"This is Peter Watkins (epic) companion-piece to his highly acclaimed "Edvard Munch" (1974). "The Freethinker" examines the life, art, and times of the noted Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, author of Miss Julie, Inferno, and Dance of Death. Strindberg is depicted as a rebel, and idealistic and controversial iconoclast who openly criticized the hypocrisy of 19th century society." (p. back cover) The film broadly focuses on 3 aspects of Strindberg's life- the impact of his childhood on his psychology and future work; the meaning of his relationship with his first wife, and the way in which Strindberg, as an author, created works that confronted the social injustices of their time.
"This is a unique, complex and truly collaborative project, which focuses much on Strindberg's often turbulent relationship with his first wife, Siri Von Essen, was based on original and detailed research carried out by Peter Watkins and produced as part of a full length video production course at the Nordens Folkhogskola Biskops-Arno (a film school in Sweden), taking two years to complete (after Wakins had worked for 2 and a half years on research and scriptwriting). The students raised all the funds, sewed all the costumes, learned to operate the equipment and performed all the functions involved in s major theatrical video production." (p. back cover) Watkins has organized the film with slow-paced editing in order to to maximize the viewers ability to ponder and reflect on what is portrayed in the film (a direct counter to the fast paced editing and organization of popular cultural texts, "which are designed for maximum manipulation and minimum time for reflection" (p. 4)).
Structured non-linearly, Watkins has woven these 3 elements of Strindberg's life together, along with juxtapositions of excerpts from his texts, with hopes of, "highlighting the complexity of Strindberg's life, and the meaning of the seeming contradictions in his work." (p. 5) This, Watkins hopes, will enable the viewer to not only learn about Strindberg's life and influence, but also foster critical thought about the state of the mass media and popular culture- as Strindberg's works did for his own time.
Watkins has thus heeded the calls of Screen Theorists and has sought to revolutionize the film production process by making it a truly collective, grassroots, collaborative project made almost entirely with non-professional cast and crew members with no previous experience.
Accompanying this DVD is a 16 page booklet which includes a letter-essay that Watkins had written to 70 different high schools and teacher training colleges around Sweden, with hopes that it would clarify some of the more broad social and political implications that the film may influence.
Watkins claims to have included this letter as it is felt that he has been socially and politically marginalized by the mainstream media- especially in regards to his discussion surrounding the "crisis of the mass media"- and thus does not want, nor trust, how mainstream journalists and critics interpret and criticize his work. The following statement is included in the "Copyright statement" in the booklet: "With the advancement of globalization and the professional marginalization of Peter Watkins work- especially his critical writings
have increased. This has manifested itself by journalists removing
any critical references made by Peter himself (e.g. in an interview) and only quoting his comments about creative and production matters. Even when journalists do include comments made by Peter Watkins, re the crisis of the mass media or the political meaning of his own work, these elements are nearly always reduced or removed entirely by copy editors. The result is inevitably an unbalanced article, devoid of any political or critical context.
As a result of these and many other problems, Peter Watkins no longer gives interviews of any kind. His practice is now to prepare texts on his films in which he tries to cover as many creative and critical elements as possible, based on questions he has been asked in the past." (p. 1)
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