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A perverted artist portrait?

The Artist & The Pervert
Regissør: Beatrice Behn og René Gebhardt

The documentary The Artist & The Pervert does not tell much about Georg Friedrichs Haas' microtonal contemporary music, but all the more about his sadomasochistic relationship with his wife.


Austrian Georg Friedrich Haas is one of the world's most recognized contemporary contemporary composers. His microtonal magnum opus In Vain (2000), which was written in response to the progress of far-right lawmakers in his homeland, is considered one of the first real masterpieces of the present century.

In December 2013, Haas sent a message to a woman on the dating site "OK Cupid", describing his desire to tame her. Her name was Mollena Williams – an American writer and so-called "kink educator" who was open about her submissive inclination. They met and found the tone, both in the sexual and other areas. Only two years later they were married.

In the sadomasochistic relationship, it now came across 60 year old Haas, who had three failed marriages behind him, gradually coming out of the closet as sexually dominant. The article "A Composer and His Wife: Creativity Through Kink," which appeared in print in the New York Times in February 2016, attracted a great deal of attention about the Williams-Haas couple.

Different artist portrait

With this starting point, it might not be that surprising The Artist & The Pervert is an artist portrait slightly out of the ordinary. The documentary gives an insight into Haas's merits as a composer, but focuses primarily on the love relationship – it seems obvious that it is based on just love – between Georg and Mollena and on how liberating it is for him, both personally and artistically.

A marriage where the woman of about 15 years is the man's submissive slave to all times of the day is in itself special enough. But here are several factors that make this potentially problematic – not least the fact that he is white and she black, in addition descended from African slaves. Haas is also a feminist and says that he has long had trouble accepting his sexual preference. It may be tempting to draw some psychological conclusions, given that his parents and grandparents were Nazis and that his upbringing was marked by physical punishment. (Haas's mother is interviewed in the film, but does not distance herself from any of the parts.) But, as Williams-Haas says in the documentary: If everyone who was beaten in childhood had developed a dominant sexuality, "vanilla sex" – " usual »sexual intercourse – have been the abnormal.

There is something clumsy about artists who "talk about the difficult time" in endless interviews.

Openness. The film itself is not particularly unconventional, though filmmakers Beatrice Behn and René Gebhardt – who have been filming the New York-based married couple for a year – are sprucing up the traditional "talking heads" with hints of animation and other playful grips.

The Artist & The Pervert focuses on various aspects of our culture of openness, without all the aspects necessarily being equally intentional on the part of the filmmakers. First and foremost, this is a movie about standing up and talking about taboo topics, which is obviously constantly needed – not least when it comes to sexuality and mental disorders. (The latter, however, does not appear to be particularly relevant to this couple, although Mollena is admittedly an alcoholic.)

When the film premiered at the documentary film festival in Thessaloniki this spring, with both filmmakers and the two main characters in attendance, Haas stated that he has only received positive reactions from the academic music community he is a part of. He also believed that the best way to end rumors was to actually come up with the truth – and therefore he considered it a smart, rather than courageous, act. To the festival's audience, the filmmakers also told the couple that they had the opportunity to remove scenes from the finished film, but they refused.

Too much information?

However, the film highlights both positive and negative comments posted under the said newspaper article, including statements like "50 shades of NO !!" and "I'm interested in microtonality, not bondage." And even though the film – respecting the circumstances – holds a respectful distance from the couple's intimate sphere, one gets the feeling of getting a little more information than one strictly needs about composer Haas. But maybe it's just healthy to taste their own stuffiness and conservatism.

Happiness has given Haas a considerable artistic redemption.

I should not hide the fact that I struggle a bit with certain aspects of the openness trend of the time, while at the same time I naturally see the importance of breaking down prejudice. And that people should live out their desires, as long as they do not harm others (unless they have consented to it, I might add). Equally, there is something stubborn about, for example, Norwegian artists who "talk about the difficult time" in endless interviews, often combined with participation in programs that Every time we meet. It is not always easy to differentiate between acceptance-creating openness, click-promoting journalism and covert marketing. And perhaps it is symptomatic that you no longer hear so many discussions about the presumably important distinction between the private and that personal, like you did a few years ago.

Refreshingly open-minded

Nevertheless The Artist & The Pervert a refreshingly open-minded portrait documentary, with a positive message of a kind of openness that seems to have been genuinely vital to Haas himself. The choice to stand out has also influenced his music, which is no longer characterized by what his spouse somewhat humorously mentions as "white men's typical gaiety about death". In the play Hyena (2016) he has even collaborated with Mollena – whom he refers to as his muse – as author and performer of libretto.

If anyone finds it difficult to separate Haas's life and work after having gained such in-depth knowledge of his "perverse" sexual life, they should at least know that his works are now made by a far happier man. And while many still cultivate the idea that the greatest art has its origin in pain (though not necessarily in the sadomasochistic sense), at least he himself seems to believe that this happiness has given him considerable artistic redemption.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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