Mother Courage and Her Children and History Lessons | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mother Courage and Her Children and History Lessons 

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Mother Courage and Her Children and History Lessons

One of the most abused critical terms we have is "Brechtian," and the weeklong series "Brecht and Film" offers the rare opportunity to discover what that adjective really means. As it turns out, Brechtian practice and Brechtian theory are different matters entirely, occupying opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum, and this series offers superb examples of both. To understand and experience Brechtian practice at its finest, hightail it to Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth's intelligent and resourceful 1961 filming in black-and-white 'Scope of the most celebrated Berliner Ensemble production, Mother Courage and Her Children, starring Helene Weigel and directed by Brecht and his longtime associate Erich Engel. It's a play with musical interludes about the psychology of war profiteering, viewed from the inside; shot in a studio, the film employs all the stage scenery and skillfully masks different portions of the frame to honor and enhance the original mise en scene. For the more challenging rigors of Brechtian theory--which argues against the emotional engagement of the audience, something Brechtian practice never fully abandons--try History Lessons. One of the most beautiful and difficult features of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, this 1972 filming of portions of Brecht's novel The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar is a major early summary of this masterful and radical filmmaking couple's grasp of history and the material world. A young man in contemporary dress drives through contemporary Rome and interviews characters from ancient Rome--a poet, a jurist, a peasant, and a banker. Straub-Huillet's unorthodox handling of space through editing is like no one else's, and the duo's passionate adherence to direct-sound recording is comparably powerful. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Mother Courage and Her Children: Sunday, March 1, 6:30, and History Lessons: Wednesday, March 4, 8:00, 773-281-4114.

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film stills.


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