The last weeks flew by. This week at last I worked on the Orpheus film again. It was the first time for weeks. First I thought, I would never do that again. – But, phew, I was not right! It was good to let everything sink in a bit. I had some Orpheus input the last weeks like Orfeo Negro, a film by Marcel Camus (France, 1959) and Orpheus in the Underworld, a film by Horst Bonnet (GDR, 1974). When I went to the museum two weeks ago I found an Oprheus painting by Melchior Lechter again. We met two years ago for the first time (the painting and me), but I forgot about until I stood in front of it.
The Bonnet film is related to the operetta of Jacques Offenbach which gives us a complete different view on this ancient tale. Offenbach wanted to critisize the nobilty of the Europeen 19th century, I guess. The Gods are not painted in beautiful colours, they are like childs with a scepter and do what they want. And they really do. The famous cancan theme is from this operetta, when the Gods are having a big party in hell. Referrering to where the film was produced (GDR, former East Germany), it was important to make the film like this, I’m sure.
But Orpheus in the Underworld has some huge storytelling problems. Eurydice follows Hades with the freedom of choice and because he seems to be very attractive, much more attractive than her husband who has a lot of affairs with younger music students. After that, Orpheus is lead by another man who wants him to take his (this time unbeloved) Eurydice back. And he follows this man without having any good reasons for doing that (I’m not sure if a good reputation in danger is a good reason, but perhaps it can be). This is another example for the importance of good storytelling. The camera does some interesting things, especially during the cancan dancing scene. The film also has beatiful props and lighting, but without a clear story structure they are nothing worth. In this case they are only some beautiful pictures in a row.
Contrary to this Orfeo Negro places the Orpheus story in the Brasilian carnival. The opposite of the positive carnival party is the sad story of Orpheus. He’s so depressed while eyerybody around him is laughing and dancing. Another contrast is the poverty of the main characters and their fun at the carnival. First he joins the festival, but after loosing Eurydice he isn’t the same anymore. That jollity around him supports the perception of our protagonist’s lonelyless.
The painting of Melchior Lechter is very near to this and to what I’d like to show. The deep sadness and the concentration on inner things are what I’m interested in.
I’m going to tell the story this way: Orheus descends to the underworld to get his beloved wife Eurydice back. He goes into the shadows, to the land of the dead. When he meets Hades (also known as Pluto), he’d ask for Eurydice. Supporting his bidding by the music of his lyra, he convinces Hades to let her go. But the God acceps this only on one condition: Orpheus must not turn back until both of them has arrived the land of the living. Failing that, Eurydice has to come back forever. Orpheus agrees and they are walking home. They have to cross the river Styx again, over which Charon ferried the souls of the dead. While they are entering the boat, it only moves a bit when Orpheus is setting foot in it. It doesn’t move when Eurydice does because she as a soul has no weight. Orpheus as an artist doesn’t trust in authorities. He doubts if Eurydice was there and turned around. But she is. And because he fails to meet the condition she has to go back forever.
Orpheus can’t believe. He really wants to go back to Hades again, but Charon ferried him to the the other side of the river and tells him to leave. Orpheus doesn’t want to. He trys to pass Cerberus, the underweorld’s guarding dog with three heads, but the huge beast doesn’t allow. They have a fight. During this fight Orpheus’ lyra breaks, and also his soul. He feels that he’s not much without Eurydice, but without his music he really is nothing.
I guess that too much information about a thing makes it much harder to find out what I myself do want. For example: it might not be helpful to know all the Orpheus materials, because it can distort my own ideas or help forgetting them. But this time it was okay. I got a good hint by watching the Bonnet film. Although it is my less favourite Oprheus adaption (and I’ve seen a much better version of the operetta before) it helps me to make my own storytelling more clear.
To me, the weakest part of my story has been the convincing of Hades. My film is going to be without dialogues and this was a big barrier to that scene. My characters relates to the Greek Myth in a strong way, so I gave Hades Persephone, his wife. And she convinced him letting Eurydice go. You know, the girls… But it really doesn’t make sense. And everytime I’ve read the script I got a stomachache because I knew it was a bad idea.
This is the new version:
Orpheus walks down to the underworld because he’s searching for his wife. He meets Charon, the underworld’d ferryman who doesn’t want to take him to the other side of the Styx, because Orpheus is still alive. First they argue, then Oprheus offers him money without any results. Charon seems to be as cold as a stone. Oprheus get so sad and helpless, when the ferry seems to leave without him. He lets his shoulders sink and his lyra slightens down. By this, it suddenly comes back to his mind. He remembers who he is: the greatest musician of all times, and he begins to play. He charmes Charon with his singing, and the ferryman takes him to the other side. Orpheus doesn’t stop playing until he reaches the regent’s hall of the underworld where he find Hades sitting on his throne. Hades knows why Orpheus is here because he took his wife himself. Hades is in love with Eurydice and wants to keep her with him in the underworld. When Orpheus finds Eurydice there, he gets his strength back. Playing Lyra, convincing Hades, going back home, failing, dying.
I think that’s much better than a compassionate Persephone who convinced Hades who didn’t want to let off his priciples.
Well, back to work!