Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Wozzeck the movie Hamburg 1970

This filmed version of Wozzeck is unique. In the 1960's Hamburg State Opera had an ambitious project, combining top quality art film with opera. The resulting films were shown on TV but it wasn't a huge financial success and the experiment wasn't repeated quite in the same way. But now we have DVD and the films have come into their own.

There isn't anything quite like this Wozzeck, filmed like a proper film noir, outdoors and on location in the North German marshes. No way can any opera staging even dream of bringing this level of reality onto the stage! Yes, because this is art film it's not literal but extremely poetic. Mists hang over the marshes, you can feel the penetrating cold and damp, just like in the music. When the singers sing, their breath turns to steam, like the enveloping fog around them.

The fields where Wozzeck and his friends cut reeds are real reed beds, geometric rows that stretch without end. This connects in a very deep way to the opera, where Berg makes so much of formula, patterns, obsessive theories and crackpot alignments. The film brings alive the mix of strict rigidity and distorted, awry angles that the music expresses.

The town, too, comes alive in an amazingly vivid way. It's shot in a genuine old garrison town, but not in a flat literal way . The town looms out of nowhere from the flat plains. It's built like a crazy maze, with ramparts, odd staircases, streets that curve and twist: all cramped and jumbled. We know it's an old fort, but when the Captain and the Doctor scuttle through rtiginous angles, their crazy world comes real. Again, the music expressed as visual image.

Marie's hovel is simple, bare, mould on the walls. Somehow she's turned this hole into a home. No wonder the earrings represent things she never dared hope for. Filming also allows intimate close-ups: the kid becomes a real person, not a cipher, which is important to the meaning of the opera but can rarely be realized on stage. for practical reasons. And the soidiers and tavern scene - Berg's patterns choreographed!

Berg's "curtains" of music are played against extremely powerful images. On the marsh, land and water blend : no firm ground. The murder takes place against a backdrop of blackened trees, reflected in the water. It's like a complex, abstract pattern, another of the crazy mazes, even though you know that these are real trees, real water, real light.

Then the final scene which has defied dramatization since the opera was written,. Berg suggested that a red light might rise from the ground, but he himself recognized that future directors would find better ways of bring the music and ideas to fulfillment. Here, we're back in the maze of marshes where nothing is quite what it seems. Wozzeck runs along a path overhung by menacing branches, like claws reaching out at him. Then he walks into a clearing, where light draws him intio the water. He shouts "Blut ! Blut!"but as the text clearly states, he's there to wash it away. The Doctor and the Captain approach in the fog. When they turn away, the music rises over shots of the marshes, the earth, the bare branches of trees and into the sky before returning to the water. Fantastic, shoicking panorama, to match the music. And in the end, the kid runs round in circles on his little toy horse "Hopp, hopp". It's gut wrenching.

This film - and others in the series - prove that realism does not mean literal. The scenes may take place on location, but they're interpreted through the camera so they match the music and emotions. The whole series is available now in a boxed set, better value than getting the films as they were released earlier individually. Toni Blankenheim is a wonderful Wozzeck, looks the part - he can really act. Marie is Sena Jurinac, Gerhard Unger and Hans Sotin are Captain and Doctor. In small roles are stars of the future - Kurt Moll and Franz Grundheber! It's conducted by Bruno Maderna, extremely well, better than the singing I think. Artistic Director was Rolf Liebermann and director for film Joachim Hess. This DVD is worth getting because they don't make opera movies quite that way anymore.

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