Edvard Munch

"Excellent"

Edvard Munch Review


Peter Watkins has made a name for himself as one of the world's most politically charged and liberally minded filmmakers. His early cinematic assaults, Punishment Park and The Gladiators, are de rigueur viewing for young revolutionaries looking for ammo to raise up the downtrodden masses. Effective almost entirely as ire-raising manifestos, Watkins' films are neither art nor propaganda but both.

So, Edvard Munch may seem something of a curiosity in Watkins' canon. I say "may" seem because once you've seen it, it becomes quite clear that the life of the distraught artist is inspiration for Watkins and appeals to his activist ethos.

Made for Norwegian television in 1974, this is both a biopic film as well as a testament to outsider culture. Munch is both maligned and embraced by a culture and a world that was quick (as it seems it remains) to kick the freaks out and at the same time gloat over their shenanigans. The film mixes documentary approaches, an atonal narrator (Watkins himself) detailing Munch's life and his place in the art world, while segments are "performed" by non-actors who relive his most traumatic moments. These bits and pieces of Munch's life are edited by Watkins into a semblance of a whole picture of a bizarre man and a painful life.

The measures that made Munch the man he was, so Watkins says, were periods of illness and death - his mother of consumption when he was but a tyke, his sister also to TB, and his own struggle with disease and near-death as a teen. Watkins finds Munch's passion in his brief affair with a married woman and his consorting (ah, so here's the real interest) with anarchists in Berlin. But Munch's work also throbs with a raw sexuality, and Watkins - keen to push boundaries in the liberated Europe of the '70s - wants to capture that as well. Watkins is, if anything, always frank.

The style of the film matches perfectly Munch's paintings, which are in fact edited in and out of the weaving images. The colors are dulled, bland to the point of depression (and would be perfectly in vogue with today's tinted faux-'70s adverts) and the actors stand mute, with dull expressions, gazing out at us as if they were lost in a snowstorm and literally willing to die. They are cramped next to each other in the frame, literally drifting into each other, boundaries dissolving like so much paint. That may be a bit overdramatic, or maybe a lost Werner Herzog project, but it's the feeling one gets when immersed in the mood of this film. The film is blurry, choppy in parts, grainy for effect. Everything, sound, image, acting, mood, color, overlap and bleed into each other and while that makes the film sound psychedelic (like the title credits for a Japanese avant garde kiddie show) the results are wholly un-hallucinogenic. On the contrary, they are deft, sacrosanct, images of sensuality captured like birth on film.

At 210 minutes, Edvard Munch isn't easy viewing, but the end result, however your inclinations, is astounding on an almost cellular level.



Edvard Munch

Facts and Figures

Run time: 210 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 12th November 1974

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 12

IMDB: 8.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Peter Watkins

Producer: Peter Watkins

Starring: Kerstii Allum as Sophie Munch - 1868

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