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The Last Faust as Gesamtkunstwerk ‘A Total Works of Art’

Gesamtkunstwerk, a word coined in 17th century Germany, made famous by Wagner, particularly the aesthetic totality of the Ring Cycle. Wagner’s seismic shift away from Italianate operatic tradition in favour of building a complete artistic universe. Gesamtkunstwerk is often and perhaps best described in architectural terms, Frank Lloyd Wright in particular, as an architect who not only designs the structure but also the interior, the lighting, the furnishings and to a degree the people who’ll live in the finished product.

The audacious challenge of committing both books of Goethe’s Faust to celluloid led Philipp Humm to build his modern narrative across multiple disciplines. His pencil drawings outline a frame-by-frame storyline, this is mirrored by a novella, a series of highly stylised and beautifully rendered full colour photographs that illustrate the Faust multiverse. The legend at its most basic is that of good and evil, of light and of darkness both real, and imagined. Humm’s nod towards chiaroscuro in his photography mimics the religious hallmarks of high renaissance art and idolatry.

The recently released trailer offers a glimpse into this extraordinary piece of theatre, the use of singular locations, dream-like set pieces are punctuated by the primary narrator Dr Goodfellow and his companion Paris, a synthetic being. Goodfellow, played by Steven Berkoff, is a man reflecting on his legacy in the face of extinction. The audience eavesdrops on Goodfellow’s confession as he goes about his day, mundane tasks and simple daily rituals are interceded by hallucinogenic scenes of madness, sexual depravation and leaps through the vortex of time and space.

Humm has abandoned virtually all the gothic iconography usually attendant in any Faustian production (opera, especially). The demon Mephisto is both urbane and mercurial, a bespoke suited satanic Hedge Fund manager with a thirst for human souls. Unlike FW Murnau’s 1926 silent production of Faust, there are no vampyre like devils, cloaked and pale skinned monsters, the protagonists in The Last Faust operate in a digital world, they are both flawless and broken, the ugliness resides in desire. Beauty, as in the case of Gretchen, is first defiled and then destroyed. The camerawork keeps you close, this is intimate theatre. Humm’s total works of art have dragged a 500 year old folklore into the white light of the 21st century, it’s damnation in high definition.

The work is no less complex than the original epic, however, the lattice of mediums here makes The Last Faust an vital addition to academic canon on Faustian mythology. As artificial intelligence inevitably creeps into the mainstream as will The Last Faust become a part of the educational curriculum for Generation AI.

 

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