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The Oscar-winning screenwriter for "The Pianist,"
Ronald Harwood, explores the artist's responsibility
under a dictatorship in new film based on his
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
n opening night of Ronald
Harwood's Taking Sides,
revolving around Hitler's
favorite conductor, viewers
accosted the playwright. "A woman
said, 'How could you do this to such a
()Teat artist,'" Harwood recalled.
`'`Then a man grabbed me and said,
`Wilhelm Furtwangler was an absolute
s—. 1 So I thought I'd done my job
His 1996 play, now an Istvan
Szabo film, pits Furtwangler against
a brash, fictional American interroga-
tor out to nail "Hitler's bandleader"
in de-Nazification proceedings.
In the film, Furtwangler (Stellan
Skarsgaard) insists he remained in
Germany rather than cede his culture
to the Nazis and that he used his
clout to save Jews.
Major Steve Arnold (Harvey
Keitel) counters that Furtwangler
made only token efforts at resistance
while supporting the murderers,
including performing at Hitler's
birthday. In return, the maestro
enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and numer-
Speaking from his London home,
the droll, precise Harwood — who
won a screenwriting Oscar for The
Pianist — said he tried not to take
sides while writing the play and the
film. "I attempted to make both
arguments compelling because I want
viewers to ask themselves what they
would have done in Furtwangler's
place," he said.
"'Was protesting from the inside a
legitimate moral response to Hitler?'
`Can art remain separate from poli-
tics?' These are some of the questions
I want people to explore."
The film is the latest in a body of
work on the moral ambiguities of the
period, including Michael Frayn's
play, Copenhagen, and Tim Blake.
Nelson's Auschwitz-themed drama,
The Grey Zone.
Harwood's analysis of an artist's
responsibility under a dictatorship
personally resonated for Hungarian
director Szabo (Sunshine), who
worked under the Communists and
won a 1981 Oscar for his film
Mephisto, about a Nazi-era actor.
"The audience has to pick up on
the contemporary dilemma in the
conflict," he said of Taking Sides. "Is
it right and justifiable to survive a
dictatorship by compromises?"
When the film opened in New
York in September, Harwood contin-
ued to field criticism. "I still get
angry letters from people saying I've
got it all wrong," he said. "Many
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In the film, Hitler's favorite conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, played by Stellan
Skarsgaard, insists he remained in Germany rather than cede his culture to the Nazis.