BRUGES-LA-MORTE   1978   FEATURE   Prix de la Presse/ Ghent Film Fesvital 1980

From the novel by GEORGES RODENBACH



Three weeks after finishing the shoot for Lulu, Chase and the entire crew embarked for Belgium. The filming of Bruges-La-Morte was unusual even for an under-budgeted independent feature. Lack of funding meant the crew were required to pay their own transportation. Knowing the footage would be used for the NYC Opera’s production of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, the budget was augmented to allow for only a two week shoot.  Chase had prepared with two pre-production trips, arranging the locations and lodging for actors and crew.

In London, a friend of opera director Richard Perlman happened to run its largest casting company.  She felt an experience in a small film would be helpful for any of her rostrum of talent who had seldom acted in film. Chase was able to come up with a dozen—Anthony Daniels (C-3PO in Star Wars) and Nickolas Grace (Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited) were a couple of the young recruits making one of their first films. Richard Easton, the lead, was an old friend of Chase’s who had become well known in a British sitcom, and who volunteered to make the film as a favor. (His later career included a Tony award for The Invention of Love)  All the actors and the crew were paid equally — $100, plus room and board.  As the crew had recently finished another film (Lulu) they were working with maximum speed and harmony. The city of Bruges was almost deserted, though another film crew was filming on the other side of town (Paul Verhoeven with Katie Tippel). This meant little interference with any of the outdoor locations and the officials of all city departments that were asked to help with permits and permissions did so with enthusiasm.   

FESTIVALS: Rotterdam, Ghent, Liege, Antwerp

PRIX de la PRESSE Ghent 1980




In the late 1800's until the first world war Bruges was an escape for a certain type of romantic tourist.  The town had become almost deserted (the canals and waterways had dried up) and heavy fog and a feeling of sadness and despair hung over the city.  The English were especially drawn to Bruges, and often had a second house there.  A school of art called Symbolism was created by a small group of writers and artists surrounding the writer, Georges Rodenbach.  They gave Bruges the nickname - The Dead City.  The Symbolists believed in the power of dreams--they often felt dreams were filled with the real character of people, and were more truthful than waking life.  Rodenbach wrote:

“The essence of art that is at all noble is the DREAM, and this dream dwells only upon what is distant, absent, vanished, unattainable.” Georges Rodenbach

The artists James Ensor and Odilon Redon expressed many of the ideas of the symbolists. Ensor’s depictions of grotesque masks to reflect people's inner lives, and Redon’s misty landscapes inspired some of the visual motifs of the film.  A teenage composer, Eric Korngold,  was fascinated by the novel Rodenbach wrote in 1892, and adapted a libretto for his opera Die Tote Stadt. Chase’s collaboration with stage director, Frank Corsoro for the New York City Opera required footage to be shot on location in Bruges. The film was created from this footage.