Peter Miller’s interesting documentary “The Internationale” traces the history and influence of the eponymous anthem from its roots in the Paris Commune of 1871 through the fringe remnants of today’s socialist movement. The song, with its idealist cries for a worker’s paradise, was adapted by Communists, anarchists, trade unionists, and even the pro-democracy protestors at Tianenmen Square. It was adapted as the national anthem of the Soviet Union (hey, Lenin liked French music!) and was given a funky reggae vibe for the Jamaican cult movie “The Harder They Come.” It’s been translated into scores of language, and the English lyrics received a 21st century rewrite via the British folkie Billy Bragg.
Pete Seeger, everyone’s favorite banjo-strumming leftie, offers a happy narration of the song’s convoluted history. Several talking head interviews with less famous people (a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a California farm workers’ advocate, the daughter of a Filipino socialist politician, an Israeli kibbutz worker) detail the influence the song had on their lives and the socio-political environment around them.
“The Internationale” is on the short side (only 30 minutes), so it helps that this DVD release includes the rare 1943 short “Toscanini: Hymn of the Nations.” Produced by the Office of War Information to celebrate the overthrow of Mussolini, this musical presentation slices and dices Verdi with the national anthems of the Allied nations – including “The Internationale.” That selection was later scissored from the short during the Cold War. This DVD offering restores “The Internationale” to the film and Toscanini’s complex and rousing musical mix.