MIFF reviews – Nightwatching, Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road

Reviews of film screening during the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Nightwatching
Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road

Nightwatching

As to be expected in a film by renowned director Peter Greenaway, Nightwatching is heavily influenced by theatrical and fine art techniques. Many scenes take place on a vast wooden stage, dressed appropriately for the scene, and every shot of the film is framed, lit and coloured as if it were a Renaissance painting. But in Nightwatching this is not merely a stylistic device but intrinsic to the narrative, which is concerned with the creation, interpretation and impact of Rembrandt’s famously theatrical Night Watch painting. After reluctantly agreeing to take the commission to portray the Militia Company of Amsterdam Musketeers, who feature in the painting, Rembrandt discovers a number of disturbing and unsavoury facts about the men he is painting, including a murder conspiracy. Nightwatching depicts Rembrandt’s bold attempt to expose these men through the allegory in his painting, and the resulting fallout he suffers. Casting Martin Freeman as Rembrandt was an inspired decision as Freeman gives Rembrandt an enormous amount of warmth, sympathy and even humour. Nightwatching is completely fascinating and an absolute triumph of film style.

Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road

This Danish documentary was put together in order to reveal recently found footage of Burroughs’s reading tour of Denmark in October 1983. The documentary is very loosely about Burroughs’s touring and public performances in the 1980s but most of the additional material seems to have been cobbled together to compliment this new footage. The contemporary interviews are not particularly interesting or revealing and there is little in this film that would be of interest to somebody who is new to Burroughs. Nevertheless, this never-before-seen footage is wonderful and all the short comings of this fairly random documentary are forgotten when the filmmakers simply play the footage of Burroughs’s public readings, allowing his humour, radical ideas and originality to stand out effortlessly.

Originally appeared here on the Australian Film Critics Association website

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008
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