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Michael

DVD cover
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Produced by Erich Pommer
Written by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Thea von Harbou
Herman Bang (novel)
Starring Benjamin Christensen
Walter Slezak
Max Auzinger
Robert Garrison
Nora Gregor
Cinematography Karl Freund
Rudolph Maté
Distributed by UFA
Release date(s) 1924
Running time 84-93 minutes
(6,480 feet)
Country Germany
Language Silent film
German intertitles
Preceded by Once Upon a Time
Followed by Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife

Michael (also known as Mikaël, Chained: The Story of the Third Sex, and Heart's Desire) was a silent film released in 1924, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, director of other notable silents such as The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Master of the House (1925), and Leaves from Satan's Book (1921). The film stars Walter Slezak as the titular Michael, the young assistant and model to the artist Claude Zoret (Benjamin Christensen). Along with Different From the Others (1919) and Sex in Chains (1928), Michael is widely considered a landmark in gay silent cinema.

The film is based on Herman Bang's 1902 novel Mikaël. It is the second screen adaptation of the book, the first being The Wings, made eight years prior by director Mauritz Stiller. Michael, however, follows Bang's storyline much more closely than the earlier film version.

Contents

Plot

A famous painter named Claude Zoret falls in love with one of his models, Michael, and for a time the two live happily as partners. Zoret is considerably older than Michael, and as they age, Michael begins to drift from him, although Zoret is completely blind to this. When a bankrupt countess comes to Zoret to have a portrait made — with the real intent of seducing him and swindling his money — she finds Michael to be more receptive to her advances. At her lead, the two quickly become a couple and she immediately begins using Michael to steal from Zoret. When Zoret discovers what has been going on, he is crushed and his work suffers terribly.

Michael sells the painting of himself that Zoret made and gave to him as a gift, and steals and sells the sketches Zoret made of their time in Algiers, where they first fell in love. Zoret begins work on his masterpiece: a large-scale painting of a man lying on a beach, using Algiers as a background, depicting "a man who has lost everything", as one character put it on first sight of the work.

After completing the painting, Zoret falls ill. Charles Switt sits beside Zoret on his deathbed. Switt had always loved Zoret, and has stayed with him throughout, never criticizing Michael for fear of hurting his unrequited love. Switt sends a message to Michael, telling him that Zoret is dying and to come at once, but the Countess prevents him from getting it. Zoret's last words, which also serve as the prologue to the film, are "Now I can die in peace, for I have seen true love."

Cast

  • Walter Slezak as Michael
  • Benjamin Christensen as Claude Zoret
  • Nora Gregor as Countess Lucia Zamikow
  • Robert Garrison as Charles Switt, journalist
  • Max Auzinger as Jules, principal steward of the house
  • Didier Aslan as Duke de Monthieu
  • Alexander Murski as Mr. Adelsskjold
  • Grete Mosheim as Mrs. Alice Adelsskjold
  • Karl Freund as LeBlanc, art dealer
  • Wilhelmine Sandrock as Widow de Monthieu

Crew

Critical reception and legacy

Initial responses to the film included some major objections. Film critic Mordaunt Hall, writing in December, 1926 for The New York Times, pronounced:

"Chained" is a dull piece of work, redeemed only by some artistic scenes and Benjamin Christensen's able portrayal of Claude Zoret, an artist...The actress cast as a princess does not screen well, and Walter Slezak, who figures as the youth, gives a stilted, amateurish impersonation.[1]

He criticizes the film for what he perceived as opportunism for a German director to take a "fling at France" by filming less than favorable national figures on the screen[1] (Zoret was purportedly based on French sculptor Auguste Rodin[2]). The homosexual undertones also upset reviewers, since "Michael [was] one of the very few big-budget mainstream studio productions from the silent period that [dealt] with homosexuality; although it remains implicit, it was readily apparent to many contemporaries."[3] Hall, for example, complained that "the story is also handicapped by queer titles", because he felt Zoret and Michael only had a non-romantic relationship between teacher and protegé.[1]

After Dreyer had further established himself as prominent director through his later films, most notably through his 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc, widely considered a masterpiece, critics reconsidered Michael. From the perspective of auteur theory, this film exhibits many trademark elements of Dreyer's personal directorial style, such as his use of close-ups in a "way that... makes a tranquil picture of overwhelming feelings."[4] It has also been suggested that the film reflects personal feelings harbored by Dreyer after a purported homosexual affair.[3]

The film has been cited to have influenced several directors. Alfred Hitchcock drew upon motifs from Michael for his script for The Blackguard (1925).[5] The film is considered an important early work in gay silent cinema.[3][6]

Home media release

The film was released in Region 2 by Eureka Entertainment Ltd. on October 24, 2004 with the title Chained: The Story of the Third Sex. Two months later on December 14, Kino International released a Region 1 version with the title Carl Theodor Dreyer's Michael.[7] Kino International retains the copyright in the United States.

References

  1. ^ a b c New York Times film review of Michael, by Mordaunt Hall. December 15, 1926.
  2. ^ Mark Nash, Dreyer BFI Publishing (October 1977). p. 7
  3. ^ a b c Casper Tybjerg, The Makers of Movies: Authors, Subjects, Personalities, Agents? in Visual authorship: creativity and intentionality in media, Northern Lights vol. 3., Torben Kragh Grodal, Bente Larsen, Iben Thorving Laursen (ed.), Museum Tusculanum Press, 2005. pp. 58-59.
  4. ^ David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002.
  5. ^ Michael Walker, Hitchcock's motifs, Amsterdam University Press (January 1, 2006). p. 329.
  6. ^ Vito Russo, The celluloid closet: homosexuality in the movies HarperCollins Publishers; 1st Edition (July 1981). p.22.
  7. ^ IMDb DVD release details

See also

External links

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