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Dionysus is not really a film as such, but a "from the hip" documentary
"capture" of the Performance Group's legendary 1969 staging of
Euripides' THE BACCHAE. Hugely inspired by the ground-breaking
theatrical rituals of Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, DIONYSUS IN '69
(as the production was named) stirred up huge controversy amongst New
York theatre audiences and critics alike.
Although the production was directed by Richard Schechner, Dionysus In '69 was created through a rehearsal process that was part democracy, part anarchy, part primal scream therapy. The final result was more a ritualized confrontation than conventional play, which culminated in a virtual orgy of audience participation. Nudity, profanity and huge amounts of stage blood were used to tremendous effect. Brian DePalma discovered the production and brought two NYU film maker friends of his into a special performance where multiple 16mm cameras were used to archive the iconoclastic proceedings in B&W. The final cut is an exercise in the "split screen" techniques which would eventually become DePalma's cinematic trademark.
The cast shows deep commitment to their material, and Bill Shepherd (later known as Will Shepherd) is particularly brilliant in the role of Pentheus. I will not go into the plot, which should be well-known to most college graduates, but will say that the original Euripides play (written about 500 B.C.) deals with the myth of Dionysus and his revenge upon the city responsible for his mortal mother's death.
I had the good fortune to direct Will Shepherd in my own film adaptation of THE BACCHAE, produced in October of 2000, where he played Cadmus, grandfather to the character he portrayed so brilliantly some thirty years before at the Performance Garage in New York.
I highly recommend the film DIONYSUS, if not for its filmic brilliance, then at least for its documentation of one of the true theatrical marvels of the late 1960's.
There are a number of 16mm prints of Dionysus floating around out there somewhere, but I'm not sure what company distributes the film, which is not available on video through
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd been wanting to see this play/movie for a while, and when a friend
was kind enough to send me a copy of Brian DePalma, Le Annees 60 (Brian
De Palma- The 60's) I couldn't believe my luck!
Having been introduced to both Bill Finley and Bill Shephard through PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, I was intrigued and deeply impressed to see both men in VERY different roles, and yet, if you've seen Phantom, there's almost a reversal of roles. Whereas, with Phantom, Mr. Shephard's role is an active spectator in the theatrical blood bath, with Dionysus, he plays a character who is duped in much the same way Bill Finley's character would be, a few years down the road.
And speaking of Mr. Finley, you really have to wonder how idiotic the folks in Hollywood's high hills must be, to pass up such a natural talent! After seeing Phantom of the Paradise a number of times, I was amazed and impressed to see him in roles that are as far removed from the ambitious but naive Winslow Leach as it's possible to get!
In Dionysus in '69, Bill plays the title role; the man/god Bacchus/Dionysus, who plots out revenge on the family and city responsible for the killing of his mother. His villainy is so cleverly deceptive, however, that you couldn't help but be reminded of a unscrupulous record producer, as he lures young king Pentheus and his entire kingdom to its own ruin.
I'll admit that there were a couple scenes I couldn't sit through, for the graphic nature, but that's just me. The story, over all, was intriguing and had me reading Euripides' The Bacchae, to find out how the play really ended. I like Bill Finley's version better.
Guess this sort of stuff just isn't my cup of tea. There are some weird
and odd moments in this filmed 'stage' performance of the Greek play
The Bacchantes. Not everything made an awful lot of sense to me and
that is the reason why to me some of the scene's were totally
impossible to follow, making this movie an almost completely
unwatchable one at times.
Still the story is intriguing enough and so is the way it is told. The two main characters are extremely well performed by Will Shepherd and William Finley. The two of them also have some great stage chemistry together.
The way Brian De Palma cut this movie entirely in split screen makes the story work even better and certainly doesn't make this movie a boring one to watch. There is always something happening and the split screen help to make the story and scene's work better since you can obviously show and tell more within 2 screens than in rather just 1 of course.
It's an interesting, intriguing and certainly unusual project to watch. This sort of stuff isn't exactly my idea of having a good and fun time of watching something but it still was a good experience to watch, that certainly does have its moments.
According to sources on the internet Brian De Palma captured this
surreal performance of The Bacchae written by Euripides in 1970. It
features among others William Finley who would continue making films
with Brian De Palma, the latest being The Black Dahlia (2006).
Watching it now makes for a strange yet appealing viewing, this being experimental theater from 1960-70's and as such is pretty narrow. I was not prepared for the madness, odd quirks, nudity that was put forth.
Does it sound weird? This film, doesn't lend itself for easy review because it's a surreal, personal adaptation of an old ancient Greek play that I haven't read yet and thus can not fully say what, who, this is about.
It simply is a group people doing experimental theater that doesn't suit everyone but gives the viewer an explosion of wild improvisation, crazy behaviour, and a performance of an ancient Greek play that few have seen before.
The audience is also a part of this performance with actors, talking directly to them, hiding among them etc. The film is using splitscreen(filmed by hand-held cameras) throughout the performance which makes it even harder to follow everything that happens but offers a more intimate look and conveys an feeling of participation to the viewer.
Many viewers will regard this film as an pretentious, art-house film, others like me will probably like this surreal, symphony of human emotion. Regardless it serves as a fine time capsule on how experimental theater looked 1960-1970's.
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