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    THOSE QUEER ARTISTS...
 

MICHAEL

Germany.1924. Silent. B&W. 90 min.

Original title: Mikaël

Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Cast: Benjamin Christiansen, Walter Slezak, Nora Gregor

Script: Thea von Harbou, from a novel by Herman Bang.

 

Traditionally, the artistic community has been the most welcoming of personal eccentricities, including any kind of gender/sexual ‘deviance from the norm’. Artists are freer, more imaginative, less domesticated than ordinary folk, or so the stereotype goes. Michaelis based on a Danish gay novel which is a fictional biography of the most famous sculptor of the nineteenth century, the French Auguste Rodin. His sculptures The Thinker and The Kiss are two of the most widely reproduced artworks in history. The original novel about Rodin had been adapted to the screen before in the openly gay Swedish film Vingarme, directed by Mauritz Stiller in 1916, a film which unfortunately was destroyed by the Nazis. This other cinematographic version is not obviously about Rodin, and is not as overtly gay, although the topic is transparent enough. The protagonist of Michael is ‘the greatest artist of his age’, a painter who is getting older and more disillusioned with life and with his craft, but who feels invigorated through his love for one of his models, a ‘Calvin-Klein-esque’ young man named Michael (the title of the film is a measure of the protagonist’s obsession, a trick repeated by Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca).

This is a brooding, reflective movie, and the style of filming reflects that mood in the sustained wide shots and lingering close ups. The story has less plot-driving-action than there is clothing on your average model. This is because Michael is an inward-looking, indoor-bound film, a gently unfolding drama about the colour of ageing, the vagaries of inspiration, and the ability of love to survive on leftovers. In the film, several simultaneous triangular games of love and loss are played out: one involves the artist, the model, and a young woman; another involves the creator, the muse, and the artwork; and a crucial one, revealed in a surprising dramatic twist towards the end, is a triangle of friendship, lust, and brotherly love. Director Carl Dreyer is consider a master of cinema, because of films like GertrudeMaster of the House, and Ordet.  In another one of his films, the classic Vampyr, Dreyer borrows the vampire tradition to produce another visual poem about obsession and the divided, adrift self, a film including a scene likely to have been inspired by the lesbian vampire in “Carmilla” (a novella by Irish author Sheridan le Fanu). In Michael, Dreyer revisits the classic model of ‘Greek love’, an older-man and a younger-man, to show that for many male artists, the muse was also male.


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