A good documentary or biography should not only tell you about the subject that it examines, it should also tell you why the subject is worth examining. What was this person's contribution, and why was it greater than other people working in the field? The best documentaries, such as the Maysles brothers Salesman or the work of Ken Burns also come across as good drama. They both inform and entertain. Unfortunately Young Dr. Freud, a movie originally made for Austrian TV, doesn't manage to succeed in either aspect, though it certainly tries.
This film takes a look at Sigmund Freud from his earliest memories of moving to Vienna at the age of 4 until the time that he publishes his first book. The movie pays close attention to the events that had a strong impact on his life. It shows the anti-Semitism that he and his family faced through much of his life, his friendship with Dr. Breuer, and the marriage to his wife Martha. The movie shows his early career as a researcher in Vienna, and follows him on his sabbatical to France.
At various times in the movie, the narrative stops and Dr. Freud is questioned about the events that are taking place. Freud would talk to the director about what he was feeling, how something affected him, why he made certain friends, or what his opinions of his colleges were. In effect the movie attempts to psychoanalyze the father of psychoanalysis.
While this is an interesting idea, the movie doesn't succeed, in my opinion, for a variety of reasons. This biopic of the famous scientist is good in many respects; but you have to know a lot of about Dr. Freud fully appreciate the film. There isn't much information given on what Freud would eventually accomplish, or even a clear view of how he came to the conclusions that he reached. The movie shows the abominable state of mental health care at the time, and the primitive (and for the most part useless) methods that were used to treat patients, but it didn't show how they were changed due to his work. Dr. Breuer, not Freud, administered to the only person who was successfully treated in the whole movie. Not knowing a lot about Freud going into the movie, I was at a loss as to the importance of a lot of the scenes that were shown. Worse than that, I didn't learn a lot about the man because of this assumption that the viewer was familiar with his work. I went away feeling that Dr. Breuer was more instrumental in the development of psychoanalysis than Freud, an impression that I'm sure the creators didn't mean to give.
As a drama, the movie also failed to move me. It was hard to tell the passage of time. Several years could pass between scenes without any indication, and this was the cause of some confusion. It was also hard to see the impact of certain people in his life. There were mentors and colleagues that are introduced but, with the exception of his friend Dr. Breuer, their contribution and influence, if they had any, wasn't apparent. This movie is a series of events rather than a flowing narrative and because of this it came across as being jumbled and inconsistent. Some narratation to act as a segue from one scene to the next would have improved the movie greatly.
The strongest aspect of the moview was that the filmmakers clearly did their research and knew a lot about Freud. You can tell that they have a deep respect for him, but they manage to avoid the common pitfall of turning him into a saint though. They show him in a realistic light, struggling with his theories, worrying about money and how he is going to achieve greatness. They bring forth his human qualities and show him for what he most certainly was; a very intelligent, driven yet flawed human being.
The audio for this film was in the original German with burned in subtitles. I would have much preferred the subtitles to be removable, and I can only assume that Kino could not find a suitable print that didn't have the translation already burned into it. As for the quality of the audio, it wasn't very high. The mono soundtrack was very flat without much dynamic range. There was a fair amount of distortion, mainly in the louder parts, and there was some hiss present. Not a very satisfying soundtrack.
There is a statement on the back of the DVD case that warns about the video quality. "Due to the condition of the surviving film elements, there is some fluctuation in the picture quality of this release." That is true, it does vary, but even at its best this movie doesn't look very good. Though this movie was made in 1976, the defects made it look like a film from the 40's. There is a lot of grain in the black and white picture, and though this could be intentional, the specks and scratches that mar this print certainly weren't. The image is very soft, with everything having a hazy look to it, and there were several frames that were hearvily damaged. The detail is not great, and the contrast is only mediocre. I assume that this is a rare film and that Kino, which usually does an excellent job with their releases, couldn't find any better elements. Though I was able to watch the film without any trouble, it wasn't a high quality image.
There are no extras on this DVD.
Student of psychoanalysis and people more familiar with Freud will surely get more out of this movie than I did. The fatal flaw in this film is that you must have a good amount of knowledge about the subject matter in order to fully appreciate it. Due to my lack of information about Freud, I found the movie rather disjointed. The poor audio and video quality, though still a watchable disc, were a lot worse than I was expecting. Unless you are very interested in hearing one opinion on how Freud might analyze his own life, this DVD should be skipped.