Eduard Munch

Peter Watkins. 1973. Norway, Sweden. vo Norwegian Nynorsk. s French. 211’

‘EDVARD MUNCH’ is the most personal film I have ever made. Its genesis lies in a visit to the Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo, in 1968, during the time of a screening of several of my films by the Oslo University. I was awestruck by the strength of Munch’s canvases, especially those depicting the sad life of his family, and was very moved by the artist’s directness - with the people in his canvases looking straight at us. I also felt a personal affinity with his linking of past and present, e.g., in the large painting showing the anguish of his family as his sister Sophie is dying: the artist and his brothers and sisters are depicted as adults -as they were in the 1890s when he painted this scene - even though the event had taken place ca. 20 years earlier. On another occasion, I was also very moved by Munch’s masterpiece ‘Death of a Child’, hanging in the National Gallery in Oslo; in this painting the artist is broken, and has, in an almost desperate frenzy, blurred the form of his earlier depiction of Sophie’s death. This painting, in its time, was attacked as being “incomplete” - a charge which branded certain of his other works as well.

‘PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST. Peter Watkins’ Edvard Munch is a remarkable piece of work. It is the most effective transposition to the screen of the mentality and environment of the “artist” (or anyone of heightened sensibility and complex intelligence) that I have seen. It is original in its narrative devices: sumptuous in its visual effects (cameraman Odd Geir Saether) and unerring in its selection of faces (all amateurs) to suggest peasant or metropolitan stock - sickly Norwegian petite bourgeoisie, radiant young bohemian girls, or artists and intellectuals crowding together, plotting to change Norwegian society until bad living puts an untimely end to their hoped for victory ... Watkins’ initial task was to establish firmly the elements in the Norwegian painter’s early life which were to haunt him continually and dictate the nature of his artistic preoccupations ... There is a steady overlapping of action, or simply conversation, and intrusive memory. A moment of love provokes images of bloody illness: the fever of work recalls incidents of domestic repression or the torment of rejected love ... This overlapping is carried further in that, within the narrative, characters seem to be listening passively to conversations taking place off-screen. And in a marvellous device, disconcerting at first, characters in the film silently regard us as they are talked about ... One of the most impressive films made for television in a decade.’ (Peter Lennon, The Sunday Times)


http://pwatkins.mnsi.net/