A dramatized visual essay about the life of iconic 19th century Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Karl Johnson - adult, Clancy Chassay - younger), the youngest of eight children who worked primarily in the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. His influence has been wide-ranging and he is generally regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
One of Britain's most famous avant garde filmmakers, Derek Jarman, constructs a biopic of Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein with a bravura display of visual imagery. It's an iconoclastic treatment of an iconic character, and lovers of cinema can sit back and give themselves over to a visceral movie experience. The fact that Jarman manages this while still relying on words to convey thoughts is remarkable.
Jarman turns to theatrical devices to heighten the impact of the film - instead of cinematic ones. For example, Wittgenstein's escape to a Norway fjord is not given a literal cinematic treatment with scenic overhead shots. Instead, our man is shot in a black soup, nothing of Norway visible. He places that in our minds and not even with visual suggestion. He repeats this method for other scenes, including war. All very stagey, yet strangely effective and compelling. But then there's Tilda Swinton in lime green pantsuit with a wide brimmed lime green feather hat, with bright red lipstick and lots of bling. Or the red equivalent ... or the orange. Colour, and lots of it, is a language Jarman understood and used - especially here, in a film about a man who loved the movies of Carmen Miranda ...and Westerns.
But the most bizarre aspect is Jarman's use of the young Ludwig (Clancy Chassay) as the chief story teller, direct to camera. Chassay's naturally extraverted, charismatic nature and the situations into which Jarman places him (variously eccentric and/or symbolic) creates considerable interest, and a strong connection with the audience.
As with his biopic of the 17th century artist Caravaggio, Jarman simply ignores the cultural strictures of language or dress or period. This also challenges the audiences - there goes the artist. But in the end, we do get a pretty good idea of who and what Wittgenstein was - or at least what Jarman thought he was.
Published August 28, 2008
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WITTGENSTEIN: DVD (M)
CAST: Karl Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Michael Gough, Kevin Collins, Clancy Chassay, Jill Balcon, Sally Dexter, Gina Marsh, Vanya Del Borgo, Ben SCantelbury, Howard Sooley, David Radzinowicz, Jan Latham-Koenig,
PRODUCER: Tariq Ali
DIRECTOR: Derek Jarman
SCRIPT: Derek Jarman, Terry Eagleton, Ken Butler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Welland
EDITOR: Budge Tremlett
MUSIC: Jan Latham-Koenig
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Annie La Paz
RUNNING TIME: 69 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES: Introduction by philosopher & historian Ian Christie; interview with producer Tariq Ali; interviews with Tilda Swinton and Karl Johnson; behind the scenes; The Clearing, short film
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
DVD RELEASE: July 1, 2008
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.