A fascinating, intriguing and somewhat disturbing documentary . KLIMT & SCHIELE ; EROS AND PSYCHE is the latest in the Art on Screen series directed by Michael Maly looks at the lives of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele , placing them in the context of Vienna at the beginning of the 20th Century and the conservatism , decadence and revolutionary artworks produced at that time in Vienna which became the European capital of arts and thought. It was an era which ended with the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire and the First World War , and the decimation of the artistic world caused by the Spanish flu epidemic straight after. The documentary visits several museums including the Leopold Museum, the Sigmund Freud Museum, the Egon Schiele-Museum, Tulln, the Osterreische Galerie Belvedere and the Albertina Graphic Collection.
It is not just painting that is mentioned – much is made of Freud and his ideas (and how this influenced both Klimt and Schiele) but also the startling revolution in music from the iconic Beethoven and Strauss waltzes to the emergence of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss (his Salome in particular ) – as well as how there were changes in architecture , crafts and design – eg chairs and glassware as well as some fabulous jewellery .Not forgetting piano manufacture!
Photography is by Mateusz Stolecki – we see both Vienna now as well as photos and film of it from the early 1900’s .We see the famous Vienna cafes with exquisite mouth watering closeups of various pastries , formal dances and even Lipanzer horses .Many of the paintings are photographed in glowing detailed closeup so you can see the texture and brushstroke The soundtrack includes works by Beethoven, Mahler and Strauss.
The film includes readings by the actress Lily Cole ( sorry , but her Salome reading was totally flat and disappointing ) and discussions/comments (subtitled if necessary) by the art historians Alfred Weidinger and Jane Kallir , the Nobel prize winner for medicine and neuroscience Eric Kandel, musicologist Bryan Gilliam and the pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, all putting the era and its art into context.
This film also examines the changes in the way women were regarded and depicted, and how the conventional expectations of relationships between the two sexes were challenged and taboos broken. Women were able to become economically independent , attend university and so on. We learn how Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, who was one of the first women to be admitted to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, published a diary on the sexual life of young women, while Dora Kallmus’ photographic studio became famous all over Vienna, and Berta Zuckerkandl opened up her home to some of the most prominent artists. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler and the young Ludwig Wittgenstein, could be seen in Vienna’s elegant streets as well as future directors Fritz Lang and Erich von Stroheim, while Alma Mahler invited intellectuals and musicians to her soirees.
Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Viennese Secession movement.We see, for example, his famous The Kiss and Judith , and the Beethoven frieze at the Secession Building ( 902) .There are also some glorious society portraits ( eg Adele Bloch-Bauer II). We also see some of his vibrant landscapes .We also learn about his scandalous womanising and how he fathered 14 children.
A protege of Klimt, Egon Schiele ‘s work is mostly dark and disturbing but full of wonderful use of line and colour. He is considered an early exponent of German Expressionism. Jane Kallir in the film and in her other work comments that Schiele’s work can be regarded as being pornographic, highly erotic , possibly grotesque, and disturbing, with his works focusing on sex, death, and discovery.
Schiele is mostly known for his nude portraits with the sitter in striking unusually angled positions. In 1912 he was imprisoned for producing ‘pornography ‘ and created a prison series based on his experiences . Scheile was a prolific drawer leaving over three thousand drawings at his death with their emphasis on linearity and contour .His works often distort the figure ignoring conventional ideas of beauty and show a heightened level of sexual and emotional awareness ,including startling self portraits and lovers entwined in sensual and rather macabre embraces. ( ‘His Death and the Maiden’ is just one example) .We learn about his turbulent but tragically short life ( he was only 28 when he died).
The film puts the work of these two artists in context and the world that was both crumbling and yet surging forward around them and their friends.
Running time. Allow 1 hour and 45 minutes no interval.
KLIMT AND SCHIELE : EROS AND PSYCHE screens at selected cinemas from 27 October 2018
Featured image – Beethoven Frieze by Klimt