MICHAEL (1924)

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Michael O'Regan

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MICHAEL (1924)

PostThu Nov 13, 2014 1:13 pm

I've wanted to watch this Dreyer film for years, based on seeing some stills.

Well, I finally did last night and this afternoon - both extant versions.

As I hoped it would, it looks beautiful. Gorgeous sets and lighting.

The basic plot is a bit of a trifle. I'm not quite certain what was the function of the sub-plot of the young Duke and his affair, which culminates in the duel. On the surface, it would appear that story was very much subordinate to the look and feel of the film.

Benjamin Christensen is convincing as the master artist who is depleted emotionally, spiritually and artistically by his young protege/lover?

I'm wondering why there appears to have been no attempt at restoration of either print. They are presented here, warts an' all, so to speak.

Overall, I was impressed. I'm interested in the comments of any other of you who've seen it.
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filmnotdigital

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostThu Nov 13, 2014 7:46 pm

Michael: I didn't realize there were 2 versions. Does one have a different ending? Apparently Dreyer didn't like the ending that was imposed by the producer, Erich Pommer. Or are you referring to any differences that might be in the version released in the US, as "Chained."?
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Michael O'Regan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostFri Nov 14, 2014 12:27 pm

The US version is the same as the European version, though the European version is a bit sharper. Same endings. The only difference between the two in the MoC presentation is the score.
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Big Silent Fan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostSat Nov 15, 2014 7:02 am

Michael O'Regan wrote: On the surface, it would appear that story was very much subordinate to the look and feel of the film.

Now that it's been cleared up that there's just one film, how do you explain that the story was less important than the look of the film?

I saw this years ago when it was shown on TCM and have revisited it several times since. I've found the story fascinating since it deals so frankly with the once taboo subject of homosexuality. Without the carefully told story, there'd be no look or feel of the film.
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Michael O'Regan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostSat Nov 15, 2014 12:36 pm

I wouldn't try to explain it. It's just my opinion. I enjoyed the film, nonetheless. I'm glad to hear you like it so much.

Without the carefully told story, there'd be no look or feel of the film.


I disagree.
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silentmovies742

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostSun Nov 16, 2014 7:30 am

It's an interesting film and, as most will probably know, the second time the same source novel had made it to the screen (the previous version was Vingarne by Mauritz Stiller). I have to agree that the film suffers a little from style over substance - it looks gorgeous with its wonderful sets and décor etc, but certainly doesn't have the narrative drive of Stiller's film, but that's probably because it's a fair bit longer. Stiller's film, on the other hand, is often a clunky and awkward affair, although ambitious considering the rather bizarre and complicated framing device used (although those sections are currently lost).

It's interesting that, despite the supposedly overt homosexual storyline, Dreyer's film was not advertised in such a way to alert audiences to it. Many of the posters from the time actually make the film look more like a straightforward heterosexual romance. Also check out the cover of the programme reproduced in the MoC booklet - Michael is pictured on the front with the Princess. Zoret is nowhere to be seen. And the synopsis contained within that programme refers to Michael as Zoret's "adopted son."

Richard Dyer writes at length about both films in his book "Now You See It" (the 2003 edition), and that is the go-to place for more information. I also wrote about it in my doctoral thesis, and anyone who wants to wade through the relevant section is welcome to do so at the following link (pp.57-69.) The research contained in the thesis should be available in book form at some point in the next year or so (in a slightly less-dry fashion, I hope).

https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/48389/1/2014BrownSLPhD.pdf
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FrankFay

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostMon Nov 17, 2014 2:50 pm

It's fun to see Karl Freund doing a bit of onscreen acting as a fawning art dealer.
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Michael O'Regan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostTue Nov 18, 2014 1:24 pm

FrankFay wrote:It's fun to see Karl Freund doing a bit of onscreen acting as a fawning art dealer.


Yes, indeed. His only acting role, from what I gather.
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Werdegast

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostTue Oct 17, 2017 9:29 am

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Big Silent Fan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 6:23 am

I had seen "Michael" when TCM broadcasted the film but while it was impressive, I had problems understanding. Last year I watched a nice video on my TV using 'YouTube' and again, the point of the story wasn't clear. This was a joint effort by Dreyer and Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang's wife and so I determined to learn the true message in this film, that most simply write of as a homosexual story. It isn't.
With pen and paper in hand, I watched the entire film again carefully, creating what amounts to a screen play script of the entire story. It's five pages long should anyone be interested. [*Just private message an address and I can send you the PDF.]

In truth, this is a story of selfless love for another, regardless of how that other person might respond in return. 'Agape Love' if you understand that term. The characters in the story never understood how the Master could have been so content because like most of us, they had never experienced a love that was unconditional.
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silentmovies742

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostSun Oct 22, 2017 6:12 pm

Big Silent Fan wrote:I had seen "Michael" when TCM broadcasted the film but while it was impressive, I had problems understanding. Last year I watched a nice video on my TV using 'YouTube' and again, the point of the story wasn't clear. This was a joint effort by Dreyer and Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang's wife and so I determined to learn the true message in this film, that most simply write of as a homosexual story. It isn't.
With pen and paper in hand, I watched the entire film again carefully, creating what amounts to a screen play script of the entire story. It's five pages long should anyone be interested. [*Just private message an address and I can send you the PDF.]

In truth, this is a story of selfless love for another, regardless of how that other person might respond in return. 'Agape Love' if you understand that term. The characters in the story never understood how the Master could have been so content because like most of us, they had never experienced a love that was unconditional.


The novel upon which the film is based is more explicit about the homosexual aspects of the story. But it's difficult to read the film as anything else but as a film about gay characters or, at the very least, with Zoret being in love with Michael. Without that reading, the film doesn't make sense. And the same is true of Vingarne, the film of the same book made 8 years earlier by Mauritz Stiller.

This is something I wrote elsewhere on the queer content of Vingarne, but it applies equally to Michael:

...What is it about Vingarne that has given it its position as being regarded as the first ‘gay’ feature length film? After all, if we ignore extraneous information about the [sexuality of the] actors and the director, there is nothing here to inform the viewer of the nature of the relationship between the two protagonists in Vingarne in the way that there is in Anders als die Andern (1919). Michael Kennedy, in his review of the DVD release of Dreyer’s film Michael, may provide the answer, suggesting that ‘if the Master’s obsession with Michael isn’t carnal, the plot veers into meaninglessness’ (Kennedy 2005). Kennedy is writing specifically about Dreyer’s remake, Michael, here, but the same thing can certainly be said about Vingarne. If Zoret and Michael are not in love, then why is Zoret so upset when Michael begins a relationship with the Princess? It could, of course, be that Zoret simply objects to losing the platonic attention of his young protégé, and especially that Michael begins fleecing money from Zoret in one way or another. What is more, Zoret could be said to be looking for a successor. We know his quality of work is falling from when he is painting the portrait of the Princess. He is having trouble getting the eyes right in the picture, and becomes frustrated. It is at this point that Michael enters (meeting the Princess for the first time). While Zoret’s back is turned, Michael picks up the brush and makes the necessary adjustment to the eyes, which his mentor has been struggling with. With Zoret getting older and his touch failing him, he seems to spend more time mentoring his pupil than actually painting. Therefore, it could be said that he fears all of his work with Michael is going to waste as he now spends all of his time socialising with the Princess. This is a valid reading, but fails to work dramatically. After all, this is not a revenge narrative, in which Zoret plans to get back at Michael for his abuse of their friendship. Instead, the artist’s health starts to fail and, at times, he is on the border of losing his sanity as well as his physical well-being. It could be argued that he is, simply, love-sick.

A gay reading of the film that is contextual as well as textual links these two protagonists back to the thinking of both Hirschfeld and Brand, identifying elements of both men’s ideas at work in the scenario despite their seeming contradiction. Here, as in the later Michael, is portrayed a love that has grown out of a mentor/pupil relationship of the kind which Brand advocates; yet in Vingarne, Michael himself is full of contradictions and ambiguities. When we first see him, he is an excitable and bubbly youth in the company of some girls with whom he appears to be flirting, a scene which is clearly not intended to spark questions about his sexuality in the minds of the audience. Zoret, on the other hand, can be characterised as almost predatory in this scene. He observes Michael from afar and promptly walks down to him and asks him to model for him. The modelling, we later discover, involves Michael being nearly naked and posing for a sculpture that Zoret is working on. Michael simply stands while modelling with his arms above his head, his chest pushed forward and a sheet draped over his waist in order to retain his modesty. While hardly the most masculine of poses, if Stiller wanted to make more of the relationship between Zoret and Michael it would have been more effective to simply film Michael from the waist up and therefore give the viewer the impression that he is, indeed, naked. Instead, we are afforded no close-ups of Lars Hanson as he poses for Zoret in this scene. We, the audience, have to content ourselves with viewing him from afar, although the long shot of Zoret working on his sculpture with Michael in the background allows us to view Zoret studying his half-naked model’s torso as he perfects his work of art. Here, as throughout the whole of Vingarne, it is impossible to ascertain whether Zoret is in love with Michael as a person or Michael’s youth, a question which brings us back to the influence of Oscar Wilde. During his testimony in his first criminal trial, which took place between 26 April and 1 May 1895, Wilde said ‘I am a lover of youth [...] I like to study the young in everything. There is something fascinating in youthfulness’. In Vingarne, Zoret could be called a cinematic representation of this mode of thinking – he does, after all, seem to love Michael’s youth more than Michael himself. Whether or not there is sexual attraction between the two is never made explicit within the film although, as I have discussed with regards to Kennedy’s comments, without that sexual attraction, the story does not quite make sense.

"Queer Sexualities in Early Film", pp35-37.
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Big Silent Fan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostMon Oct 23, 2017 7:04 am

silentmovies742 wrote:The novel upon which the film is based is more explicit about the homosexual aspects of the story. But it's difficult to read the film as anything else but as a film about gay characters or, at the very least, with Zoret being in love with Michael.


Yes, Zoret has been in love with Michael from the beginning when he first painted him. The relationship had grown over the years. What is interesting to me is how, as Michael begins to seek heterosexual relationships and continues to abuse Zoret by stealing valuable glasses and selling the prized painting (things that upset Zoret's companions), Claude refuses to let any of this affect his love for Michael. He never discourages him from anything, but freely gives him whatever he wants and more. At one point, you can see Michael's anger when Zoret doesn't cut off Michael's access to funds. Michael cannot understand why Claude refuses to be upset with his misbehavior. Michael, like most of us, only understands the type of love that demands faithfulness. A jealous love if you will.
Yes, it has homosexual undertones, but not necessarily of a sexual nature. Think Michelangelo and the model for his statue of David. It was a long collaboration between hopeful student and the Master who saw him first as only an ideal model for his work. When Michael's talent as a painter is revealed, Claude freely acknowledges it, again without any hint of jealousy that the student has surpassed the master in completing the painting.
As the first and final title declares, Claude Zoret has learned that real love requires that you let the person you love do as they wish. That's where unconditional 'Agape Love' is evident. Anything else is selfish jealousy.
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boblipton

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostMon Oct 23, 2017 7:11 am

If you differentiate love solely into eros and agape -- and I think the emotions we class under that four-letter verb are far more diverse and complicated -- then I see no reason why the two cannot co-exist; indeed, if you are one of those people who hold that agape is the only "true" love, then eroticism may be seen as a path to it.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion, since it didn't occur to me when I saw the film and doesn't spring to mind when I run the vague recollection of it through my mind, but it seems possible.

Bob
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Big Silent Fan

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Re: MICHAEL (1924)

PostMon Oct 23, 2017 7:24 am

boblipton wrote:If you differentiate love solely into eros and agape -- and I think the emotions we class under that four-letter verb are far more diverse and complicated -- then I see no reason why the two cannot co-exist; indeed, if you are one of those people who hold that agape is the only "true" love, then eroticism may be seen as a path to it.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion, since it didn't occur to me when I saw the film and doesn't spring to mind when I run the vague recollection of it through my mind, but it seems possible.

Bob


Agreed. I'm not saying that any of us are capable of agape type love, I'm simply suggesting that in this story, that is the type of love Claude Zoret exhibits towards Michael. I'm not trying to turn this into a religious discussion, but the only similarities I can imagine similar to Zoret when he's betrayed by Michael, are God's reaction to us sinners who fail.
Saul of Tarsus for example who was killing Christians and yet God forgave him again and again, eventually turning him into the Apostle Paul. Zoret's forgiveness was like that; something that none of us mortals are capable of.

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