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Thursday, October 25, 2018

'Egon Schile: Death and the Maiden' DVD: A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

The Film Movement October 9, 2018 DVD release of the 2016 Austrian biopic "Egon Schiele: Death and The Maiden" is particularly special for many reasons. The first accolade relates to this DVD being released a couple of weeks before the centennial of a notable date in the life of early 20th-century Viennese artist/Bohemian Schiele.

Another basis for praise is that Film of the Month Club selection "Egon" represents two elements that make Movement spectacular. It is right at home with the other biopics of European figures in the Movement catalog; the bigger picture is that it is one of the compelling foreign films that makes Movement a leader in releasing such films in North America. The ongoing copying of reviews of Movement releases from Unreal TV 1.0 and new posts such as the one to the Movement section of this site illustrate this grand tradition. 

The several 2017 Austrian Roma Gala awards generally speak to the quality of "Egon." The two Best Actress awards that Valerie Pachner wins for portraying Wally Neuzil, who is a muse/lover of Egon and is the model for the titular painting, reflects the quality of the performances by the entire cast. 

The well-executed contrasting time shifts are another element that makes "Egon" effective. The narrative begins on a gray and dreary 1918 day in Vienna. Gerti finds her brother Egon and his wife Edith extraordinarily ill in his stereotypical run-down artist's garret. A doctor is sent for just ahead of the action moving back eight years.

The incredible contrast between the appearance and circumstances between Egon in 1910 and 1918 makes one want to find out what occurs in the intervening 8 years; writer/director Dieter Berner does an excellent job filling in that gap. We meet younger Egon shockingly painting a gleeful nude 16 year-old Gerti. The bad touching that this sibling revelry includes is completely playful.

The circumstances of the conversation introduce an odd element to Egon that she is too young to join him and his artist friends for an evening at a club at which naked performers stage tableaus. This outing introduces the audience to exotic (and erotic) Moa Mandu, who the first in the string of models that Eqon seduces into his studio and his bed.

The strongest sense of the Bohemian lifestyle soon follows as Egon, Gerti, Moa, and the artists with whom Egon has formed a cooperative go on an extended vacation at a rented home. Folks who have tried a comparable social experiment can relate to the jealousies and other resentments that ensue. This is not to mention the additional elements of siblings testing the limits of their modern relationship and Egon not realizing that being a kept man is a privilege, rather than a right. 

The ongoing pattern of shifting between the 1918 present of the film and the past continues with the narrative returning to badly bed-ridden Egon. The audience learning the tragic news garners tremendous sympathy.

The story advances to Egon meeting the very independent and modern Wally, who truly is his match. This coincides with the rising fame of the latter, It also is the beginning of the end in many ways as The Great War becomes an increasing strong presence in the lives of our characters. 

Seeing how the war affects Egon both provides fascinating insight into his character in both senses of that term and highlights the contrasts of the impact of the war among those with some form of elite status and ordinary boys who become cannon fodder. One aspect of this is the degree to which a man who can avoid many of the horrors of war decides to do his duty.

The war years also are among the most interesting in the personal life of Egon. By this time, the audience knows how the relationship between him and the sisters who obtain great entertainment from living across the street from his studio. This also puts a seemingly harsh attitude in 1918 in perspective,

The roughly final 15-minutes of "Schiele" occurs in 1918; the excellent instincts regarding this extend beyond allowing the audience to see how the principals get there and the bases for their principles. This alone makes the film particularly powerful; the epilogue really drive the point home.

The broadest perspective regarding all this that makes Egon a perfect subject for a film set in the 1910s is that those eight years of his life perfectly reflects the times. This includes seeing how a radical move by his father shapes his psyche for better and for worse. 

Movement enhances the "Schiele" experience by choosing particularly wisely regarding the short film that accompanies every Club selection. The artistic sketches that comprise the animation in the 2017 "Nothing Happens" tell the tale of townfolks who gather for no apparent reason other than a desire to go along with the crowd. 

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