Review: ‘Exit: Music’

Doc about five great artists is all too relevant today

4 mins read

Exit Music
(Canada, 82 min.)
Dir. James Murdoch


“What, then, do these five ever-greats have in common?” asks host Simon Wynberg in this doc that explores the lives and work of composers Paul Ben-Haim, Adolph Busch, Walter Braunfels, Erich Korngold and Mieczyslaw Weinberg. “Even though all had different stories, all shared in the loss of family, friends, security, identity, and the trauma of displacement.”

Exit: Music examines the different stories and legacies of these five composers, all of whom were Jewish musicians whose lives were changed by Nazism. In many of these cases, the composers still struggle to achieve the recognition and esteem that their work merits. The doc chronicles the journeys and struggles of each of the five composers during the Second World War and their efforts to produce during the Hitler years. After a pause to tie the fates of these men together, Exit: Music moves to the post-war years to consider each man’s ability to return in the aftermath of Nazism.

Wynberg, the artistic director of the Artists of the Royal Conservatory (ARC) in Canada, offers insightful narration. The host, who also gets a writing credit on the film, obviously knows the material and his comfortable grasp of music history articulates the backstory very well while offering an accessible critique of the music that any general moviegoer can appreciate. Wynberg seems to deliver his words at liberty, which gives the film a spontaneous, off the cuff attitude, from someone who knows his stuff. He appears in various locales around Europe wearing a variety of coloured shirts all matched with the same blue blazer and his relaxed professorial demeanor makes him a consistently engaging speaker.

As a theatrical film, Exit: Music doesn’t quite prove as dynamic or prepared as its speaker, and it might actually be a better lecture than experience for the big screen. Some additional interviews, shot with modest light and lower-end cameras, range from interesting to awkward.

However, director James Murdoch drives much of the film by bringing the music of the five composers to life. Featuring performances by the ARC musicians, who have undertaken the valiant mission to resurrect these valuable compositions, Exit: Music lets the power of the music resonate with some added context.

Wynberg closes by stressing the value of music as a piece of cultural, as a shared experience that forms and inspires people, rather than as a mere consumer product. Exit: Music calls to mind Larry Weinstein’s The War Symphonies: Shostakovich vs. Stalin as the host dives into Hilter’s fear of giving the composers a voice through their work and how the musicians responded, in some cases by delivering their best music. The doc efficiently chronicles the ways in which times of political turmoil can some inspire artists to achieve greatness. The message is all too relevant today.

Exit: Music opens at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, Feb. 10.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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