24 Frames: Fausto (Gounod’s Faust, Ken Russell, 1985)

In 1985, Russell complemented the demigods and monsters in his upcoming feature Gothic with a production of Charles Gounod’s Faust. Staged at the Vienna State Opera with Erich Binder conducting the Wiener Staatsoper Orchestra and Choir, Russell’s treatment seemed relatively tame. It still has some of Russell’s trademark touches: devils, damnation, redemption, and the choreography of raving nuns. There is also some gasp-inducing satire and sacrilege: Mephistopheles sings beside a giant Golden Calf that has slot machine reels for eyes; he later urinates into a font of holy water.
The opera opens with Faust (Francisco Araiza) alone in his study, immersed in his books and feeling futile. Russell gives a nod to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and James Whale’s Frankenstein as Faust gets a coffin delivered to him, has a dead woman’s body placed on a table, and then reanimates her apparatus that descends from his laboratory ceiling. Recharged, she writhes like the chrysalis that opens Mahler but soon dies again, leaving Faust even more depressed, suicidal, and vulnerable enough for Mephistopheles’ temptation to sell his soul in exchange for renewed youth.
Russell adds a detail to instigate more conflict into the story’s romance. In the first two acts, Marguerite (Gabriela Beňaĉková), whom Mephistopheles (Ruggero Raimondi) conjures to tempt Faust, is a nun. Here, she gets skittish toward Faust’s initial flirtations out of religious duty as well as girlish pride. The opera comes full circle as Marguerite, dishonored and condemned, faces the guillotine. The blade descends on her neck, her soul ascends to heaven, and her headless corpse rises from her coffin, pointing the condemnatory finger at Faust as Mephistopheles whisks him to the underworld.

Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films (Joseph Lanza)

Svankmajer stubbornly subverts most of the opera’s text and stage directions. The first disturbing element is the presence of the ballerinas. They should, in the context of the opera, be singers, not dancers. Given that they are dancers, clad in stereotypical pink tutus, there is no reason for them to be wielding rakes. A somewhat similar effect was created in Ken Russell’s production of Gounod’s Faust for the Vienna State Opera in 1985, which had a particularly strong ballet component. In the scene in question, a dancer playing a servant girl sweeps out Faust’s study while the chorus sings from offstage. As the scene proceeds, this tension between the aesthetic and the utilitarian is reinforced by the sight of the dancers actually raking hay, albeit in stylised synchronisation, and later by the dancers’ feet, in toe shoes, squishing through the mud. Instead of the ballerina as weightless, ethereal sylph, familiar from canonical nineteenth-century ballets like Adolphe Adam’s Giselle, Svankmajer’s dancers are not only earthbound, but graphically mired in muck. Even if the dancers were singing, this scene would hardly express the words of the chorus heard during their labours.

Faust: Icon of Modern Culture (Osman Durrani)

O autor desse livro sobre o Fausto como ícone mandou esses papinhos de balé e ópera, mas usualmente a maioria da montagens do Fausto de Gounod incluem o balé de Walpurgis, o que Russell fez foi retirar tal segmento como peça isolada de balé e mesclar a dança com as árias durante a ação de forma mais contínua, reforçando o balé – e aí entra a comparação com Svankmajer.
Ah, claro, essa montagem tem totalmente uma vibe The Devils of Loudun, alguns momentos são praticamente reencenações. Certo, também há uma vibe Teste de Rorschach naquele fundo do cenário vermelho na sequência de julgamento e a vibe Fantasia-Disney-Mussorgsky no momento de gala daquele Mefisto.

Nota: Russell, seu pagão! Me fizeste virar devota de freiras e demônios! Tá bom, Powell, Jung, Huxley e Hades ajudaram um pouco. Mentira, isso sempre foi inerente, há uns dez anos estava mucho loca numa festa quando tive uma epifania e descobri que deveria virar freira (na época ainda estava voltada para o agnosticismo – que por acaso foi definido pelo avô do Aldous!) larguei tudo e todos, viajei pra casa da minha mãe e, felizmente, tal resolução durou apenas o fim de semana. Isso pelo menos tinha uma desculpa bioquímica, pior era quando criança ao me perguntarem o que queria ser quando crescesse e repondia que queria ser freira. Hoje em dia não tenho mais esses comichões, o máximo é uma coceirinha em ser monja budista nos Himalayas.


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