian Harmonists was snuffed out as they were riding the crest of their fame. Here, Vilsmaier has put together an interesting story that deserves to be told, but unfortunately the view through his eyes is strictly Hollywood schlock and sap. What promises to be an interesting piece of history turns into a predictable, romantic sidebar.

Instead of renting the movie, save three bucks and pick up a copy of The Comedian Harmonists on Hannibal Records. The amazing and somewhat surreal harmonies will immediately capture any fan of music. The vocalizing is beautifully captured and fresh. Once you've had a taste you will realize why this talented group captured the attention of Europe and has gone on to be celebrated by the most celebrated/romanced music critic of all time, Lester Bangs.

-Troy Brookins

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