Thursday, 2 June 2016

Edvard Munch (1974)

Peter Watkins’ immense, detailed, 221 minute, critically acclaimed biopic of the Norwegian artist most famous for his painting ‘The Scream’ gets a new Blu-ray presentation courtesy of Eureka.
Watkins is justifiably famous for his docu-drama style that features his own dispassionate, carefully enunciated voice-over as commentator. Films like CULLODEN, THE WAR GAME, and PUNISHMENT PARK were all biting commentaries on conflict. With EDVARD MUNCH, Watkins employs the same style to the biopic.

For a film lasting nearly four hours, it only covers about ten years of Munch’s life - the years 1884 to 1894, when he embarked on his expressionist career and did a fine job of establishing himself as one of Europe’s most controversial artists. We do get brief flashbacks to Munch’s youth, and the death of his mother and sister. Much is made of his associations with anarchist Hans Jaeger and associated artists in Christiania (Watkins later soberly informs us of the death of many of the group from alcoholism, drug addiction and syphilis) and later Strindberg in Berlin. 

Watkins uses a 4:3 frame and almost everything is shot in closeup. The characters act as if they’re being filmed for a documentary. Everyone speaks in languages appropriate to where we are at any point (Norwegian, German, Swedish, etc) while Watkins’ English commentary maintains a sense of distance. 

Nevertheless, the commentary, the close-ups, and the detail all very much help the viewer to ‘get inside Munch’s head’ so that as we see the works of art take shape (sometimes in a variety of interesting artistic media) we understand where they’re coming from. Watkins’ film absolutely isn’t a typical Hollywood biopic. There’s no glamorisation here and quite a bit of depression, disease and death. It’s probably best watched over a couple of instalments (Eureka have included the two part version here as well as the full four-hour bottom numbing one). 

Eureka’s Blu-ray contains no extras, but you do get a really rather impressive 80 page book in which Peter Watkins interviews himself (!). You also get new writing on the film by Joseph Gomez, a Munch timeline, and reproductions of numerous Munch artworks. If you ever needed to know more about this Norwegain artist, this is the package to get. 

Peter Watkins' EDVARD MUNCH is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 13th June 2016

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