Sunday, January 2, 2022

Artist Contextualized

Edvard Munch (1974) - Watkins Screen Shot 2022-01-01 at 10.25.05 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-02 at 10.50.36 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-02 at 10.55.19 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-02 at 10.56.06 AM Peter Watkins's Edvard Munch plays out like how Kurt Vonnegut laying out time in Slaughter House Five. In it, Billy Pilgrim the protagonist, experiences time in non-linear fashion, through time travel, and he can clearly see causes and effects. It is us the audience who in Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter's life, see things non-linearly, as if everything is happening all at once. Furthermore, the tumultuous time in late 19th century Europe is displayed in the background, giving the film much needed context behind Munch's often disturbing art.

The film shows abject horror of what it was like living in the 19th century Kristiania (Oslo), where rigid religious and conservative moral codes were pervasive: a large swath of population died of consumption, women's place in society was dreadful and caused them to either stick with loveless marriages, become hands-me-down mistresses or being forced into legalized prostitution. Losing mother and siblings to consumption, the disease which also almost took him at a young age, and scarred by a relationship with a married woman, Munch depicted death, grief and suffering in vivid, unnatural colors and ghoulish images. He was mercilessly attacked in his home country for his art and never garnered any recognition as a worthwhile artist when he was young. His life was always on the road, traveling from one country to another, all the while pursuing many ways to express himself in different mediums.

The climate of this tumultuous 19th century society in art and philosophy are laid out in this nearly four hour film with Munch as a struggling artist. Time and time again, we see his near death experience as a young boy, sticky agonizing affair with Mrs. Heiberg, his unapproving stern father and his grieving sisters, his circle of friends in Berlin whom all met tragic fate, and his practice in art, all jumbled together, side by side, again and again.

Watkins uses Munch (played by Geir Westby)'s nervous glances at the camera, which happens many times throughout the film, to connect him with us. And it is the most effective way to engage the viewer in a biopic I've ever experienced. Edvard Munch is a grand film that I will not soon forget.

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