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Steppenwolf
Steppenwolf
Actors: Max von Sydow, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clémenti, Carla Romanelli, Roy Bosier
Director: Fred Haines
Genres: Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
R     2006     1hr 47min

Max Von Sydow (The Exorcist, The Seventh Seal, Pelle the Conqueror) and Dominique Sanda (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, The Conformist) star in this ambitious adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning Herman Hesse's classic nov...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Max von Sydow, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clémenti, Carla Romanelli, Roy Bosier
Director: Fred Haines
Creators: Tomislav Pinter, Fred Haines, Irving Lerner, Melvin Fishman, Richard Herland, Hermann Hesse
Genres: Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sub-Genres: Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Studio: Homevision
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 08/15/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/1974
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1974
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 47min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English

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Member Movie Reviews

RD C. (allepaca) from TEMPE, AZ
Reviewed on 3/20/2010...
Widely acclaimed as the best film adaptation of a Hermann Hesse novel, this movie is rarely seen outside of retro film festivals. It is an impressionistic, nouveau-psychedelic observation of the spiritual/physical duality of man and the clash of popular versus classic cultures, staged as a character study of "Harry"-- a stodgy and depressed middle-aged intellectual who breaks loose, via fantasy, to seek peace and self-realization.

In this respect it sticks pretty closely to the main points of Hesse's book, with all it Jungian overtones, though of course there are some of the usual shortcuts needed to compact the story into a movie-length tale. The special effects were cutting-edge for it's time, and include animation, color synthesis, superimposition, acoustic trickery, and other techniques to convey the confusion and magic of the illusory world Harry encounters.

It Stars Max Von Sydow (his first film after The Exorcist), the alluring Dominique Sanda (in dual roles), the quirky French actor/director Pierre Clementi (in dual roles), and also features a touching, yet very seductive bedroom scene with the unbelievably gorgeous Carla Romanelli.

Somewhat of an acquired taste, this film may be a bit too slow and "intellectual" for those who just watch it for the psychedelic & sexual parts, yet may seem too flippant and "hip" for those who might otherwise appreciate the ethical and philosophical issues that are explored. Most "serious" critics consider this film to be essentially plotless and/or pointless, since it doesn't really lend itself to their oh-so-learned pontifications on technique and (ahem) proper (ahem) character development.

An open mind is required, for this show to be enjoyed. Which, come to think of it, may well be the real lesson learned by Harry. . . as well as the audience. . . and possibly, Hesse's readers. Hmmm. . . . . .

When I first saw this flick back in the 70's, several of the people I knew described it as "Ingmar Berman on acid". . . and it was primarily marketed as an underground, counter-cultural, free love and pro-drug statement. Nowadays, with all of the relative media freedom that has since ensued, it seems rather quaint, and amusing. . . but nonetheless entertaining.

This film was originally rated a hard "R" -- there are some very sexy scenes, drug references, and some female nudity. Pretty tame by today's standards, but probably not a good flick for religious home-schoolers to watch with their offspring. Especially if they've been feeling stodgy and depressed. You just never know where this sort of thing might lead. . . .

Movie Reviews

Four stars for this underrated masterpiece (three for the DV
Brian Whistler | Forestville, CA United States | 08/11/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The Film

I always thought Steppenwolf to be an unfilmable book. Steeped in Jungian psychology and written in an entirely subjective tone, it is immensely complex and thought provoking and one of Hesse's darker books. Although a generation of flower children identified with it, Hesse claimed that a person had to be approaching 50 to fully understand it, as it really is a novel about midlife crisis. It is about finding salvation in self forgiveness and inner tranquility in a world ever spiraling towards madness. As such, it is as relevant today as its setting in prewar (WWII) Germany. The madmen are still out there, set on destruction, and there are still those brave souls who feel compelled to rage against it.

But this is really a novel about the inner journey, the journey of the soul. It needed a visionary director to bring it to the screen and found one in director Fred Haines, who took up this difficult book and against all odds, delivered a flawed masterpiece-flawed because of the overuse of dated video effects and the preponderance of blaring analog synthesizers during the hallucinatory third act. This has been the most criticized segment of the film and it does present some problems to modern viewers. But as representations of psychedelic trips on the silver screen go, it's at least a cut above some of the other often embarassing attempts of the 70's. Still, it is the weakest part of the film and unfortunately, the climax.

Yet standing back, there are many more things to like than dislike about this unique and ambitious film. Max Von Sydow gives one of the finest performances of his distinguished career as the tortured misanthrope, Harry Haller, who we can't help but admire for his values and dogged ideals, but indeed would've been a difficult man to keep company with. Dominique Sanda is appropriately mysterious and deliciously seductive as the ephemeral Hermine, Harry's 'anima woman', the only problem in her performance being her dense accent, which makes her lines very difficult to parse. The same could be said of Pierre Clementi, whose accent is as thick as goose pate, but otherwise does a fine job as the hedonistic mystic sax player, Pablo.

The dark look of the film and the brooding score (other than the aforementioned synthesizer blips,) by jazz composer George Gruntz are spot on. There is a marvelous sense of place throughout the film. The location settings are very beautiful and perfectly in keeping with the film's solemn atmosphere.

This film ultimately transcends its period and its technical limitations to deliver a timeless message of renewal and hope. Underneath its dark exterior dwells a comedy, the human comedy to be precise. The more times I have viewed this film, the more funny it seems to me. Hesse's Harry is not judged harshly by the gods. Instead, Divine Providence (and his own finer instincts) gently guides his tormented soul back into life and back to his core belief in a benign universe.

Enjoy the Magic Theater. But remember, "For Madmen Only-Not for everybody!"


The DVD -

First the bad news: It is not widescreen (big mistake!)The good news is, It looks better than I thought it would. Actually, it's pretty clean.There is definitely more detail in this version than the VHS release. There are occasional inexplicable shifting color artifacts lurking in the background, but other than that it is pretty sharp looking, especially when compared to my ancient vhs copy.

It appears to have been transferred from a decent print. There are a few small momentary blobs that should have been cleaned up, but nothing critical. The sound is decent but nothing to crow about. There is static here and there, probably artifacts from the old analog print. Digital cleanup should have been applied to the audio as well, but I didn't expect it from these guys.

About the coolest thing about the DVD is the ability to turn on english subtitles. I thought I had deciphered the dialogue over repeated viewings, but I was in for a few interesting surprises. I definitely recommend viewing this film with english subtitles on, at least for the first time. It really helps.

As far as extras go, there is a trailer (unfortunately with the movie's corniest synth piece on it) and nothing else. Hopefully one day the widescreen, digitally remastered version will be released, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Until then I'll just have to be content with this improvement over the VHS tape I have treasured all these years.


NOTE: I believe that Okayuma's "Mystery of Rampo" (1994) was very influenced by the film Steppenwolf. There are just too many parallels in the structures of these two films to be a mere coincidence. Both films are very psychological and deal with the internal world, within which the line between objective and subjective reality is not clearly delineated.

Both films have an animated expository sequence at around 15 minutes into the film. Both films end with a non linear "trip" wherein reality breaks down and the dream takes over. There are specific shots in Rampo that bear an uncanny resemblance to its predecessor:a long closeup pan of old hardcover books in a bookcase transistions to a fountain pen scratching out a line on parchment. A golden music box plays a nostalgic tune...too many things to be merely coincidental. Both are of course, 'anima films'. It makes total sense that Okayuma would reference his own startlingly original film to this minor masterpiece. Together, they would make a great double bill. 'Rampo' is highly recommended to fans of Steppenwolf."
Healing for the troubled spirit
Breyel | MALAYSIA | 09/07/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The 4 star rating is for the film, not the novel Steppenwolf: A Novel. The book itself merits 5 stars. The DVD looks like a pan and scan version of a VHS master, although with a menu of chapters, subtitles and the original trailer. In the German issue of this DVD you get an order form and write up on Hermann Hesse's collected works.

Max von Sydow (Harry Haller), Dominique Sanda (Hermine), Pierre Clementi (Pablo) and Carla Romanelli (Maria) deliver credible performances, faithful to their respective characters. Storyline is true to Herman Hesse's novel as well. The editing is hurried and choppy in the first half of the film, making it difficult to connect emotionally with the Steppenwolf's plight, whereas the surrealistic scenes in The Magic Theatre are superbly executed (pardon the pun). The illustrations used to depict the Steppenwolf's metamorphosis are reminiscent of the German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Restored Authorized Edition), and I suppose would be appropriate considering the story dovetails with the Expressionist period in Weimar Germany. Nevertheless, it's a film not to be overlooked if you love this amazing book by one of the 20th century's great writers.

"Steppenwolf" is in part an autobiographical story exploring the mid-life crisis of Hermann Hesse. Viewers should be aware that German nationalists up to this point had criticised Hesse for his pacifist writings and activities during WWI. He like so many of his generation had helplessly watched the socio-economic turmoil and transition of Germany during the Weimar Republic, although he had long ago immigrated to Switzerland. He witnessed the deterioration of his first wife's mental health, which subsequently lead to their divorce. And he was afflicted with gout and other physical ailments, some of which are touched upon indirectly in the film. With these tragic events weighing heavily on Hesse, he suffered a nervous break down, whereupon he underwent Jungian psychoanalysis (more about this below).

The result was "Steppenwolf", a poetic tale about a middle-aged man who is spiritually, emotionally and physically sick. Any doubt to its subject matter can be easily dispelled in the book of poetry entitled "Crisis", which Hesse published in 1927 at the same time as "Steppenwolf". It contains two poems found in the novel "Steppenwolf" and a number of confessional poems describing his despair and personal loss.

Despite the abundance of reviews and narratives written on "Steppenwolf" and Hesse's philosophical position it was, he confided in the preface of editions printed after 1961, his most "violently misunderstood" work. Hippies in the late sixties embraced its references to drug use, anti-war activity, provocative music and sexual promiscuity. Even counter-culture guru and psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Leary speculated in his book The Politics of Ecstasy (Leary, Timothy) what types of medication Hesse had been prescribed, based on his dream and surrealistic images, depicted both in his novel and this film.

In truth, Hesse's intention was to paint the picture of Steppenwolf's (or Harry Haller's) state of mind. To portray this personality, Hesse resorted to Jungian psychology, particularly the principals of `ego', `animus/anima' and `self'. Harry Haller is his `ego'. Hermine is his `anima' (animus in women). Pablo and Maria are his `self'. Harry Haller (whose initials H.H. are the same as Hermann Hesse's), however, is unable to integrate the opposite and multiple pieces in his psychological make up. Unity of the personality is attainable by emulating the immortals' (Mozart, Goethe, Nietzsche, Novalis) sense of humour or adaptability whenever confronted with rigid conformity and resistance to change.

When Hesse introduces us to Hermine, he is referring to the `anima' in himself; Hermine is the feminine name for Hermann. In Jungian psychology, this is the feminine principal present in the male consciousness or the inner personality in communication with the subconscious. Hermine is in effect the inner voice of Harry Haller (Hermann Hesse) helping him to unify his `ego' and `self'. She encourages the intellectual and serious side of Harry - the `ego' - to recognise and accept the sensual and animal (Steppenwolf) side of his personality - the `self' - which jazz musician Pablo and escort Maria are only too willing to nurture. Hermine is the unifying force of the `ego' and `self', leading to the realm of the immortals in The Magic Theatre where multiple aspects of his personality are synthesised and made whole.

In this respect, The Magic Theatre becomes a metaphorical extension of Harry Haller's mind. All that Harry loathes about the mediocrity of the bourgeois, all that he loves about Mozart, Goethe, Novalis and Nietzsche, all the passion he feels for past loves and Hermine -- in essence, all that comprises Harry -- is distilled and fused as one. For instance, the music of his revered Mozart is played through the radio he so despises; the ugliness of war he dislikes, he embraces with a theologian friend in a war against the automobile (or machine); and when he figuratively kills Hermine, expecting the jury of immortals to sentence him to the gallows, he is heartily laughed down by them.

As for the structure of the story, one literary critic has compared it to a sonata. "Steppenwolf" is comprised of three movements. In the first movement the narrator introduces us to Harry Haller and his peculiarities; the second movement elaborates on the "Treatise Of The Steppenwolf" to explain his personality and behaviour; and the third movement resolves the psychological conflict in The Magic Theatre. It is a plausible premise, considering Hesse's knowledge of classical music and his allusions to classical musicians. Unfortunately this fails to come across smoothly in the film, whereas it works well in the novel.

Despite the complexities of "Steppenwolf", it is a fascinating, heartfelt and meaningful story. Hesse pours out his soul, probing his psyche, confessing his insecurities and beliefs, his sorrows and joys, his sensuality and intellect, analysing his (the individual's) role in society and offering some form of spiritual solace. He speaks to us all, regardless of age, sex, race or culture. For we have all at some point in life experienced the bittersweet condition of the Steppenwolf."
Finally available
Rowen di Bowen | MA ,United States | 06/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Finally this incredible adaptation of Hermann Hesse's nobelprize winning book will become available here too.
I first saw this movie in the 70's on a late night program in Germany and ever since have been hoping it will one day appear on DVD.
Max v. Sydow is very good here,probably one of his best performances.You couldn't think of a better Harry Haller.
Also the locations are fantastic and really get the atmoshere from the book brilliantly across.
This is the kind of movie one can only wish they would still do today.
Definetly one of the best adaptations I have seen.
Congratulations to the director and cinematography for having a superb vision to get this difficult material into such an exciting and inspiring movie.
Maybe not a very commercial project but one that will definetly be enjoyed by the people who have read and liked this book for a long time.
Classic!"