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THE FREETHINKER

Sweden, 1994 (MIFF 1996, Documenta)

Director: Nordens Biskops Arno

After Crushing Edvard Munch, one ot the finest cinematic portraits of an artist ever made, Peter Watkins began work on another film about a tormented Scandinavian artist, the brilliant and troubled playwright August Strindberg However, financing was difficult to obtain; The Journey. which took a number of years to finance and shoot, intervened, and only now are we seeing the fruit this lone labour.

To say Watkins identifies with Strindherg and Munch is perhaps to state the obvious, and to comprehend the depth of that identification. It is necessary to understand the degree of censorship and misunderstanding Watkins himself has faced. Because of pressure over his beliefs, he has given up film making and moved to Lithuania.

Like Watkins. Strindbeig and much of the 'Young Sweden" group that surrounded him railed against the conventions and hypocrisies of their times In an attempt to change the social. political and economic mores of 19th-century society. They were iconoclasts, rebels, free­thinkers and outsiders who flouted rules and order Strindherg. although loath to associate himsell with any movement-feeling that an artist had to remain free to explore -was one ol their leaders.

Once again Watkins has adhered to the principal aims of his work, pushing the conventions and borders of cinema beyond set bounds He veers away from the 'Monoform'. the accepted methodology, repetitive editing language, rapid seamless cuts and an incessant bombardment of movement and sound Walkins sees these techniques as the de facto rule for the predominance of all commercial tllms and television, designed to sell a product of ideology and to deliberately prevent an audience from having time to enter and query what they are seeing.

In what is far from a conventional biography. Watkins ranges through key events in Strindberg's life, dramatises parts of it. uses photographs, provides factual Information, employs extensive intertitles and presents excerpts from the plays, giving a complex and rich sense of Strindbergs life. The result of over two years research travelling in the footsteps of Strindherg throughout Scandanavia and Europe. Watkins' script examines in detail episodes from Strindberg's childhood through his marriage. 'Inferno crisis' in Paris and last years in solitude in the Blue rower apartment building in Stockholm.

The Freethinker allows the audience the time and space to reflect, consider, question; wor­king organically and alchemically rather than through tight audience control. Watkins has created another magnificently challenging and moving work from one of the cinema's truly distinctive artists.

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