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The greatest German writer and a true genius, J.W. Goethe, wrote a play in verse form over the course of his entire adult life. Goethe’s Faust is an extraordinary multi-part/multi-disc documentary that attempts to produce an abridged, but comprehensive English prose rendition of Goethe’s astonishing work and also examines this content in order to answer the simple question:
Can a 200 year old play be relevant to today?
Finally, since the film is a love story, Goethe’s most significant female relationships are discussed in a series of chapters entitled: “The Many Loves of J,W. Goethe.”
The Faust tragedy/drama, often called Das Drama der Deutschen (the drama of the Germans), written in two parts published decades apart, would stand as his most characteristic and famous artistic creation. Followers of the twentieth century esotericist Rudolf Steiner built a theatre named the Goetheanum after him—where festival performances of Faust are still performed.
Goethe was also a cultural force, who argued that the organic nature of the land moulded the people and their customs—an argument that has recurred ever since. He argued that laws could not be created by pure rationalism, since geography and history shaped habits and patterns. This stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing Enlightenment view that reason was sufficient to create well-ordered societies and good laws.
Joseph McGarry’s GOETHE’S FAUST is a hugely detailed dissertation on the life and work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with a focus on his historically acclaimed re-penning of his rendering of Faust, a tragedy in two parts.
As writer, director, host and narrator, McGarry has created an extensive study that will serve as a literary and philosophical reference for students of literature forever more. More importantly, the film series brings the historical writings into a contemporary framework.
Filmed entirely on location in Colorado, McGarry’s audio/video narrative study draws comparisons to nature and many of the other themes contained within Goethe’s writings.
The 8 hour production is broken into 53 chapters (details by chapter below)
WATCH THE TRAILER
Disk 1, Chapter 1: “Introduction, ‘Sons and Brothers'”. “Measure of a Man” is sung by a popular Colorado Bluegrass-Western band, “Sons and Brothers.” As a family physician I have cared for three generations of their family. They seldom perform this song, since the father of the three brothers died. The song has a special meaning because of both the relevance to Faust in his quest for ” a good man,” and the relationship between the boys, their father and me.
Disk 1, Chapter 2: “Faust Origins.” This documentary component explores the literary significance of Goethe and Faust and the historical development of the Faust legend.
Disk 1, Chapter 3: “The Dedication.” The Dedication examines Goethe’s dedication of Faust to Schiller. It considers the irony of Goethe’s melancholia at a time of great personal success, fulfillment and happiness.
Disk 1, Chapter 4: “Prelude in the Theater” is the first of the prologs to the tragedy. Goethe described “Faust” as a “serious joke.” In this section he is both serious and joking as he reveals the concerns of the production manager, the poet and the comedian.
Disk 1, Chapter 5: “Prolog in Heaven.” This is the second prolog. It examines Goethe’s brief, (27 lines of poetry), but exquisite description of the power and incomprehensibility of the universe. The documentary examines Goethe’s and Kant’s reaction to this primordial event. It recognizes Goethe’s acknowledgement that the inspiration for the scene was the Book of Job. It examines both the biblical subject and Goethe’s innovations.
Disk 1, Chapter 6: “Mephistopheles’ Entrance.” This scene presents the wager between God and Mephistopheles and the concept of “the good man.” The wager is simply whether or not Mephistopheles can divert a good man permanently from the right road. The documentary points out that this Faust is not a Christian cautionary tale. It is a humanist story. Goethe’s belief system and “religion” are explored through his own writings.
Disk 1, Chapter 7: “Faust in his Study.” This is the monolog, which begins the tragedy. Faust despises his academic life. He believes his true life goal is to see and know what holds the world together at its innermost core. The documentary examines Goethe’s writings to reveal his personal beliefs regarding God. It reviews the action of Faust in the literary terms of tragedy and that era. Finally, the tragic consequences of accepting magic are considered using Albert Schweitzer’s 100th Memorial Address in Frankfurt. Faust views the Book of Macrocosmic Magical Signs of Nostradamus and encounters the Erdgeist. Faust in discussion with his assistant, Wagner, experiences and sees his own true quest: to experience his own passions and primal energy. Faust contemplates suicide, but he is saved by the Easter celebration. The documentary examines Goethe’s writings for his view of the personal maturation process, the role of art in Goethe’s life and the ongoing tragic development.
Disk 1, Chapter 8: “The Easter Walk” concerns Faust’s walk with Wagner on Easter. Faust celebrates the “Rites of Spring” with all ages and classes of townspeople. He shows his deep, lyrical attachment to Nature and his compassion, understanding and humanity. Faust expresses his awareness of his two warring passions. One is attached to the earth. The other is attached to a spirituality. The documentary explores this duality and includes Schiller’s sense that the central theme of the play was “the duplicity of human nature and the striving to unite the Godly and the physical in men.”
Disk 1, Chapter 9: “Night in Faust’s Study.” In this scene Faust attempts to re-translate Genesis. He concludes that action, doing, the deed is primordial: “In the beginning was the deed.” Faust encounters Mephistopheles disguised as a dog and then a traveling scholar. They make a wager, rather than a contract. Mephistopheles can have Faust’s soul, if Faust ceases to strive, to explore or to do. If Faust says to any moment: “Stay, you are so beautiful,” Faust loses the wager.
Disk 1, Chapter 10: “Auerbach’s Tavern.” This scene involves the early exploits of Faust and Mephistopheles at a tavern and the restoration of Faust’s youth in the Witches Kitchen. Faust catches his first glimpse of his vision of beauty, Helen of Troy.
Disk 1, Chapter 11: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part 1.” The documentary examines Goethe’s relationship with his mother, Katharina Elizabeth Textor, his sister, Cornelia and his first puppy love, Gretchen of Frankfurt.
Disk 2, Chapter 1: “On the Street.” Faust sees and meets Gretchen for the first time and decides to make her his conquest. When he visits surreptitiously her room, he recognizes his ambivalence between love and lust. Gretchen takes her first steps away from conventional morality by accepting Faust’s gift.
Disk 2, Chapter 2: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part 2.” Goethe’s first real passion, Anna Katharina Schoenkopf, is examined.
Disk 2, Chapter 3: “Street Promenade.” Gretchen’s mother confiscates Faust’s present. Mephistopheles rails against the Church. Mephisto arranges a meeting for Faust and Gretchen through a pretext with Martha, the neighbor, involving the attestation of a death. Faust and Mephistopheles argue about truth, certainty and fidelity on the surface concerning the attestation, but on a deeper level it involves Faust’s love for Gretchen and knowledge of life and first causes. Faust and Gretchen meet, talk, court and fall in love.
Disk 2, Chapter 4: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part 3” examines Goethe’s relationship with Friederike Brion de Sessenheim. Goethe’s poems: “Willkommen und Abschied” and “Mailied” cast further light upon the literary love affair of Faust and Gretchen. Goethe’s cowardly, evasive abandonment of Friederike is reminiscent of Faust’s treatment of Gretchen.
Disk 2, Chapter 5: “Forest and Cave.” Faust reflects how his experience of Nature has been magnified by his developing love for Gretchen. He concludes that “nothing perfect can be a part of man.” He senses the relationship with Mephistopheles poisons his newly found life, but he can’t divorce himself from Mephisto. Eventually Faust concludes the love for Gretchen must result in their mutual destruction.
Disk 2, Chapter 6: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part 4” examines the relationship with Charlotte Buff, “The Sufferings of Young Werther,” and the affair with the wealthy, young socialite, Lili Schoenemann.
Disk 2, Chapter 7: “Gretchen At the Wheel.” This is the famous song of love and sadness.
Disk 2, Chapter 8: “The Gretchen Questions.” Gretchen asks Faust what he believes. Does he believe in God? She expresses her contempt and hate for Mephistopheles. Faust further corrupts Gretchen by having her give her mother a tranquilizer so that Gretchen and Faust can have sex. The documentary examines both Goethe’s and Einstein’s belief in a god-God and religion.
Disk 2, Chapter 9: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part 5.” This part examines the intense and long running affair with Frau von Stein. It reviews Goethe’s arrival at the Weimar Court, his relationship with Karl August and Goethe’s incredible versatility and competence in assuming gradually all the major offices of government. Goethe’s two year trip to Italy and its consequences are discussed.
Disk 2, Chapter 10: “At the Well.” Gretchen recognizes the peril of her pregnancy and how society will react and how she herself acted in the past. The set is one of the first oil wells in the western United States in Florence.
Disk 2, Chapter 11: “By the Ramparts.” Gretchen becomes increasingly frantic and asks for understanding and help from the Virgin Mary, the Mater Dolorosa.
Disk 2, Chapter 12: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part VI.” It examines the development of the relationship with Christiane Vulpius. It considers how the “Roman Elegies” used a classical form to express Goethe’s sexuality in a totally unprecedented manner. The relationship with Frau von Stein further deteriorates into a completely negative force.
Disk 2, Chapter 13: “Night Before Gretchen’s House.” Faust now treats Gretchen as a sex toy or mistress. He and Mephisto slay Gretchen’s brother.
Disk 2, Chapter 14: “The Cathedral.” Gretchen is overwhelmed by guilt for the death of her mother and her brother and for her pregnancy. She is tormented by an evil spirit and the judgmentalism of the Church. The documentary examines Emile Durkheim and his perception of the role of religion in community life. Goethe’s writings on judgmentalism and Church ceremony are examined.
Disk 2, Chapter 15: “Walpurgis Night in the Harz Mountains.” This scene reveals the nadir of Faust’s humanism. He accompanies Mephisto to his satanic celebration.
Disk 2, Chapter 16: “Walpurgis Night Dream.” The intermezzo of “Titania’s and Oberon’s Golden Anniversary” is examined.
Disk 2, Chapter 17: “Dark Night.” Faust finally recognizes Gretchen’s plight. He tries to escape personal responsibility, but decides to try to help her.
Disk 2, Chapter 18: “Gretchen’s Prison Cell.” Faust meets Gretchen in her cell immediately before her execution for infanticide and pregnancy. She recognizes Mephisto and refuses to escape with him. A voice from heaven says she is saved. Faust slinks off with Mephisto. The set for this scene is the gas chamber of the Colorado State Penitentiary. It had been used to execute inmates.
Disk 3, Chapter 1: “Pleasant Landscape.” Faust recovers and recognizes that he does not perceive reality directly, but rather indirectly through his unique person. He aims to share his experience with the larger outside world.
Disk 3, Chapter 2: ” The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part VII.” This chapter completes the story of Goethe and Christiane Vulpius, including her death.
Disk 3, Chapter 3: “Throne Room of the Imperial Palace.” This scene imbeds Faust and Mephisto into the larger world, i.e. the Imperial Court, which seems on the verge of collapse.
Disk 3, Chapter 4: “The Masquerade.” A masque satirizes the court for its outward display of affluence and extravagance, while in reality it is bankrupt and impotent.
Disk 3, Chapter 5: “The Courtyard.” Mephisto’s magic rejuvenates the empire. People prove to be improvident with the reprieve.
Disk 3, Chapter 6: “A Dark Gallery.” Faust is tasked with resurrecting Helen of Troy and Paris. Faust is given a magic key to retrieve them.
Disk 3, Chapter 7: “Helen and Paris.” Helen and Paris materialize. Faust falls in love with his new creation, Helen. He breaks the magical rule and interrupts and interferes. They vanish and he becomes unconscious. The setting for chapters 2,3,4,5,6 and 7 has been Bishop’s Castle in Rye, Colorado. One man, Jim Bishop, built this castle literally alone and by hand over a nearly 50 year period.
Disk 3, Chapter 8: “Act II, Faust’s Study.” Faust is unconscious. He and Mephisto enter his study from Part I. Mephisto again encounters the student from Part I. He is now a newly minted scholar and they debate.
Disk 3, Chapter 9: “The Laboratory.” Wagner, Faust’s assistant from Part I, is trying to synthesize life. Mephisto uses magic to create a homunculus. Faust, Mephisto and the Homunculus go off to a classical Walpurgis Night.
Disk 3, Chapter 10: “Classical Walpurgis Night.” Faust seeks Helen. Mephisto seeks unsuccessfully carnal pleasure. Homunculus goes through the “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” process to become a real person.
Disk 3, Chapter 11: “Menelaus’ Palace.” Helen is returned to Menelaus’ palace. She is uncertain of Menelaus’ intentions and chooses to flee to Faust’s protection.
Disk 3, Chapter 12: “Inner Courtyard.” Faust and Helen meet. Faust pledges allegiance to Helen as a symbol of beauty, art and justice. He will join his strength to her to provide a utopian society.
Disk 3, Chapter 13: “Shaded Grove.” Faust and Helen mate and produce a child. They experience the anxiety of parenthood. They weigh the cost\benefit of the defense of society. Their son dies. Helen leaves Faust to be with their son in Hades.
Disk 4, Chapter 1: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part VIII.” It examines the relationship with Marianne Willemer, the Persian poet, Hafiz and the “West-East Divan.”
Disk 4, Chapter 2: “Mephisto’s Cadenza.” This is an original creation. It is intended to be humorous and to satirize the “ideal state.”
Disk 4, Chapter 3: “Act IV, Lofty Mountains.” Faust and Mephistopheles resume their journey. Faust renounces all his earlier aspirations and values. He now chooses to have possessions and to rule. Faust and Mephisto again use magic to rescue the Emperor in battle. As a result Faust accrues an enormous tract of land. The documentary examines the historicity of Charles IV and Goethe’s personal vision of the enlightened monarch.
Disk 4, Chapter 4: “Broad Landscape.” A man visits an old couple, Baucis and Philemon, who were kind and helpful to him in the past. They live humbly on the edge of Faust’s large estate. The woman doesn’t trust Faust’s motives or methods.
Disk 4, Chapter 5: “Faust’s Palace.” Faust is now very old. He has become very rich through the evil efforts of Mephistopheles. Faust is obsessed by what he doesn’t own. His holdings are imperfect because of the small house and chapel of Baucis and Philemon. Faust orders Mephisto to relocate them. In the effort the traveller, Baucis and Philemon are killed. Faust tries to escape responsibility, but sees the approaching shadow of Dame Care.
Disk 4, Chapter 6: “The Many Loves of J.W. Goethe, Part IX.” At age 74 Goethe falls in love with the 19 year old Ulrike Levetzow. She rejects his marriage proposal. Goethe writes the “Marienbad Elegy” as he hastily and shamefully returned to Weimar. The poem and its implications are examined.
Disk 4, Chapter 7: “Midnight in the Courtyard.” Faust encounters and debates Dame Care. He defends his life choices and denies her control over him. Dame Care renders Faust blind before she leaves. Faust is rejuvenated by his blindness and orders and supervises the attempted completion of his greatest endeavor. Mephisto taunts the futility of the project. Faust sees a social benefit to millions of people and feels elated that he has a role in the grand scheme of life. He does not utter exactly the prohibited words: “Stay, you are so beautiful,” but dies none the less. The documentary examines Goethe’s personal concerns for the community of man and his individualistic philosophy in contrast to the Utilitarianism prevalent at that time.
Disk 4, Chapter 8: “Faust’s Ascension.” A band of angels trick Mephistopheles and take Faust’s remains to heaven. Mephisto exits as he is defeated by vulgar lust and erotic silliness. The documentary examines Goethe’s own description of how he orchestrated this ending. Speculative philosophies of the time, e.g. Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer are contrasted with Goethe’s natural philosophy. Goethe’s optimism is examined both from his contemporary point of view and from our contemporary standpoint. Steven Pinker’s book: “The Better Angels of Our Nature. Why Violence Has Declined” is examined and reviewed. Goethe’s views and beliefs on an afterlife are examined. Gustav Mahler’s 2nd and 8th symphonies are used to amplify those views.
Disk 4, Chapter 9: “Mountain Gorges.” Heaven is surveyed first through three fathers of an Anchorite Hermitage: Father Ecstasy, Father Profundity and Father Love. The highest order appears to be the Order of devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Mary appears and dispenses forgiveness to Gretchen among others. Gretchen is allowed to be Faust’s teacher, and he grows quickly. The Chorus Mysticus ends the play praising the eternal essence of womanhood, the “ewige weibliche.”
Disk 4, Chapter 10: “Conclusion.” The Conclusion reflects upon the action of the play and its meaning.
Disk 4, Chapter 11: “Credits and Bloopers.” This includes the credits, the completion of the song, “Measure of a Man” by the “Sons and Brothers,” an unscripted interview with a German exchange student, and a joking homage to the film: “Ferris Buhler’s Day Off.”
Joseph McGarry M.D. is a practicing Family Medicine physician in Florence, Colorado. This is his first film. He was educated at St. Benedict’s Prep, Newark,N.J., the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA., The M.S. Hershey Medical Center of the Pennsylvania State University and The Eastern Virginia Graduate School of Medicine.
MAIN CAST AND CREDITS
- Joseph McGarry: Host, Executive Producer, Writer
- Editors: Mark Tachna, Dennis Cordova, Mike Huxley
- Camera Operators: Mark Tachna, Dennis Cordova, Mike Huxley
8 hours on 4 discs / 53 chapters
Production Year: 2017
16×9 / Dolby Digital / English Language / Closed Captioned