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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This week at SFC: Scott Walker: 30th Century Man and Edvard Munch

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 1st

First film starts at 7:30pm. Feature at 8:15 pm.

This Thursday—back after a long hiatus—we screen Peter Watkins' great film portrait on Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. Most famous for painting "The Scream" in 1893, Munch continues to be an influence on artists today. 

Preceding Munch we are screening the first half of a new documentary on singer and songwriter Scott Walker.  A compelling and complicted artist, Walker has been a huge influence on popular musicians from David Bowie to Radiohead to Pulp. Many of them talk about his inspiration in this fascinating portrait of the reclusive Walker.   

Scott Walker: 30th Century Man  (Stephen Kijak/UK USA/2006/95')

This is an absorbing documentary tracing the career of the great singer-songwriter from boy band pin-up to avant-garde legend. It includes interviews with famous fans as well as extensive sessions with the man himself during the recording of his 2006 album, The Drift.

"I know nothing about him," says David Bowie of his musical hero at the beginning of this captivating documentary. "Who knows anything about Scott Walker?" "I heard he likes to sit in pubs and watch people play darts," offers Jarvis Cocker. "Is he still cute?" wonders Lulu. The rumour mill surrounding Walker, one of the great singer-songwriters, has had reason enough to turn over the years. Famously reclusive, he lets his music do the talking. "Ultimately," he tells us, "your work is yourself". But three albums in the last 30 years doesn't give us a lot to go on. Stephen Kijak's film, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, tries to shed light on this most fascinating subject with colourful and eloquent contributions from collaborators and famous fans alike (including members of Radiohead, Sting, Brian Eno, Johnny Marr and Damon Albarn). But the real coup of director Stephen Kijak's labour of love is to provide access to the artist himself as he records his critically acclaimed 2006 album 'The Drift'. When we first meet him, the 63 year-old Walker comes across like the timid elder brother of 'Body World' anatomist Gunther Von Hagens. The leonine hairdo that helped make Scott such a heartthrob back in The Walker Brothers days has thinned dramatically, as has his luxurious baritone voice. He looks allergic and is disarmingly self-effacing for a man who, in 1965, had a bigger fanclub than The Beatles. He's also surprisingly chatty yet gives little away, referring to an extensive creative slump in the 1970s and 1980s simply as "that 20 year hiatus". He is, in fact, the least likely music legend you can imagine.


Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins/Norway/1976/167')

Nothing that Peter Watkins, the English director (The War Game, Privilege, Punishment Park), has done before quite prepares us for the moving, complex, beautifully felt portrait of the great Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), one of the most influential painters in the founding and defining of European Expressionism.

The film Edvard Munch is one of the few ever to dramatize successfully the sensitivity, the profound emotional chaos and the discipline that occasionally combine to produce the special molecular structure of a major artist. At the heart of this portrait there remains the mystery of the creative process—still unsolved—which is the way it should be. What Mr. Watkins has succeeded in doing is to suggest the multiplicity of psychological and social factors at work on the man, using a narrative form that is simultaneously journalistic and as freely associated as a dream.

In the past, the director's fondness for a simulated cinéma vérité style has resulted in ludicrous anachronisms—facetious television interviews with people on the point of being gunned to death, hand-held camera footage of situations unlikely to be recorded even by a secreted Kodak Brownie. The method got in front of the subject and then ridiculed it. Not so this time.
The style is now muted. When members of Munch's family, his friends, associates, critics and contemporaries talk directly to the camera, it's the perfectly acceptable device of fiction that's been used by Bergman, Godard and others. You don't get the queasy "You are there" feeling that you once got when Walter Cronkite interviewed Julius Caesar on his way to the Forum.
Edvard Munch covers the painter's life from his childhood when, as he wrote, "Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle," until 1908 when, at the age of 45, he had completed his important "Frieze of Life" paintings and was slipping into nervous collapse.

Art historians may object that this hardly gives a complete picture of the man who, though tormented, perhaps psychotic, continued to work fruitfully with increasing recognition for another 35 years, dying at 80, a substantial age for anyone but especially for someone so ravaged by the demons within. That may be so, but Edvard Munch, though it's based upon the life and celebrates the talent of a real artist, is fiction, as are all films except possibly newsreels. The form that Mr. Watkins has imposed on the material illuminates a major part of that life, the obsessions that drove Munch to his seminal attempts to express visually states of mind, including his own anxieties, his fears, his longings to reach to others through love that was was both spiritual and intensely sexual.

The two major themes of the film are his death-haunted childhood in Oslo (then Cristiania), when his sister and his mother both died of tuberculosis, and a tumultuous love affair with a still-anonymous married woman identified only as Mrs. Heiberg. In the manner of an obsessed mind, the film keeps returning to images of his dying sister and to those of later humiliations at the hands of Mrs. Heiberg. At the same time, Mr. Watkins gives us what is virtually a documentary report on the conservative, middle-class, puritan society that shaped his life, a society where (in 1884) prostitution was legalized but there were no laws against child labour.

The movie cuts almost manically back and forth among a half-dozen different periods of time like the thoughts of a man on a couch—from the childhood of disease and death, to disastrous exhibitions in Norway and Germany, to the unhappy love affairs, to youthful discussions in Cristiania's little bohemia, to the later encounters with celebrate dcontemporaries, including Strindberg. We see the artist painting and a number of his canvases, woodcuts and lithographs, but the emphasis is on the man and his time, as the director seems to understand that he can't recreate the process by which these extraordinary works came into being.

Geir Westby is fine as the artist whose vision we share in much of the beautiful color-camerawork by Odd Geir Saether. Gro Fraas, whose looks recall Liv Ullmann's, plays Mrs. Heiberg, seeming to be as arbitrary, untrustworthy and tender to us as to Munch. The film, shot in Norway by Mr. Watkins, has Norwegian, Swedish, French and German dialogue, translated by subtitles, as well as English narration based on Munch's own letters and journals. Admittedly the competition isn't great, but Edvard Munch must be one of the few films about a serious artist that can be taken seriously.

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