Sep 25, 2011
Without question, my favorite degenerate painter is Egon Schiele; the young protégé of Gustav Klimt who – like Jesus Christ himself – was publically crucified (in the symbolic sense) and would never live to see his thirtieth birthday. When I describe Schiele as a degenerate artist, I mean it not in a derogatory manner but in a literal sense as the early Zionist leader Marx Nordau described the Austrian painter as a pornographer in a later edition of his infamous tome Degeneration (1892); a work that blames Europe’s cultural decline on so-called artistic degenerates (including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde and Leo Tolstoy) yet totally disregards (while condemning "antisemitism") the wealth of wretched subversive anti-European works created by his fellow Asiatic kinsmen. In fact, if it were not for Nordau's libelous work (in a way, he was the "Tipper Gore" of his time) stirring up the European intellectual world, it is doubtful that Schiele would have ever had to face trial in the first place. Needless to say, when I discovered the somewhat forgotten film Egon Schiele – Exzesse (1981) aka Egon Schiele Excess and Punishment directed by Herbert Vesely – a work that chronicles the life of Schiele from his criminal trial to his early death as a result of contracting the Spanish flu (which also killed his wife Edith and their unborn child) – I made it my priority to watch it. Of course, like any other film about a real-life historical figure, I had many doubts in regards to the factual authenticity of the work, especially considering the potential for heavy-handed eroticism and exploitation due to the keenly sexual nature of the Austrian artist's work. Indeed, like the paintings of Egon Schiele; the film ambiguously blurs the line between art and pornography, thus the work makes for a worthy tribute to the artist and his somewhat small body of work. Unfortunately, like Egon Schiele, Egon Schiele – Exzesse seems to be a “work in progress”; a piece that could have been a masterwork but lacks the refinement and cohesion so commonly associated with artistic and aesthetic greatness. At times the film seems like it uses the oversexed life of Egon Schiele as a mere pretense for close-up beaver-shots and seemingly underage nudes but at other times the work feels like a brilliant piece of cinema that documents an imperative period of groundbreaking change in European art. If one thing is for sure, Egon Schiele – Exzesse will keep the viewer wholly engaged like they are in a sexual act from the foreplay-ish beginning to the lonely climax.
In Egon Schiele – Exzesse, German actor Mathieu Carrière plays the role of anti-hero painter Egon Schiele. One of Carrière’s first film roles was as the lead in Young Törless (1966) directed by Volker Schlöndorff; the cinematic adaptation of the Robert Musil’s novel of the same name. Like his portrayal of Thomas Törless in Young Törless, Carrière gave an extremely notable performance in Egon Schiele – Exzesse. Not only does Carrière bear a striking resemblance to the real Egon Schiele but he also exhibits a subtle intensity that one would expect from a serious artist who has totally deracinated himself from the general population and has suffered great loss. The real-life Egon Schiele was a protégé of the somewhat controversial Viennese Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt but the student would prove to break his own new ground as one of the earliest subversive expressionist artists. Of course, Schiele's audacity as an artist would prove detrimental to his personal life as so vividly expressed in Egon Schiele – Exzesse. Schiele was arrested and charged with seduction, abduction, an exhibiting pornography to minors; the latter being the only “crime” he was ever convicted of. As so vividly portrayed in Egon Schiele – Exzesse; Schiele was charged under false accusations given by a teenage girl that the artist had became obsessed with. Of course, Schiele’s real crime was offending the mores of polite conservative Austrian society, henceforth foretelling the libertine expressionist and Dada artists that would become quite popular in Europe during the early twentieth century. In fact, had it not been for Egon Schiele, it is undoubtedly quite dubious whether a film like Egon Schiele – Exzesse could have ever been made.
Both the artistic works of Egon Schiele and the film Egon Schiele – Exzesse are a testament to the refined and tasteful manner as to how Europeans have handled nudity and eroticism when compared to American and Hollywood's handling of similar subject manner. With the virtual destruction and cultural degeneration of Europe after World War II came a flood of erotic European films. In a sense (and a somewhat glaring one), Europe became a virtual prostitute of America. For mostly monetary reasons, Europa churned out a wealth of adult arthouse films (Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) is probably the most popular example of this phenomenon) during the second half of the twentieth century; Egon Schiele – Exzesse being a more subtle example of this somewhat depressing but equally stimulating trend. In fact, if it were not for its somewhat popular cast (including Golden Globe Award winner Christine Kaufmann, Serge Gainsbourg's muse Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg himself, and filmmaker Marcel Ophüls), soundtrack (featuring tracks from Brian Eno and Felix Mendelssohn), and abstract drama, I would lump Egon Schiele – Exzesse in the same category as films directed by erotic auteur filmmakers like Radley Metzger and Tinto Brass. I would be lying if I did not admit that the film would probably be of interest to those individuals who have no clue as to who Egon Schiele was, as the film features enough nude beauties to appease your typical perverted cinephile, thus Egon Schiele will be of interest to two different types of viewers; pervs and pretentious art-fags (and a combination of the two). Out of all the nudity featured in the film, I found the scene where Egon Schiele is inspected by the military upon being drafted into the Great War to be the most unsettling. Although convicted of corrupting a minor, Schiele's deeds pale in comparison to his virtual molestation via a group of clearly enthusiastic Austrian military elders. I think most Egon Schiele fans will agree that Egon Schiele – Exzesse will remain the definitive cinematic work about the prematurely deceased Austrian artist. Despite its many flaws, Egon Schiele – Exzesse is certainly more delectable than anything Hollywood could ever hope to vomit up about the infamous painter.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:37 AM
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