Great Art on DVD

Director Peter Watkins must be feeling a little good this year, knowing so many of his films are widely available on DVD. We covered Punishment Park, Culloden, The War Game, and Privilege, and now the longer version of Edvard Munch, which Watkins directed and also edited.

Featuring a cast of over 200 non-actors, this docu-drama on the early life and mid-career of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (note adjacent picture of his famous painting, The Scream) is an amazing achievement because it avoids so many of the genre cliches most big studio productions regularly use, such as fictional characters to help us get closer to the iconic subject, an obligatory happy ending, and those painfully maudlin moments showing the artist in Great Pain and Suffering for Art’s Sake.

Munch suffered – he lost family members to TB, fell in love with a married woman whose insistence on maintaining a distance was pure torture – but Watkins doesn’t stop his narrative for a dreary scenes of self-abuse and self-pity; we get flashes in several montages, but they’re part of many life experiences that influenced Munch and fueled some very dark and disturbing images.

At over 3 hours in length, the film has its flaws, but that’s counterbalanced by Watkins’ typically intense research, ensuring a fair chunk of historical accuracy and an intimate window into the creative process of an artist who moved through various styles and technical processes during his 66 year career.

Edvard Munch is also an amazing example of editorial brilliance, both visually and aurally. With no formal score to poke audiences for specific reactions, Watkins uses editing as a primary tool to convey a huge amount of professional and personal information (some derived from Munch’s unpublished diaries).

It sounds simple, but traditional score is often used to soften edits, enhance scenes, and add subtext the filmmaker, writer, and actors failed to capture in scenes. Watkins’ sound design is a textbook example on how to convey a diversity of ideas – concrete and impressionistic – through flashes of sounds without being arty or overbearing.

Watkins presumes audiences have the interpretive skills to process waves of information, and that’s probably why Edvard Munch doesn’t feel dated; whether through TV, film, or videos, the evolution of film technique has fine-tuned our instincts to process information with greater speed. The big surprise is that Edvard Munch was made 34 years ago.

Our other offering is The Dali Dimension from MVD Visual, which also breaks the format of documentaries by going straight into the meat of the filmmakers’ thesis: the relationship between Salvador Dali’s art, and modern science.

We still learn the basics of Dali’s career as an internationally celebrated surrealist painter, but the real delight is learning what aspects of science – DNA, the hypercube, atomic science – inspired and reside in Dali’s art. At just under an hour, it’s one of those docs you wish was longer, but MVD’s DVD includes some extra interview material, giving us 70 mins. of strong material to ponder.

Next: Durham County (Anchor Bay/Starz).


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