1974, 174 minutes, 35mm
Watkins’s portrait of the great painter is a bona fide masterpiece, and a supreme example of a particular approach to re-thinking the biographical film. Watkins’s social and political commitment, which has manifested itself in other films (such as THE WAR GAME and PUNISHMENT PARK) in an angry and passionate stance, here takes the form of a rigorous, deeply intelligent inquiry into Munch’s era (achieved through Watkins’s accustomed faux-documentary approach). A critique-by-example of most biopics, Watkins reverses the usual relationship between figure and context, focusing on the social and political conditions in which Munch lived his life and created his work, a dimension relegated by most biographical films to the status of a more-or-less relevant “background”. Munch himself remains an elusive, somewhat remote figure. And yet despite, or perhaps because of, this elusiveness, the film’s portrait of the artist is a poetic and deeply moving one.