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“Edvard Munch”: a Film Based on Real Events

Edvard Munch film, directed and written by English director and screenwriter Peter Watkins, was filmed in 1974 for Norwegian television. This is the case about which one can almost certainly say "you definitely have not seen such a biopic". A meticulous, historically accurate study
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
of one decade of Munch’s life in the mocumentary genre. This is a fantasy on the theme "What would a documentary film about Munch and his era look like if there were documentary films in those years".
For Peter Watkins, the mocumentary genre, which also features non-professional actors, is a trademark, a personal area of experiments and international awards. In the same genre, he shot films about the Jacobist uprising of the 18th century, the war in Vietnam and the Paris Commune. And he tried to select amateur actors in each case not only according to their appearance, but also according to their place of birth, political views corresponding to the character.
A still from the movie. Edvard Munch and his first lover Fru Heiberg
The Edvard Munch film is a slow, often silent cutting of close-ups of the actual history of the artist’s formation interspersed with pseudo-interviews with the story heroes and others. Invisible journalists seem to be interviewing Christiania’s impoverished families, where even children work in factories, Munch’s brother and sister, women and men from the radical anarchist community. Casual visitors to the artist’s exhibition or a critic who published an article about him in the early 1890s give interviews; Munch’s colleagues gossip about him in a smoky bar. The voice-over is the voice of Watkins himself; from time to time, he reads about important events that happened in the world in the current year, and accompanies episodes from the artist’s life with quotes from his diaries.
Left: a still from the film. Right: Edvard Munch. Sister Inger, 1884
Left: a still from the film. Right: Edvard Munch. The Sick Child, 1885
With the help of virtuoso cinematic techniques, Watkins managed to create visual images that are synonymous with the artist’s mental disorders. Ambitious, energetic, tormented by demons, Munch is silent or whispering for so long that his high hysterical voice in the first tense moment looks almost a miracle, akin to a deaf-mute speaking. The camera follows the hero relentlessly, but sometimes he turns around, staring directly into it, as if a ghost is chasing him. One of the most painful moments in the artist’s life, the illness and death of his beloved sister, stretched out throughout the film. Fragmentary and varied memories from his childhood over time come down to only one thing: Edward’s sister coughing up blood and he himself coughing up blood, 13-year-old boy who suffered a serious illness, but survived. This memory haunts the viewer with such obsession that he must understand: it was that much obsessive and relentless for Munch himself.
The moments, in which the camera moves slowly and stops on the surface of Munch’s paintings, are the most valuable for understanding his art.
  • A still from the film: the texture of Munch’s painting
  • A still from the film: the texture of Munch’s painting
These close-ups work better than any art history article: scratches, nervous strokes, lumps of paint and sweeping furrows allow us to understand exactly how Munch invented Expressionism and what Expressionism
You can hardly tell the exact day or year of the birth of Expressionism, which is usual for all powerful art movements. You cannot draw a border on the map and indicate the territory where Expressionism took its start and got stronger. Overall, it’s all roughly known. Except for one rock-solid spatiotemporal benchmark: Northern Europe on the eve of the First World War. Expressionism is an avant-garde art movement, a new tragic worldview, and a whole set of significant motifs, symbols, and myths. Moreover, it is a revolutionary reaction both to the shabby, lifeless traditional academic art, and the light, idyllic southern impressionistic “appearance” of the world. Read more
really is.