Written and directed by Peter Watkins
Shadow, opens June 17, Cinema Village
Peter Watkins may finally be emerging from behind what has been in effect a media blackout, with
La Commune‘s selected but fervent praise, an Anthology retro, the exhumation of Punishment Park and Privilege at the Walter Reade, and now a restored re-release of his 1974 masterpiece
Edvard Munch. You might assume it’s the only Watkins film that doesn’t interrogate power—and, perhaps therefore, the only one in any sort of viable circulation in this country—but this three-hour biopic, made for Norwegian TV, documents a decade in this helplessly autobiographical artist’s life using Watkins’s signature methodologies. Not only does it dare to approximate a documentary—narration, direct-camera address—as Watkins has always done, the film also places industrial-age class injustice, including the small matter of pervasive child labor, in the foreground so relentlessly that Munch himself (personified by Eric Allum) often disappears into the social weft.
Likewise, as with the later films, Watkins’s actors are completely amateur and are often called upon to speak their minds outside of their characters. Meanwhile, the film’s angry gravity and smoky visuals (cinematography by Odd-Geir Saether) create an indelible period ambience, and the fidelity to both the art and the people surrounding it is breathtaking. If you’re starving for a masterwork, this may be the only one playing the city as we speak. For more about Watkins, see his website, mnsi.net/~pwatkins/. Michael Atkinson