This 1975 film version of Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal opera has been out of circulation for many years. It is a shame that someone remembered it existed and dusted it off for DVD release.
From the opening, filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet create a visual style that mirrors the monotony of the Schoenberg score – Moses is introduced with the camera filming the back of his head while he narrates his woes, and then the camera aims at a cloudless sky for a few more minutes. There are stretches when the screen is blank, and the people of Israel gather around in a square formation in an empty amphitheater. A chintzy Golden Calf turns up, and a dance number with knife-wielding butchers is also part of the fun.
Opera can be difficult to adapt to the screen, but Straub and Huillet don’t even seem to be trying. This is one of the most dismal experiences I can recall viewing. Schoenberg fans and standard-issue masochists may find something of value here – but for the rest of us, let’s be glad that Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille got to the Red Sea first.