[NetBehaviour] Edvard Munch's own film recordings

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Mon Apr 30 13:40:33 CEST 2012

Edvard Munch's own film recordings


The Painter with a Movie Camera

It was quite a surprise when a moving picture camera was brought to the 
Munch Museum several years ago. It was a so-called Pathé-Baby with a 9,5 
mm. film cassette and a projector in a specially made traveller's case. 
The advanced traveller's camera was said to have belonged to Edvard 
Munch, a fact confirmed by a viewing of the four accompanying films, 
which had originally been developed at Nerlien's in Oslo.

In connection with Munch's exhibition of Honour at the National Gallery 
in Berlin in the spring of 1927 he went on an extended trip to the 
Continent, during which he also visited Dresden before returning to Oslo 
in May. One of the cassette films were taken in Dresden, the other three 
in Oslo and Aker. All the shots seem to be from that summer.

The film from Dresden can be identified through the shots from the 
Schlossplatz overlooking the river Elbe and of the equestrian statue of 
the Saxon King Albert. This is obviously Munch's first experiment in 
cinema; and the film consists mainly of brief sequences from the centre 
of the city. Munch seems to have been fascinated by the street life. The 
camera has captured tramways, cars and horsedrawn carriages running in 
all directions, dwelling on the crowd of people passing in the street, 
and focussing on a man and woman laboriously shifting a cart. It is 
characteristic of the reel that most people have their backs turned, 
suggesting that they were unaware of being filmed; Munch probably sought 
out places from where he could film in secret.

The next film was mainly taken in the garden of Ekely, where Munch's old 
terrier is lying in the sunshine. Munch thought, according to Christian 
Gierløff, that 'the soul of an old wise man had taken place in the dog'. 
The film sweeps over the landscape anc captures a building in the 

The next scene is of Dronningparken, and then from in front of the 
Palace, but most of the film was taken at and around Karl Johan Street, 
where he stood outside Kirkeristen filming the busy street life. Munch 
filmed people rushing about and cars passing by, panning through 180 
degrees. He seems to have wanted to capture the pulse of life by moving 
the camera. He also created contrasting scenes: He stops at a menu-card 
at the entrance of a restaurant, just as he stops at an oil and colour 
shop to film the display through the window.

The fourth film shows, in sweeping movements, parts of Solveien at 
Nordstrand, where his aunt and his sister lived. Inger's statuesque 
figure is seen and in a brief moment the head of his aunt fills out the 
whole picture. A longer close-up sequence of a fence rail is taken with 
an "Impressionist" approach.

The last part of the film is of Munch himself at the foot of the stairs 
at Ekely. Munch enters from the right, approaches the lens, bends down 
and gazes directly into the lens. After this he gets up and walks slowly 
out of the picture. Parts of his body -- for instance, a longer shot of 
his jacket with his handkerchief in the pocket -- fill out the picture, 
giving the scene the sense of a radical experiment.

Such short close-ups had been discussed by Fernand Léger the previous 
year in his article 'A New Realism -- The Object: Its Plastic and 
Cinematic Value'. However, the closest source of inspiration is probably 
experimental film, which Munch must have been exposed to during his many 
travels abroad in the years 1925-1927.

The Russian film artist Dziga Vertov was very much in vogue in this 
period, having already, in a manifesto in 1922, launched a new kind of 
documentary film: instead of fusing a plot the artist should convey 
impressions of reality through a new kind of rythm like that of a 
musical composer. One of Vertovs bestknown works, The Man with the Movie 
Camera, was built up through street scenes, deliberate blurring through 
movement, double-exposure effects, such as shots through windows, and 
stopping at, for instance, a poster to give the effect of a still life.

Munch seems to have tried out exactly the same kind of effects, and his 
camera was especially good for such sequences. Vertov was the first film 
artist introduced in Das Kunstblatt (May 1929), perhaps his style was 
viewed in unison with the programme of The New Objectivity.

From: Arne Eggum, Munch and Photography (New Haven, Yale university 
Press, 1989)

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