Wednesday, January 31, 2007

all words are flesh

Some notes on Der Rosenkönig (The Rose King, Werner Schroeter, 1986) :

If there is a central image in the film, it has to be Magdalena Montezuma's pale hands, which could qualify as a discrete entity, a complete body in itself (she died two weeks after shooting for the film completed and the film is dedicated to her). Outside of this, things fall into various categories, sheets or fragments that exist only to merge into each other by the morbid, sexualised final moments.

In its operatic, high-camp poise and often-sublime fragmentation of narrative, Der Rosenkönig is reminiscent mostly of Carmelo Bene's work (as opposed to Syberberg, whom Schroeter is often compared to) - a contemporary of Schroeter in the sixties when they both started making highly idiosyncratic films. It seems to me that Schroeter is a creator of isolated images that slowly come to be suspended in viscous, passionate music. Words and music exist only to elevate and agitate. The movements of the performers are exaggerated (and Montezuma, Schroeter's muse, understands this more than anyone else here), yet still sensual.

There are around five or six languages spoken or heard through music in the film, and to some extent, an immediate incomprehensibility is encouraged (Schroeter apparently refused to include subtitles when the film was released). These 'texts' - in the form of the monologue, opera, poetry, prayer, and song - hover over the film as we observe the performers' movements in asynchrony with the music (as in his debut feature, Eika Katappa, but not as extreme), as we are consistently denied passage into their subconscious. But what we are given is more than sufficient! Of all the symbolist systems freely floating within this film, those to do with light and colour surpass everything else.

Reds and black dominate and meet in the final scenes. Fire and water are omnipresent, comforting.

(Some of the most memorable scenes of the film are on YouTube: 1, 2, and the 'spoiler'-rich 3.)


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