Peter WatkinsSweden / Norway174 minutes1974ColourFrench English Norwegian
None other than Ingmar Bergman declared Edvard Munch "a work of genius." Considered the summit of the artist biography film, even as it avoids and critiques that genre's traditions, Peter Watkins' absorbing portrait of the great Norwegian painter arrives at a new narrative form — part journalistic observation, part fevered reverie — to chronicle the artist's life and career. Watkins radically terminates the film in 1908, focusing not on Munch's final decades of increasing fame and critical success but on the horrors of his childhood, when, the artist said, his cradle was watched over by "the black angels of illness, insanity, and death"; and on his development as an artist, transforming his dark childhood memories and subsequent agonies into works of sexual and psychological dissolution which were met with derision and loathing in puritanical Norway. The film palpably records Munch's every stroke, scrape, and gouge on canvas; its Brechtian use of interviews expands Munch's personal history into a densely populated social and political chronicle; and its bitter depiction of Munch's critical and social crucifixion functions as a kind of auto-portrait. "[What] Watkins has achieved, with the inspired aid of various designers, is the closest possible filmic recreation of the world of Munch's paintings and engravings. The film — the world — actually becomes Munch's oeuvre: every frame is perceived through Munch's eye, Munch's brush, Munch's state of soul" (John Simon).
35mm collection print courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive.