utorak, 29. svibnja 2012.

Werner Schroeter - Lirične konvulzije u doba Herzoga i Fassbindera

Herzog, Fassbinder, Wenders... ok, slava im je zaslužena, no njihova je poetika ipak samo artističko-modernistička. Eksperimentalno-avangardnu frakciju te skupine predvodio je daleko manje poznat Werner Schroeter.

Werner Schroeter's Passion Plays 

The cinematic movement known as the New German Cinema is a famously rich and fertile one. Running from the early 1960s into the 80s, a group of now-canonic filmmakers like Wim Wenders, Volker Schlondorf, Werner Herzog, Margarethe Von Trotta and Rainer Werner Fassbinder made films at an often breakneck speed, due, in part, to support from the recently established German Federal Film Board. There were, of course, always idiosyncratic auteurs who occupied the same film scene but didn't fit in with this model of production, and didn't promose the national cinema the same crossover potential. This cultier sect included figures like Ulrike Ottinger, Rosa von Praunheim and Werner Schroeter. Unlike the filmmakers mentioned above, whose films were predominantly structured around arthouse conventions, which were somewhat modernist in their machinations, Ottinger, Praunheim and Schroeter leaned more towards the experimental. As such, Ottinger and Praunheim have, over the years, found rich followings in the contemporary art world and in queer, academic film studies. And now, finally, it would seem that Werner Schroeter's hour has arrived, as the Museum of Modern Art finally graces us with an exhaustive career-spanning retrospective, courtesy of the Munich Film Museum.
Fassbinder famously wrote, in 1979, of his colleague's cinema:
Werner Schroeter will one day have a place in the history of film that I would describe in literature as somewhere between Novalis, Lautrémont, and Louis Ferdinanad Céline; he was an 'underground' director for ten years, and they didn't want to let him slip out of that role... His films were given the convenient label of 'underground,' which transforms them in a flash into beautiful but exotic plants that bloomed so unusually and so far away that basically one couldn't be bothered with, and therefore wasn't supposed to bother with them. And that's precisely as wrong as it is stupid. Werner Schroeter's films are not far away; they are beautiful but not exotic. On the contrary.

Schroeter's cinema is a studied mélange, fusing the seemingly associative nature of avant-garde film production with the exquisite, aesthetic rigor of German theatre or opera forms. His cinema speaks through its often breathtaking images. Schroeter was a timeless aesthete with the ability to traverse a full range of extravagant epochs in a singular frame, while remaining defiantly trained on the contemporary. His panache for the excessive and the hysterical nature he commanded of his performers gave way to a new brand of melodrama and an unprecedented potential for allegory in the cinema. Rather fittingly, his most famous film recounts the intense life and death of famed opera singer Maria Malibran, a headstrong mezzo-soprano who literally sang herself to death. In that film (Der Tod der Maria Maliban, 1971), historical affectations slip into contemporary tableaus, in scenes featuring Fassbinder regular (and first wife), Ingrid Caven and a pistol-toting Candy Darling. His early, breakthrough work defined an aesthetic that would in large part characterize Schroeter's career (the filmmaker died in 2010), which brings a contemporary, open-ended structural approach to more mannered or classically Romantic imagery, replete with languid pacing and those histrionic performance styles (a read exemplified by films like Malibran, Eika Katappa and Argila, both 1969). So, it's nice to see that the diversity of films in this program showcase Schroeter's breadth of vision, featuring more wily and often looked-over gems like Der Bomberpilot (1970, in which a trio of women move to America in order to become feminists, after their involvement in the Nazi party comes to an obvious dead end at the close of World War II) or the Southern California wasteland cult of Willow Springs (1972).
Joining Schroeter for many of his illustrious journeys, was the elegant and exceptional Magdalena Montezuma, a leading lady of the most experimental and Germanic variety. Starring in nearly all of Schroeter's films until her death of cancer at 41, Montezuma was an unrivaled muse, the filmmaker's Malibran, but also his surrogate—his King Herod, even his Macbeth (she would play the Lady role, respective of her sex, but that was for another adaptation by Schroeter's contemporary, and former lover, Rosa von Praunheim). Her final film with Schroeter, Der Rosenkonig (1984), is billed as a directorial collaboration. It was devised and shot in haste (in Hans Christian Andersen's former Portuguese estate, with the help of Pedro Costa), as the ailing Montezuma hoped to exact her desire to "die on set." Such was her ardor and so brightly does the film glow with a radiance of vision, of love and of life. Interestingly, it is also Schroeter's most explicitly homosexual affair. After the death of Montezuma (who endured another two weeks after Der Rosenkonig wrapped), the only actress who would broach this type of collaborative intensity with the director was Isabelle Huppert, who starred in two of the three features Schroeter would complete after Montezuma's death, 1991's Malina and 2002's Deux.
During the heyday of the New German Cinema, Schroeter never accepted money from the Film Board, preferring, instead to independently finance his films, in order to maintain complete artistic control. This spirit of defiance worked to alienate many who would have helped these smoldering works see the light of day. The films of Werner Schroeter are some of the most artfully minded cinematic impressions ever captured. It's no surprise that a retrospective took so long to execute. The cult of Schroeter is a rabid, zealous and, ultimately a masochistic one. Because of this singularity of vision, however, it is also no surprise that these passion plays have returned to our shores for the first time in 20 years and are revealing themselves, upon closer inspection, to be not only wild and flamboyant by design, but ultimately innately human and instinctual. As Fassbinder understood at the time of his writing, they are primal. Far, far from exotic.

"Lovers of cinema faced a double surprise in the early seventies. First, they discovered the revival of a German cinema stricken by twelve years of nazism and a quarter century of a lack of inspiration. The rare exceptions standing out against that disaster came from the return of the migrants who had fled from National Socialism (Fritz Lang, Peter Lorre, Robert Siodmak), from a French couple taking refuge beyond the Rhine river (Huillet-Straub) or from a German who distinguished himself in French cinema (Volker Schlöndorff).
All of a sudden, the ghosts came back in the country of Goethe and Schumann.
That surprise was double when it became apparent that a handful of young people with huge talent were the artisans of that resurrection. Their films made the great hours of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. And, in five years, those artists became known to the world: Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Rainer Fassbinder…
It was more complicated for the unclassifiable Werner Schroeter.

His first works had things in common with the avant-garde, or even with the underground, body language images in a hieratic choregraphy, formal experiments on a double screen, and very early the collusion of electric musics on the soundtrack. But something else beats, still undefinable in its great beauty, the sense of lyrical and convulsion, which was confirmed by his first masterpiece: Eika Kapatta, admirable fresco of poetry, in which the games of death and love were confronted to the mythologies of Germanic and Italian cultures in a collage of beautiful images, graved in a enchanting fluidity or thrown in wacky pileups. And thus on a symphony of sounds, in which opera crashed into popular music… The outcome was sensations that made those who were grasped by this environment cross the mirrors.
But that “movie-opera” was only a beginning. For Werner Schroeter proved himself to be a wonderful subversive machine producing beauty, embezzling Shakespeare (Macbeth) and Oscar Wilde (Salomé) without betraying them, questioning the past of his country in a game of burlesque, grotesque and picturesque (Der Bomber Pilot) or slimming down a criminal ordinary case (Willow Springs).
And then was The Death of Maria Malibran that fools labeled as kitsch because of its cast composed of transvestites whereas it was a relentless ménage à trois bsuccess etween theatre, cinema and musics (opera and others). Love, death, movement, the perfect marriage of monstruosities and Gods… The mysticism of the beautiful…
But the narrative maniacs lost themselves into those floods of narration excluding recognizable codes. Without bending to the easy complacency of an illustrative story, Schroeter reached the empirical territory of history with normality only in appearance, but conquered equally as a barbaric pirate and a civilized aesthete, with also an irrefutable ideological ethic. Then the Neapolitan family portraits came, from war to the Seventies (The Reign of Naples), as well as the description of an asylum for women (Day of the Idiots), the ordeal of a Sicilian in industrial Germany (Palermo or Wolfsburg), the throes of a novelist in crisis (Malina) and, in the end, alas, the bitter journey of a foiled revolutionary (This Night).
Restricting himself to a field seemed draining, suffocating to him. In parallel, he staged operas and plays, adapted Panizza to the cinema and shuffled the cards with more experimental films (The Rose King). Only counted for him that tragical quest toward the acceptance convulsions of love -both revealing and hopeless in death. To that effect, This Night is an aghast journey in the zone of agony and murder, a film noir… Borges reviewed by Goodis and Brecht, the work of a man with a magical imagination, but aware of the political reality. And it’s logical since there is another exploration with Schroeter, who is additionally an archipelago with different appearances but all coming from the same continent… He broached several times the documentary essay, without compromising the magnificent originality of his style in the commission. Whether he films Argentina, Philippines, a theatre company, a performing arts festival or the lessons of bel canto given by old opera singers, his obsession for miserable grace, as the happiness broken by a well too strong passion of love, impossible or just reduced, or the heartbreaking deaths of infinite beauty, a tremendous soul remains buried within his work…
The one of a great visionary, not so far from Rimbaud and Lautreamont…" - Noel Simsolo

 Of all films, Palermo oder Wolfsburg (1980) aka Palermo or Wolfsburg – a kraut neo-Neorealist epic by German New Cinema dandy Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Day of the Idiots) – brought me back to my early childhood at a crucial and insightful point in my life when I realized the immense differences between cultures and the inherent impossibility of two very different groups being able to reconcile their innate cultural and ethnic differences. When I was in kindergarten, I started a fairly long friendship that would endure for about a decade (until I moved and rarely saw him again) with a fiery and flamboyant fellow named Phil whose mother was a Spanish-Cuban immigrant and whose father was Sicilian-American. Naturally, being of purely Mediterranean family, Phil had a strong Catholic background, despite the fact that he was basically a born psychopath who learned to unscrupulously lie, cheat, steal and aggressively hit on girls before he learned to tie his shoes. Anyway, although I considered him my best friend and vice versa, I will never forget the time when one of his Cuban friends came to town and immediately turned Phil into a totally different person from who I thought I knew, or at least from the person he always was in the most pure day-to-day form, while in the close company of cultural and racial compatriots. Practically speaking another language and with his breakneck linguistic rhythms and bombastic body language at a speed that would put to shame the gayest of effortlessly effete homo Negros, my friend carried on with his Cuban comrade as if reuniting with his long lost doppelgänger like I was in some real-life science fiction movie, so naturally I was rather enraged, but I inevitably realized at that point in my life that human being tends to get along best with people like themselves and such is certainly the case in Werner Schroeter’s Palermo or Wolfsburg; a film about a young Sicilian peasant who moves from Palmero, Sicily to Wolfsburg, West Germany to financially support his impoverished family. Like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Katzelmacher (1969) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), Helma Sanders-Brahms’ TV-movie Shirins Hochzeit (1976) aka Shirin’sWedding, and the German era films of Iranian auteur Sohrab Shaheed Salles (Empfänger unbekannt aka Addressee Unknown, Rosen für Afrika aka Roses for Africa), Palermo or Wolfsburg was one of the first German films to deal with the still-taboo topic of Aryan-Ausländer relations, lost-in-translation communication (or lack thereof), and the oftentimes deleterious effects of culture shock. Despite being only a couple minutes shy of three hours in length (although the original cut was apparently eight hours!), Palermo or Wolfsburg also happens to be Schroeter’s most accessible film and would earn the auteur the prestigious Golden Bear at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival, thereupon making him the first actual kraut auteur to win the award. Of course, as someone of partial Polish ancestry (his grandmother was a Polish aristocrat) whose cinematic works tended to be poorly received in his own country, hence one of the major reasons as to why he tended to work and live abroad, Schroeter must have felt a deep sense of satisfaction winning the Golden Bear for Palermo or Wolfsburg; an aesthetically and thematically antagonistic film that depicts the German Fatherland as a gloomy loony bin full of latent racists and softcore slave drivers. Featuring various theatric depictions of Jesus Christ, including iconic scenes of the Last Supper and his inevitable Crucifixion, Palermo or Wolfsburg is an audaciously allegorical tale where a wide-eyed Italian boy becomes a modern day Christ figure in a semi-cryptic cinematic tribute to Italian Renaissance Man Pier Paolo Pasolini (Mamma Roma, The Gospel According to Matthew) from his Slavic-Germanic spiritual son Werner Schroeter.

Like his previous feature-length cinematic effort Neapolitanische Geschichten (1978) aka The Kingdom of Naples, Palermo or Wolfsburg is a narrative-driven melodrama with a subversive socially conscious soul that was shot on 35mm film stock and follows the sad and tragic lives of Southern Italians, specifically that of a simpleminded Sicilian boy named Nicola (played by non-actor Nicola Zarbo in the tradition of Italian Neorealism) with a mustache who bears a striking physical and psychological resemblance to the character Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite (2004). With no work to be found in the Sicilian city of Palermo, and with a belligerent boozer for a father, naïve Nicola has no choice but to move to the young and sparsely populated (the city did not exceed 100,000 people until 1972) German city of Wolfsburg – the headquarters of the Volkswagen AG automobiles – so his family does not starve to death. Despite the overwhelming poverty of the collective populous of Palermo, everyone seems quite happy and has a deep and instinctive attachment to culture, tradition, religion, and – most of all – family in an ancient realm where little boys give singing solos while standing on top of a piano as grownups cheer him own, children are taught about famous Italian opera composers like Vincenzo Bellini, people ritualistically honor their dead ancestors, and the Catholic church plays a major part in their lives. In fact, before going to Germany, Nicola talks to a priest (real-life Catholic holy man Padre Pace) who warns him that German's, “moral standards are not up to ours,” that family is the most important thing in a man’s life, and to stay out of trouble in the foreign land, especially in regard to women as tragedies based in petty manners are often brought about by the fairer sex. Nicola probably should have taken heed of the padre’s wise advice as his immigration to Wolfsburg ultimately results in the total ruin of his life. A long but endlessly enthralling celluloid epic that, not unlike the films of Stanley Kubrick, is separated into three different major parts – Nicola’s life in Sicily, his hectic and humiliating life in Germany, and eventual trial for murdering two German boys – Palermo or Wolfsburg is a completely charming and captivating yet tragic tale about one man’s personal demise in a strange land where no one understands the meaning of ‘la dolce vita.’

Poverty might be a serious problem among the populous of Palermo, but it seems to pale in comparison to the social alienation, cultural degeneracy, and technocratic tyranny of Wolfsburg; a place featuring a number of gigantic and glaring Volkswagen signs that are quite symbolic of the city’s reigning corporatism and materialistic post-cultural modernism. Only a couple minutes after getting off the train upon arriving in Wolfsburg, Nicola is immediately hassled by some cops for apparently walking where he should not be, thus ushering a series of cultural mishaps and miscommunications that will lead to irrational murder and mayhem. Not knowing a single word of Deutsch, the Sicilian stranger has a hard time navigating around the city. Nicola plans to stay at his cousin’s apartment house and when he actually finds the location after a numbers of hours aimlessly wandering around, his kinsman’s German wife has him thrown out because, after all, none of her relatives leech off of her. Given 20 marks by his cuckold of a cuz, Nicola attempts to find an Italian-run hotel that accepts down-and-out guidos, but gets lost and decides to burn the little money he has for the hell of it in a display of irrational cognitive dissonance and subsequently beds down in a bush. The next day, Nicola discovers love at first sight in the form of a blonde, grey-eyed beauty named Brigitte Hahn (Brigitte Tilg; another non-actor in her sole movie role) – a teenage quasi-tomboy who works as a mechanic – who recommends that the Sicilian boy go to a nearby bar owned by a feisty Italian woman named Giovanna (Ida di Benedetto) who will ultimately act as the lad’s Mother (Mary) figure. Of course, it does not take long for Nicola to be hassled by two German lads sporting punk/New Wave threads – the true love interests of Brigitte – who describe the down-and-out Sicilian boy as a “dago” and claim he is, “from Planet of the Apes,” and that “he came with a suitcase full of garlic,” being a dirty Italian and all. Luckily, Nicola also befriends a group of fellow Italians from Sardinia, who describe him as, “another victim” who has come to work and live like a dog as an unwanted guest worker in Deutschland. The Sardinians also warn Nicola about German women, stating, “this German girl had three Italians. She has a baby from each of them, she’s very free. Her life is centered on her kids and not her husband…she wants money for the children,” because “she’s a free woman” aka welfare queen who leaches off the state and the hard earned cash of poor immigrant workers. After getting a job at Volkswagen, Nicola finally feels like he is moving up in the world as he has money and is in love, but all good things must come to an end and uncontrollable factors, coupled with the Sicilian’s childish naiveté, lead the young man to a crime of passion spurred by a broken heart. Naturally, it will be a German woman, as prophesized by Nicola's priest, who will be the source of simple Sicilian's fateful demise.

It becomes quite obvious early on in Palermo or Wolfsburg that Nicola’s nefarious love interest Brigitte is a heartless sadist when she smiles in a self-satisfied manner after inspiring a bloody bar fight between Italians Nicola and pub owner Giovanna and the German boys who are vying for her attention, thus foreshadowing the two murders that will occur at the hands of the humble man who made the inauspicious mistake of moving to a foreign land. Of course, more sinister than the German characters in the film is the Volkswagen Corporation – originally founded in 1937 by the Nazi trade union, the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront) – which is portrayed throughout Palermo or Wolfsburg in a ominous manner as a symbol of Germany’s National Socialist past that still dominates today. In fact, the VW logo is featured throughout the film as a surrogate for the swastika (a militant drum-driven ‘Nazi Death March’ even plays whenever the Aryan automobile icon appears) that is presented in an insidious and ill-boding manner akin to how the Nazi symbol is presented in Hollywood anti-Nazi propaganda films, thus making it no coincidence that the protagonist of Palermo or Wolfsburg hails from Italy; a minor power that allied with the Third Reich in a slavish and groveling manner in a master-slave relationship that still continues today via corporate power.

Undoubtedly, the final act of Palermo or Wolfsburg is the most Schroeter-esque segment of the entire film as it features dissonant, surrealist, absurdist, and sometimes operatic tableaux, highly hermetic symbolism, an ambiguous ending, and other wildly idiosyncratic elements that one would expect from the renegade New German Cinema auteur. Despite being nearly impossible to follow in some parts, bar owner Giovanna delivers testimony regarding protagonist Nicola that essentially sums up the tone and message of Palermo or Wolfsburg that goes as follows: “Since the day he arrived I have watched over him like my brother. He brought the life of my homeland with him. And I didn’t want to see him destroyed in this land without light, without sun, without song and without chatter.” Answering the title questions “Palermo or Wolfsburg,” it is most apparent that Nicola should have stayed at his hometown, as he may have remained poor, but he still had everything worth living for; friends, family, culture, and religion and would have lived out the rest of his life in happiness and relative freedom. Totally vulnerable in a hostile land where material gain, nonsensically bureaucratic law & order, and corporate security are more valued than family and kultur, and social alienation, especially in regard to foreigners, is the norm, Nicola – a totally unsuspecting and less than intelligent (even, arguably borderline retarded) fellow – was bound to explode, it was just a matter of when and where. As cosmopolitan and worldly as a person could be as someone who spent their childhood attending international schools and living the majority of his life abroad, director Werner Schroeter was someone who truly understood the cultural and racial chaos that is multiculturalism and globalization. Part culturally rich and transcendental Italian neo-Neorealist flick, part gloomy anti-capitalist New German Cinema flick, and part super surrealist Schroeter operatic montage, Palermo or Wolfsburg is an unpretentious yet meticulously assembled arthouse masterpiece that manages to charmingly synthesize all the best elements of post-WWII Occidental cinema in a feverishly foreboding film that warns about the very probable suicide of culturally devitalized Europa via corporate-led globalization, thus making it worthy of any serious lover of culture and/or cinephile's time.  - Soiled Sinema

An aesthetically audacious and asynchronous cinematic symphony of the positively plush and perversely prestigious sort, Eika Katappa (1969) directed by dandy auteur Werner Schroeter (Der Bomberpilot, Malina) is indubitably one of the landmark works of New German Cinema. An innately and intentionally anachronistic and allegorical work combining high camp and cleverly concocted kitsch with seemingly discordant opera and pop rock music, as well as thematically schizophrenic audio-visual synchronization, including a superlatively monomaniacal and somewhat mystical tribute to world renowned opera singer Maria Callas and delightfully degenerate takes on Norse mythology, Eika Katappa would ultimately win the decidedly dapper director the Joseph von Sternberg prize for “the most idiosyncratic film” at the 1969 Mannheim Film Festival, which is no small achievement considering it was Schroeter’s first feature-length film. At 144 minutes in length, Eika Katappa  is also a work of eccentrically epic proportions. A terribly torrid, tragic, trying, and sometimes even titillating collection of theatrical tableaux without any stages but the ruins of Europa as a border-less coliseum of effete excess and campy cultural decay, Eika Katappa, like most great cinematic art pieces, is indubitably a strikingly and singularly self-indulgent work by a true auteur filmmaker who clearly cares more about his own ostentatious obsessions than whether or not the viewer can catch up with him. Virtually impossible to see outside of Germany until relatively recently when it was thankfully restored and released by Filmmuseum München (who owned the only copies of the film on 16mm, which were screened only sporadically over the past couple decades in various obscure cinémathèques) in late 2010 with the imperative help of director Werner Schroeter (who passed away shortly before the actual release of the dvd), Eika Katappa is a rare work that managed to redefine and reinvent the artistic medium of cinema in a way not seen since the days of F.W. Murnau and Carl Th. Dreyer. Described by German New Wave master of melodrama Rainer Werner Fassbinder as a film he would have liked to have made in an interview with the German edition of Playboy magazine (April 1978, 53-68), as well as one of “the most beautiful” films of its post-WWII Teutonic zeitgeist, Eika Katappa would also inspire Schroeter’s film director friend to borrow his aesthetic and his muse Magdalena Montezuma for The Niklashausen Journey (1970), albeit with a patently political twist (Schroeter, like his friend/ex-lover Daniel Schmid and unlike most filmmakers of his era, rejected politics and escaped in aestheticism). Of course, as Fassbinder soon learned, it is most impossible to imitate Schroeter’s somber and supremely sagacious cinematic soul. A poesy pictorial of Schroeter’s inner pandemonium of lingering lost loves, nagging ghosts, and nauseating and sometimes nefarious nostalgia, Eika Katappa – a cinematic work not without its fair share of humorous haunts and hypnotic hells – is the closest thing to a celluloid dirge saga because it not only reminiscences over the byproducts of the director’s failed romantic affairs, but also classical European kultur of yesteryear, if only in an aggressively aestheticist fashion of taking a couple ingredients and sacrificing the rest for the best.

If any cinematic artist found his own metaphysical spiritual icon in Saint Sebastian, especially Guido Reni’s quasi-homoerotic high-baroque painting of the camp/Christian martyr, more than gentleman Jarman and far-right Japanese nationalist novelist Yukio Mishima, it was mostly certainly Werner Schroeter as ritualistically depicted in a number of sacrificial scenes from Eika Katappa; a sensual celluloid work more in touch with the secret of the soul than the abstract mind. Of course, Schroeter’s scantly clad St. Sebastian is an emaciated blond twink who looks more like he died from anorexia than from some royal Roman arrows, but such is the highly personally stylized cinematic world of Werner Schroeter; an auteur filmmaker who authored his own cinematic language of sorts, hence the intrinsically impenetrable essence of his films. As with virtually all of his early films, Schroeter's unmistakable muse Magdalena Montezuma (Day of the Idiots, Freak Orlando) is indisputably the star diva of Eika Katappa as a modern silent screen starlet and a curiously charismatic chameleon of celluloid who, like most of the actors in the film, ceaselessly changes from character-to-character and even different sexes throughout the work, including depicting an extra deranged drag king version of Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and a Gothic heroin chic take on buxom blonde Brünnhilde from the ancient Germanic Nibelungenlied. In Eika Katappa love, death, sacrifice and tragedy are perennial yet positively preposterously portrayed in a series of absurdly theatrical scenarios, thus many characters act as both morbid merrymakers and martyrs in a tidal wave of operatic tragicomedic allegory set to the intentionally asynchronous sounds of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (1853) and Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (1900). Although never depicted in any sort of literal light, the archetypical homosexual, especially in the context of Schroeter himself, is ultimately portrayed a symbol of eternal martyrdom in Eika Katappa as a Christ-like figure doomed to lifelong unhappiness, heartbreak, and innate social heresy. As Schroeter wrote in a synopsis for the seventh act of Eika Katappa, with the “history of two lovely young men, loving each other desperately,” the director brings abstract allegorical meaning to King dandy Oscar Wilde’s treacherous boy toy’s Lord Alfred Douglas’ famous phrase, “the love that dare not speak its name,” a theme that was taken to a much darker and serious extreme in Der Rosenkönig (1986) aka The Rose King where both Saint Sebastian and Jesus Christ act as homoerotic symbols of ostensibly macabre torture and martyrdom. Of course, Greek soprano Maria Callas’ spirit weighs heavily on the overall aesthetically erratic essence of Eika Katappa, so much so that Schroeter inserted a still portrait of the diva at various points throughout the film that is most prominently displayed at the very conclusion of the overwhelming cinematic work in a gesture that is no doubt a noble tribute from one artist to another as a film that could have never been conceived without the singer's imperative influence on the filmmaker at a young and fragile age. Interestingly, Werner Schroeter himself also appears at the conclusion of Eika Katappa directing his handsome yet melancholy Mediterranean star, thus unveiling the artist behind the highly personal and insanely idiosyncratic piece of celluloid art.

It is worth noting that Schroeter’s filmmaker friend Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed a film entitled Gods of the Plague (1970) aka Götter der Pest where a character speaks the line "Life is very precious, even right now," which is spoken repeatedly throughout Eika Katappa; a celluloid collection of shattered fragments from the auteur filmmaker’s cinematically self-sanctified soul. Indeed, as Fassbinder once wrote, “Werner Schroeter will one day have a place in the history of film that I would describe in literature as somewhere between Novalis, Lautréamont, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline,” as a filmmaker whose vision and need to expression the seemingly inexplicable was always more important to him whether or not his films where even remotely accessible or financially profitable among general audiences, which, as time has proven, they are most certainly not. Similar to his previous but much shorter film Argila (1969) in aesthetic and sentiment, Eika Katappa is a figurative celluloid wound dripping with allegorical memories from beginning to end in the form of penetrating petite vignettes that inordinately obfuscate the personal with anachronistic aesthetic ingredients from both past and present in an intentionally anti-synchronal yet unfamiliarly harmonious manner. A hypnotic yet equally harrowing and humorous hermetic celluloid hybrid of high and low Occidental kultur, Eika Katappa – aside from being a collection of director Werner Schroeter’s personal romantic recollections and aesthetic obsessions – is, whether intentional or not on the filmmaker’s part, acts as cinematic obsequies for the Occident itself. A chaotic celluloid storm of what was once and will never be again, Eika Katappa is just as reflexive of Europe as a whole as Schroeter’s own intimate love affairs.  Released at the height of politically motivated peace and love campaigns in the then-wanton West, Eika Katappa stands the test of time because Werner Schroeter – an apolitical indulger in aestheticism – assembled a timeless cinematic work that is just as universal thematically as it is aesthetically, even as an unwaveringly acroamatic arthouse film.  - Soiled Sinema

Eika Katappa:

If anything remotely resembling a Nazisploitation flick was ever sired by a filmmaker of German New Cinema, it is most certainly dandy auteur Werner Schroeter’s salacious yet satirical exercise in swastika excess, Der Bomberpilot (1970) aka The Bomber Pilot—a wanton work about three exceedingly eccentric revue divas that make up a National Socialist cabaret that has about as much respect for historical reality as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) and The Gestapo's Last Orgy (1977). Of course, unlike the average, rather worthless and aesthetically nauseating Nazisploitation flick, Der Bomberpilot is a bawdy piece of high-camp celluloid that, not unlike naughty Nazi-themed arthouse flicks like The Damned (1969) directed by Luchino Visconti and Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974), albeit to a more heightened degree, wallows in aesthetic indulgence and kinky yet cultivated kitsch, and contains a certain perverse passion for misery and tragedy that would put National Socialist auteur Veit Harlan to shame. A decadent and disconcerting work that features a titillating trio of sensual yet scatterbrained Nazi cabaret performers who face personal struggle and crisis after the annihilation of the Third Reich and decide to see how they will fair in the racially mongrelized USA, Der Bomberpilot is a rare Nazi-themed film that quite literally makes nil mention of concentration camps, Jews, or Nazi war crimes, but instead acts as a sort of apolitical and operatic, tableau-ridden equivalent to works like The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) or Germany, Pale Mother (1980) in its depiction of the Nazi wartime and Adenauer eras. An audaciously anarchistic and anachronistic cinematic work featuring a variety of eclectic songs from Verdi, Strauss, the musical West Side Story, Bruckner, Sibelius, Elvis, Richard Wagner, and various German and American pop songs of the 1960s, Der Bomberpilot is a wonderfully vexing variegation of discordant and oftentimes disposed of aesthetic ingredients from the post-holocaust ash heap of history that makes no excuses for completely ignoring the less flattering yet most infamous facts of German mid-twentieth century history all together. For example, one of the female protagonists of Der Bomberpilot sings a version of the racially charged Johann Strauss II waltz “Wiener Blut” ('Viennese Blood' or 'Viennese Spirit'), yet Schroeter’s intentionally tainted version of the song is all the more ‘nazifed’ and concludes with the rather telling line: “What’s done is done…The past is past…One doesn’t discuss it…” A ridiculously wayward piece of campy celluloid revisionist history of the thankfully quite reprehensible sort, Der Bomberpilot is Werner Schroeter at his best and most blatant as a work, not unlike most of his oeuvre, that stresses aesthetic refinement of both high and lowbrow kultur over 'official' historical reality, as well as kitschy tableau over a linear storyline. Forget a bunch of pedantic professors and jailed and elderly historical revisionists like Ernst Zündel, Der Bomberpilot—with its rather ridiculous and raunchy Nazi revue girls that are in stark comparison to what everyone thinks they know about the Third Reich—is the real road for Germans and other Europeans to take back their history as an exaggerated anti-tribute to National Socialist kitsch and the culture-less American conquerors who destroyed it and replaced it with piss poor pseudo-Kulturscheisse.

 As three beauteous yet erotically bodacious ladies who salute the swastika flag in a totally disorderly and narcissistic, half-nude fashion in devilish black and red corsets and black fishnet stockings, it is amazing the lewd and lecherous ladies of Der Bomberpilot have yet to be detained indefinitely in a concentration camp for their less than Aryanness-like ways. When wild child Mascha (played Mascha Rabben of Roland Klick’s Deadlock (1970), Robert van Ackeren’s Harlis (1972), and Fassbinder’s World on a Wire (1973))—a feisty redhead who likes to get buck naked in the woods as a sort of nymphomaniac Nazi fairy who is far too untamed to belong to any official Wandervogel group, let alone be a member of the League of German Maidens—has a heated nervous breakdown that seems more like a childish temper tantrum of the superlatively selfish sort, the three hot and hedonistic divas have to quit their dream jobs as campy cabaret girls and go somewhat 'underground' in Nazi Germany. The other two luxurious ladies of the three person risqué Reich are Magdalena (Schroeter’s muse Magdalena Montezuma)—the aunt of Mascha and the most ‘professional’ and mature one in the group—and Carla (early Schroeter regular Carla Egerer of Eika Katappa (1969) and Fassbinder’s Pioneers in Ingolstadt (1971)), who is a tiny blonde beastess who is constantly plagued by personal tragedy and heartbreak due to her weakness for Viennese choirboys. While Mascha and Magdalena receive jobs as ‘church restorers’ who paint religious temples with Fidus-esque völkisch kitsch art, Carla splits off from the group and goes to Sopot to star in a Viennese tragedy and work at a pastry shop, where she faces personal tragedy after a gentleman caller (played by Schroeter himself) commits suicide after she blows him off. After Magdalena hears on the radio that “Our Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen in war,” she attempts suicide via drowning herself in a lake, but by happenstance, her nubile, nature-loving niece Mascha spots her in the act and saves her life as a hilarious song plays in the background, with the lyrics, “...that an angel can be black? Many small negroes look pleadingly at you. Whether we are rich or poor we will all die. That shows that we’re all the same when we stand at heaven’s door.” Indubitably, the strangely seductive song lyrics seem to be a premonition of sorts, as the erotic enfant terrible trio eventually decide to go to the multicultural United States of America and try their lot at racial integration mixed with Teutonism after smoking a filtered marijuana cigarette. 

 After the Second World War, the three gals take jobs as stenographers and attend a Bruckner concert where they debate a possible move to American, but Carla, “can only think back to the successes of 1943, to the Viennese operetta, with the choir boys.” Carla's statement is especially telling as it shows her total ignorance to history because during the beginning of February 1943, the German army was defeated during the Battle of Stalingrad and the 6th Army had completely capitulated, thus marking the beginning of the end for the Third Reich. Young Mascha is convinced that women’s liberation, writing manifestos, and America are the way of the future, stating to her friends, “We three, who went through so much in Adolf Hitler’s Reich, we could certainly formulate a manifesto and as a lecture series at a college or an American university, for the concept of Germanism…combined with racial integration…and recreate it for ourselves.” Of course, the three have clearly never seen Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977) and as Carla states, “in sheer desperation, after breakfast we smoked a filtered marijuana cigarette and saw the possibilities of racial integration in a new light” and thus decided to immigrate to the Negrophiliac USA as visiting teachers to “stake their claim.” Although initially suspected of being communists as many foreigners in the U.S. were at that time, the group’s “credibility was undermined” after a German-American cook gave Nazi era pictures of the wild women during their “best days” to the American media, but it is ultimately “Mascha’s affair with a bomber pilot” that puts an end to their residence permit. Due to their rejection in the ‘land of the free’ and philistines, the girls decide to embrace their past and get back into the cabaret act at an American officers' club in Landshut, albeit for the exploitative pleasure of American occupying forces, where Carla performs opera solos with filmmaker Daniel Schmid (Tonight or Never, La Paloma)—the one-time lover and lifelong friend of Werner Schroeter who also acted as the assistant director for Der Bomberpilot—on piano and another one as a transsexual sailor in the style of Genet’s Querelle, Magalena does a topless and seemingly possessed ‘snake dance,’ and the three do kitschy avant-garde cabaret acts with mannequins. Unfortunately, all good things come to end and after Mascha’s Amerikkkan bomber pilot boyfriend does the unthinkable by boning Carla, thereupon getting her pregnant which ends in a miscarriage that plagues her with a bad hip, the cabaret trio is tragicomedically crushed, thus signaling the total end for naughty Nazi revue girls everywhere in a world now dominated by American hegemony and the cult of multiculturalism. 

 Assuredly one of Werner Schroeter’s most accessible, if not typically aesthetically and thematically discordant, works, Der Bomberpilot also happens to be one of his most distinctly ‘German,’ if rather reluctantly so, as well as (a)political works, as a carnal and campy kitsch piece that contradicts the Allies' version of history (as well as the Nazi version) through the exaggeratedly wacky and wanton antics of three politically ignorant girls whose sole passion is being highly desirable divas in spite of what regime happens to reign where they live. After one of the girls confesses after their failed attempt of freedom in the land of the free, “Our past also proved unfortunate during the legal proceedings, in which we were accused of almost everything. An auto-da-fé,” thus demonstrating the unmentioned social repression Germans faced due to the fact that they have Aryan blood (or in Carla’s case, “Viennese Blood”). Indeed, the girls, especially Carla, cannot get over their nostalgia for the Nazi era, but not because of the slaughtering of Jews or their experiences as former Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) girls, but because they found personal happiness via past romantic flings. A trio of tragic philistines, the three women, being self-centered exhibitionists at stark contrast with the martial order of the Third Reich, are nothing more than mere victims of circumstances who, despite their decided decadence and hyper hedonism, ironically face more persecution from the 'peace-spreading' Americans than the authoritarian Aryans, thus acting in antagonistic contradiction, albeit in a cleverly campy form, to the ‘official’ history of the Second World War, thus making Schroeter's Der Bomberpilot, aside from the Wagernian celluloid epics of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King, Hitler: A Film from Germany), one of the most politically subversive works of German New Cinema as a film that makes nil groveling apologies for the infamous legacy of the Third Reich, but, instead, seeks to discredit history altogether via preposterous personalization of through three women who care more about their hair than how many Jews Uncle Adolf had liquidated in Auschwitz.

 Originally made for television, Der Bomberpilot was apparently a huge hit among kraut leftists, but director Werner Schroeter, who was not a huge fan of the film himself, was rather apathetic by the positive response to his subversive Nazi revue girl flick, even if it stands, at least in my opinion, as one of the most underrated and relatively unconventional films in the filmmaker’s cinematic oeuvre as an incendiary indictment of American's fond memory of turning the Fatherland into its cuckold bitch boy.  Indeed, it's no coincidence that an American bomber pilot sexually defiles two of the girls in Der Bomberpilot, even symbolically severely injuring one of the girl's wombs after suffering a miscarriage caused by the alien seed of what would have been a racial bastard of a baby, as America has yet to recognize its never discussed war crimes of firebombing the cities of Dresden and Hamburg—an act with no military objective that was done solely to kill large percentages of the German civilian population—which like the holocaust, Schroeter makes no mention of in the film.  Indeed, it is no coincidence that towards the end of his career that Schroeter would direct the documentary Die Königin - Marianne Hoppe (2000) aka The Queen—a documentary about the bisexual German actress Marianne Hoppe who was quite popular during the Third Reich due to her perceived Nordic beauty—as the subject of the film, not unlike the protagonists of Der Bomberpilot, was a victim of circumstance and her own genetic pulchritude who, despite her personal disdain for the Third Reich and lecherous libertine lifestyle and affinity for degenerate art, would always be remembered as a 'Nazi actress,' just as Schroeter would suffer the undesirable fate of being regarded as a post-Nazi 'German director.' In fact, Schroeter even once went so far as stating, “I have no intention whatsoever of playing a leading part [in the New German Cinema], and submit to the expectations of producing Kulturscheisse [literally, Cultureshit], even if it may be true that I carry around with me and into my films the past of this Kulturscheisse,” and no other film in his oeuvre better expresses this ambivalent attitude than Der Bomberpilot—the director's first and final statement on the National Socialist question and how such historical infamy has weighed down heavily on every German, not just filmmaker's, lives.  As the girls of Der Bomberpilot learned, no matter how 'American' they tried to be (something Schroeter's cinematic compatriot Wim Wenders spent his entire life trying to achieve but ultimately failed doing), the average American still sees a Nazi in every kraut.  After all, who can differentiate between a German and a Nazi after watching a Mel Brooks film like The Producers (1968) or a Steven Spielberg flick like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) or Saving Private Ryan (1998)?! - Soiled Sinema

Divine Rapture: The Films of Werner Schroeter

Written by Ulrike Sieglohr

Palermo oder Wolfsburg
Like his contemporaries Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders, the late Werner Schroeter was one of the New German Cinema’s seminal figures, if far more marginal in terms of recognition. He started out as an underground filmmaker in 1967 before making a critical impact on the international festival circuit and winning a devoted cult following. His films, shot through with a predilection for operatic excess and artifice, defy categorization, and are infuriatingly obscure for some and entrancingly poetic for others. His cinema occupies a transitional space between avant-garde and art cinema, neither quite narrative nor quite abstract. In the second half of the Eighties he became widely known as a theater and opera director, staging a range of hyperstylized productions in Germany and abroad that outstripped even his films in their ability to provoke both intense admiration and hostility. His flamboyance and reputation for refusing to compromise with the mainstream attracted outstanding talents willing to work for little or no money, some of whom became his regular collaborators. Foremost among the performers was Magdalena Montezuma, the splendid German underground star and Schroeter’s muse until her death in 1985. Subsequently French stars such as Bulle Ogier, Carole Bouquet, and Isabelle Huppert gave him an additional art-house aura. Throughout his career and thanks to major retrospectives, including events in London, Paris, and Rome, Schroeter’s films kept garnering new, if select, audiences.
Schroeter’s stylized, performance-centered aesthetic draws on opera, pop music, stage melodrama, contemporary dance theater, and cabaret. His films consist of overt allegories and fables driven by the Romantic impulse, distilling moments of desire, loss, and death in all-consuming emotion. The central figure in Schroeter’s films is always the outsider—the mad person, the foreigner—and his major theme is ineffable longing for passionate love and artistic creativity. Although Schroeter was gay, homosexuality is rarely an explicit topic, though arguably the female protagonists who are foregrounded in his films become vessels for the displaced expression of gay subjectivity. Visually the characters are framed in sumptuous tableau compositions underscored by a highly manipulated post-synchronized soundtrack. Music is crucial to all of Schroeter’s films but more for the content than for the mood: it offers commentary and counterpoint, and one of his major strategies was the juxtaposition of classical and popular music. For example, he often puts the opera diva Maria Callas side by side with Caterina Valente, the German popular singer, blurring the hierarchical distinction between high and low culture, art and kitsch.
The Bomber Pilot
After attending the 4th experi-mental Film Festival at Knokke, Belgium, in 1967, the 22-year-old Schroeter started to make his first 8mm films, most notably Maria Callas Portrait (68), in which he animated stills of Maria Callas and overlaid them with a soundtrack of her singing. The figure of the diva, personified and immortalized by the voice and fate of Callas, became for Schroeter the embodiment of artistic creativity and intensity in his quest for the representation of emotions. In these early nonnarrative films, images, music, and sound are not synchronized; and their live performers mime to the lyrics or spoken words on the soundtrack in an exaggerated fashion.
Schroeter’s first feature, Eika Katappa (69), a radical 147-minute camp appropriation of opera, is arguably as spectacular as a Hollywood epic and features more musical climaxes than even a 19th-century Italian bel canto opera. Schroeter paraphrases the climaxes from such operas as Puccini’s Tosca and Verdi’s La Traviata, alongside pop songs and orchestral music. The various episodes are driven mainly by the lyrics and sometimes by tableaux such as St. Sebastian’s ecstatic death. The film exemplifies the tendency in Schroeter’s early period toward incorporating explicitly dilettantish performances of the Western cultural repertoire, staging them in makeshift sets, and linking scenes through complex montage (for example, there is a kaleidoscopic replaying of previous scenes from the film in the final section).
Eika Katappa, which was self-financed, won the Josef von Sternberg prize (for “the most idiosyncratic film”) at the 1969 Mannheim Film Festival and enabled Schroeter to break into television. Ironically, his “total cinema” films, which work more through spectacle than narrative, were almost exclusively produced by Das kleine Fernsehspiel (“The Little Television Play”), a small experimental department of the German public-service station ZDF. During this period, Das kleine Fernsehspiel supported some of Schroeter’s highly controversial projects, beginning with The Bomber Pilot (70), a grotesque parody of Fascist revue shows, which was probably the first German film to engage with the “cultural myth” of Nazism. Similarly, Salome (71), Macbeth (71), and Goldflocken (Flocons d’or, 76) provoked strong and contradictory reactions: critic Eckhard Schmidt called Schroeter “one of the most talented young filmmakers,” while others dismissed his films as trivial ritualistic exercises in appropriation.
The Death of Maria Malibran
Sublime and bizarre, The Death of Maria Malibran (71) is considered by many, including Michel Foucault and Schroeter himself, to be one of his best films, but it’s also one of the most difficult. The tragic life of the eponymous 19th-century opera diva is merely a starting point for a dense network of references and allusions centered around the idea that artistic perfection is only attainable in death. The fragmentary and opaque narrative is conveyed through the intense stylization of gestures, poses, tableaux, and music. Malibran’s life is condensed into metaphorical and imaginary situations that reflect on an artist’s existence beyond the boundaries of a historical reality and gender identity. The life, or rather the death, of the singer is audiovisually refracted through prerecorded operatic arias, pop songs, literary citations, and romantic platitudes (ranging from Goethe and Lautréamont to Elvis Presley). Highlights include the passionate suicide of two female lovers, pastoral musical interludes, and performances expressing ineffable longing, despair, and madness.
With Kingdom of Naples (78) Schroeter shifted toward more plot-driven art cinema, maintaining his hallmarks of pathos and melodrama but with more obvious narrative and political intent. Schroeter commented about this change “that it is much more radical to play with the content than with the aesthetics of the image. The era of independence is over. Our society has not fulfilled the promises hoped for around ’68-’70.” Greeted with an unaccustomed consensus of critical acclaim, Kingdom won many prizes in Germany and internationally, and became his first commercial release. Shot on location by Aguirre, Wrath of God DP Thomas Mauch with several nonprofessional actors and using local dialects, the film is reminiscent of Italian neorealism in its approach, and on first viewing, its chronicle of a poor Neapolitan family and their community, spanning between 1944 to 1977, appears to be grounded in conventional melodrama. Yet it is highly stylized and constructed in the manner of a 19th-century serial opera with music being used not only for its emotional power but as a form of critical commentary.
Schroeter was a great globe-trotter who took advantage of invitations to film festivals or Goethe Institut presentations of his work to make films. Many who regarded him as a maker of fantastic fables were surprised at the politically hard-hitting if still associative and nonlinear documentaries that resulted. Smiling Star (83) is an extraordinary collage documentary on Marcos’s corrupt regime in the Philippines, shot clandestinely while Schroeter was a guest of the Manila International Film Festival, while For Example, Argentina (83-85) is a denunciation of Galtieri’s military dictatorship: “First we kill the subversive elements, then the sympathizers, then their henchmen, and last of all the weak.”
The Rose King
Schroeter’s gay sensibility is expressed as an aesthetic that could be described as high camp, since he insists on a Romantic and operatic vision of homosexuality. In The Rose King (86), an excessive and entrancing hallucinatory fable of perfect but doomed love, and his most explicitly gay film, the symbol of the rose is employed to signify love, passion, and perfection at the moment of death. The titular Rose King merges the ideal of the perfect rose with the body of his lover and at the sexually climatic moment grafts multiple roses onto him. This visceral scene of ecstatic mutilation, heightened by the rhythm of a Viennese waltz, is intercut with shots of fire, ink, water, and the sea washing over a nude male body. The juxtaposition of images and sounds is as horrific as it is beautiful.
After his theater and opera productions in the late Eighties Schroeter returned to filmmaking in 1990 with Malina, a relatively high-budget literary adaptation based on Ingeborg Bachmann’s 1971 novel. Scripted by Elfriede Jelinek, and featuring an original avant-garde score by Giacomo Manzoni, it stars Isabelle Huppert as an unnamed female writer caught between passion and creativity, and between her platonic love for the rational Malina (Mathieu Carrière) and her consuming desire for the sensual Ivan (Can Togay). This is represented not as a conventional ménage à trois but rather as a visual and sonic staging of (literally) burning passion and glacial voids that lead to the disintegration of the writer’s identity. On a psychoanalytic level Ivan is a projection of a desire for absolute erotic love, while Malina represents the rational male alter-ego that clashes with the female emotional ego and finally obliterates the female identity—suggesting that it is only possible to be a writer at the expense of femininity and desire. Huppert’s tour-de-force performance of exaltation and self-destructive despair is familiar from Schroeter’s repertoire, and so is the film’s nonlinear narrative with its operatic climaxes—albeit now psychologically motivated as nightmares and hallucinations. With its musical cadences and its mise en scène of ornate mirrors and consuming fires, Schroeter’s Malina transforms Bachman’s literary text into an idiosyncratic spectacle and aural feast. Despite receiving mixed reviews in Germany, the film won the German Film Award in Gold, but internationally this sumptuous but difficult film was considered too obscure to win much acclaim.
With Love’s Debris (Poussières d’amour, 96) Schroeter re-engaged with the cult of the diva—this time employing living, breathing, but aging opera divas. He invited a few of his favorite opera singers, young and old, to a 13th-century French abbey, in an effort to understand what gave rise to the emotional intensity in their vocal performance. The most affecting scene centers on the 65-year-old diva Anita Cerquetti, who gave up singing upon losing her voice at the height of her career, when she was barely 30 years old. We watch Cerquetti listening and lip-synching to an old recording of her sublime vocal performance of “Casta Diva” (“Chaste Diva”) from Bellini’s Norma. This apparent sonic synchronization becomes a hauntingly nostalgic experience through the accompanying visual mismatch: the aging body cannot anchor the youthful operatic voice. The fleeting restoration of Cerquetti’s full, rich voice is followed by her recognition of its irrecoverable loss. It is a moment of great poignancy.
Schroeter’s penultimate film, Deux (02), was written for Huppert, and she provides another virtuoso performance playing contrasting twin sisters, separated at birth and unaware of each other’s existence. This surreal fantasy, with its dreamlike associative editing, literary citations from the Comte de Lautréamont’s 1869 verse novel Les Chants de Maldoror, gay iconography, and periodic arias is reminiscent of the director’s earlier episodic films. In its engagement with the myth of Narcissus and the German Romantic concept of the doppelgänger, Schroeter claims that the film contains autobiographical episodes that transfigure his own memories and dreams into art. The film premiered at Cannes where it received some praise, but failed to find a German distributor. Although at the core extremely subjective, Deux also contains references to European art history and literature, and this balancing act, while doubtless intriguing for dedicated Schroeter followers, is likely too opaque for the uninitiated.
Schroeter’s swan song, Tonight (Nuit de chien, 08) was shot nocturnally on location in Porto (Portugal) while the filmmaker was enduring the debilitating effects of cancer. It is a dystopian fable about the failure of a revolution and a darkly luminous nighttime odyssey across a port city and its brutalized inhabitants. Christiane Peitz’s obituary of Schroeter describes the film as “a long journey into darkness, a hymn to life in the face of brutality and terror.” And Schroeter explained in his own posthumously published autobiography: “All my films, including Tonight, bear witness to my quest for a form that communicates vitality, the pleasure of creativity and beauty, which is a gift of our profession. In beauty, in recognition of beauty resides a hope—malgré tout, despite all. It expresses a hope even though the theme of the film deals with the darkest night aspects of existence . . . Without pain and a quest for truth there is no beauty.”
The nature of Schroeter’s lifelong quest is eloquently explored in the lyrical and elegiac 2011 documentary Mondo Lux: The Visual Worlds of Werner Schroeter by Elfi Mikesch, Schroeter’s close friend and collaborator. But a much earlier tribute was paid in 1979 by his friend and rival Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who welcomed the art-house release of Kingdom of Naples as Schroeter’s emergence from the underground. Fassbinder graciously acknowledged Schroeter’s decisive influence on himself and other German filmmakers, and suggested that the director’s very underground exoticism had kept him at the margins of film culture. Perhaps this continued detachment from the commercial mainstream makes Schroeter’s films that much more precious." -

Le jour des idiots

If there ever was a chick flick for schizophrenics and/or scat-inclined Sapphos, it is most certainly the fittingly titled work Day of the Idiots (1981) aka Tag der Idioten directed by Teutonic dandy Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Der Bomberpilot). While a vocal proponent of Schroeter’s work myself, Day of the Idiots is certainly a celluloid work I cannot stomach or so I learned after a second failed viewing of the film. Despite being nominated for a Golden Palm Award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival and winning “best film” at the 1982 German Film Awards and ultimately being one of Schroeter’s most critically successful works, Day of the Idiots disgusts me in a way that can only be described as the metaphysical equivalent of barfing my favorite cuisine as a work that, although directed by one of my favorite directors of high-camp surrealist kitsch and featuring one of my favorite kraut divas (Ingrid Caven), rubs me the wrong way, sort of the way I would expect an autistic Star Wars fan to react after watching a Pasolini marathon. Starring French actress Carole Bouquet, who is probably best known by fans of European cinema for starring in Luis Buñuel's classic surrealist satire That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) and penned by politician/journalist and one-time screenwriter Dana Horaková, who was married to Czech New Wave auteur Pavel Juráček and later apparently became a ‘Minister of Culture’ for the city of Hamburg from 2002-2004, Day of the Idiots is nauseatingly neurotic celluloid estrogen on overdrive directed by an especially eccentrically effete fellow who, more often than not, was far too in tune with his effeminate side and this celluloid work is certainly the most glaring and grating example of the filmmaker's female soul. The morbidly morose and melancholy psychodramatic tale of a decidedly deranged dame who is so obsessed with getting her boyfriend’s love and attention that she decides to call in false allegations denouncing her neighbors as terrorists to authorities so she can be institutionalized, Day of the Idiots is essentially a psychological fantasy flick for emotionally-wrecked women who romantically dream of suicide and/or are into lesbian urolagnia. If you ever wanted to see a Bond Girl (star Carole Bouquet played Bond girl Melina Havelock in For Your Eyes Only (1981) right before Schroeter’s flick) fall into in to operatic and phantasmagorical psychodrama at a patently perverse psych-ward before inevitably deciding to commit self-slaughter by running into traffic and being plowed down by a car, Day of the Idiots might be the film for you, but I doubt it, because the film ultimately sounds more cinematically tantalizing than it actually is. 

 Despite her debilitating depression, crazy ‘cutie’ Carole Schneider (Carole Bouquet) must love the skin she lives in because she is constantly tearing off her clothes and walking around her flat naked. Unfortunately for her, Carole must also tear off her lazy boyfriend Alexander’s (played by Mostefa Djadjam, who looks like a director Werner Schroeter if he were a dirty Arab) clothes off just to get him to share some good old carnal knowledge with him. In fact, Carole fantasizes about cutting out a piece of her boyfriend’s skull and placing a little window there so she “can see if he really loves me,” or so she says to herself while in some sort of perturbing psychosis. While ostensibly in public, Carole cries out “Alexander must look at me!” in vain as her self-centered boyfriend is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, her simple demands from her bastard of a boy toy go unanswered, as she later begs for Alexander to “Kill me! Please!,” which also proves to be unfruitful. Luckily terrorism is big in Deutschland and Carole comes up with an absolutely brilliant plan to falsely denounce her neighbors to the police as conspiring terrorists, which ultimately gets her locked in a creepily curious and quaint quasi-lesbo loony bin. While in the nightmarish nuthouse, Carole discovers that things are much more interesting than in the ‘free’ world as she encounters suicide, post-menopausal women playing with dolls, Catholic weddings, imaginary ballroom dancing, amputated legs/feet in glass cases, female-on-female water-sports, collapsing walls, and a variety of others things that might cross the mind of a schizophrenic. With decidedly deranged nurses and doctors, including a certain Dr. Laura (played by Fassbinder’s ex-wife/Daniel Schmid’s diva Ingrid Caven), who seem hardly distinguishable from the inmates aside from their uniforms, Carole is hardly cured by her experiences in the meta-mental hospital, but only all the more sure that there is no society that she is fit to live in as an alienated modern woman with nothing nor no one to live for. Carole seems to ultimately come to the conclusion that she is not suffering from any serious form of mental illness, but that she cannot simply function in society, be it among the public or among imprisoned perverts, so she to take her future (or lack thereof) into her own hands. When the walls of the loony bin begin to literally fall down, Carole realizes there is nowhere to hide and after being set free by Dr. Laura she decides to commit suicide by running in front of oncoming traffic and being plowed down by a random unfortunate stranger in a small European car.  In the end, the melancholy expression on Carole's corpse seems no different than when she was 'alive.'

 A sometimes wanton and always wildly weird celluloid tale about a woman under the influence of too much Weltschmerz, Day of the Idiots is, at best, a haunting and hallucinogenic celluloid psychodrama about a hysterical female mind that cannot deal with the dispiriting nature of post-WWII Europa and, at worse, the innately incoherent and discombobulating piece of lavish cinematic angst concocted by a kraut queen auteur who rightfully deserves a place in film history as German New Cinema’s foremost miserable sodomite. Though featuring an aesthetically exquisite and idiosyncratically nightmarish hodgepodge of meticulously assembled tableaux, Day of the Idiots ultimately seems like a bad parody of Schroeter’s own idiosyncratic brand of hyper-aestheticism as a sort of ugly and slightly retarded celluloid stepsister to the filmmaker’s later ‘mainstream’ effort Malina (1991) starring Isabelle Huppert. Unfortunately, while Day of the Idiots lead Carole Bouquet may have much fuller breasts than her French compatriot Huppert, she has nowhere near the same acting chops, thus making her performance seem not much more nuanced than that of a mannequin, and also making the actress more suitable for Schroeter’s early masterpiece Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972) aka The Death of Maria Malibran, where most of the actresses simply strike simple poses and maintain the same facial expressions. Indeed, there seems to be a potential ‘high-camp horror’ masterpiece lost somewhere in Day of the Idiots and I personally hold banal babe Bouquet partially responsible for the film's seemingly half-aborted essence. Made in the wake of the far-leftist terrorist era in West Germany that reached its peak in 1977 and was famously seriously commented on with the omnibus film Germany in Autumn (1978) aka Deutschland im Herbst by a number of major directors of German New Cinema, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff, and Edgar Reitz, Day of the Idiots ultimately acts as Werner Schroeter’s unofficial reaction to the Fatherland in ‘fall.’ Not unlike Germany in Autumn, Day of the Idiots, though having many of the ingredients to be a unique and unmitigated masterpiece, also feels like a postmodern Teutonic arthouse abortion. - Soiled Sinema

'The Rose King,' By Werner Schroeter


WERNER SCHROETER'S ''Rose King,'' opening today at the Film Forum 1, is one of those supposedly avant-garde films that aren't easy to write about without cracking up, but I'll try.
It's about a youngish man named Albert who lives near the Mediterranean on a rose farm with his mother, Anna. Albert, I think, is torn between a hopeless passion for his mother and one for Fernando, a young, moody hired hand who allows Albert to take liberties with him. The movie is full of long, static shots of a spider web, a single rose, a gun, a wood carving of the Virgin Mary, a movie projector and repeated shots of the actor who plays Fernando lying on a beach at night, naked, arms outstreched as if on a cross, or being tossed around by the heedless surf.
In between, Anna broods about Albert, and walks slowly from one room to another. All the characters walk slowly in ''The Rose King,'' possibly because they, like the movie, aren't going anywhere.
Albert broods about Anna and says such things as ''Mother, your love gave birth to my anguish.'' In addition to walking slowly from room to room, Albert also walks slowly to the barn, where he ties Fernando to a chair or sometimes removes Fernando's clothing, the better to bathe his body.
When Fernando is alone, he wanders around the church, taunting the Virgin Mary, apparently waiting for Albert to tie him up again. I say again, though this is the sort of film in which so many shots are repeated I'm not at all sure that anything happens more than once. The movie begins with an aphorism that is, possibly, intended to be funny: ''If two children kiss, without knowing each other, one of them must die.'' It concludes - I'm sure I'm not giving away anything important - with a shooting and the crucifixion of a cat.
Mr. Schroeter has a formidable reputation in Europe. He composes his images as deliberately as a high-fashion photographer. The lighting is sometimes exquisite, and the soundtrack contains bits and pieces of canned classical music. The Film Forum bills Mr. Schroeter as the ''enfant terrible of the new German cinema.'' At 42, he's not an enfant. Slow Motion THE ROSE KING, directed by Werner Schroeter; written (German, Italian and Portuguese with English subtitles) by Mr. Schroeter and Magdalena Montezuma; director of photography, Elfie Mikesch; edited by Juliane Lorenz; produced by Mr. Schroeter and Mr. Lorenz with Futura-Film, Munich. At Film Forum 1, 57 Watts Street. Running time: 103 minutes. This film has no rating. Anna...Magdalena Montezuma Albert...Mostefa Djadjam Fernando...Antonio Orlando

 I typically try to refrain from reviewing documentaries as I see it to be a redundant task for the most part, yet every once and a while I come across a certain doc that needs to be seen and that certainly applies to Mondo Lux - Die Bilderwelten des Werner Schroeter (2011) aka Mondo Lux: The Visual Universe of Werner Schroeter, a strikingly intimate and rather revealing document of the life, artistic works, and remaining days of the notoriously private German New Cinema auteur and dandy Renaissance man Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Malina), arguably the last great 'artiste' of truly decadent (in the positive sense!) Teutonic kultur. Directed by Schroeter’s longtime cinematographer/collaborator Elfi Mikesch (Seduction: The Cruel Woman, Fieber), who shot such Schroeter arthouse masterpieces as Der Rosenkönig (1986) aka The Rose King and Two (2002) aka Deux, Mondo Lux is easily the greatest introduction to the superlatively secret life and kitschy high-camp films of the insanely idiosyncratic auteur, who died from cancer at the age of 65 on 12 April 2010 before the documentary was released, so it should be no surprise that the film has the slightly ominous feel of a living obituary. A theatrically melancholy man who wore all black his entire life and was most obsessed, at least cinematically speaking, with love and death and the link between the two, Schroeter discusses in Mondo Lux the many lovers and family members in his morbidly melodramatic life who succumbed to death at a premature age, typically under tragic conditions, including suicide and complications related to AIDS. Of course, like a Schroeter film, Mondo Lux is not all about melancholia and weltschmerz, but is also quite tragicomedic and features a number of frolicsome anecdotes from his friends/collaborators, including actresses/divas Isabelle Huppert and Ingrid Caven, as well as Germanic filmmakers Wim Wenders, Rosa von Praunheim and Peter Kern, among various others. Easily the most preternatural and least tamable director of German New Cinema, Schroeter’s was also one of the most, if not the most, esoterically influential, inspiring the aesthetics of filmmakers including (but certainly not limited to), Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Daniel Schmid, Walter Bockmayer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Ulrike Ottinger, yet virtually all of his films are impossible to find in the United States and a number of his films have yet to be released in any home media format anywhere. An art-addled and effortlessly effete aestheticist whose films are virtual living museums of decadent European art history, Schroeter also moonlighted as a documentarian, opera director, and photographer and all of these subjects are covered in Mondo Lux, a virtual Schroeter-for-Dummies guide in celluloid form, but also a must-see for serious ‘Schroeter survivors’ who are more than familiar with his work. Despite Schroeter's reputation for the sadder side of life and that the document follows him as his body becomes weaker and discernibly emaciated from cancer, Mondo Lux—in its depiction of the filmmaker working relentlessly on various projects in a frantic attempt to escape death—is ultimately an inspiring work that makes one want to live life to the fullest, or at least die trying, which the dandyist director of German New Cinema did with a sense dignity that is actually quite shocking, especially for a man that seemed to worship death. 

 As demonstrated by his various references to great artists/musicians/poets/writers, including Franz Schubert, Heinrich Heine, Robert Schumann, William Shakespeare, and Arnold Schoenberg, among various others, Werner Schroeter is a man that lives and breathes for art, but his choice of medium was cinema, which gave him the opportunity to take an eclectic approach to art and creating delightfully decadent cinematic works like no other filmmaker before that, ultimately achieving the “Gesamtkunstwerk” in celluloid form, albeit in a conspicuously kitschy fashion that proved both “high” and “low” art can be seamlessly synthesized. Filmmaker Wim Wenders—a fellow with a more than flat affect that I would have never suspected had an affinity for a film like Eika Katappa (1969)—describes Schroeter as follows,“I’ve known him since 1967 in Munich. We were all sitting together, 20 students at the film academy, and Werner was one of those twenty. By far the greatest eccentric there. The only dandy in the group. He didn’t stick it out very long.”  Indeed, while Schroeter became one of the most original and influential filmmakers of German New Cinema, he couldn't care less, stating, “I have no intention whatsoever of playing a leading part [in the New German Cinema], and submit to the expectations of producing Kulturscheisse [literally, Cultureshit], even if it may be true that I carry around with me and into my films the past of this Kulturscheisse,” thus demonstrating the audacious auteur filmmaker's innate individualism that would ultimately cause him monetary troubles (many of Schroeter's films cost him more money than they made in theaters) as he never had an interest in appealing to mainstream audiences, be it German or otherwise.  As semi-snidely Schroeter explains in a speech featured in Mondo Lux regarding the lack of respect he received in Germany for creating aesthetically audacious and largely apolitical works, “here I was seen as the crazy enfant terrible. The singing, jumping art cunt or whatever. People thought little of my intelligence. Whereas in France I was seen as an equal partner,” hence the filmmaker’s decision to make a good percentage of his films outside of his homeland, including two Pasolini inspired “Italian eros” works, including Nel regno di Napoli (1978) aka The Kingdom of Naples and Palermo oder Wolfsburg (1980), as well as two French co-productions with French actress Isabelle Huppert, including Malina (1991) and Deux (2002) aka Two, among a number of other cross-cultural European cinematic works. In regard to Palermo Oder Wolfsburg, Schroeter states in Mondo Lux that the work is, “An accidental encounter between Italy’s South and what I don’t like about Germany, such as Wolfsburg. And VW,”  thus hinting at his hatred for not only industrialization and capitalism, but also the Third Reich, the latter of which he would lampoon in his underrated film Der Bomberpilot (1970), the closest thing the auteur ever made to a Nazisploitation flick.

 Of course, more than anything, it was Schroeter’s muse Magdalena Montezuma (Willow Springs, Freak Orlando), who died tragically at the mere age of 41 in 1984 from cancer of the womb, that his filmmaking changed forever and arguably for the worse, but luckily the two collaborated on one last work, Der Rosenkönig (1986) aka The Rose King, while the actress was literally dying, which, at least in my opinion, turned out to be the director’s celluloid magnum opus. Discovering Greek-American soprano diva Maria Callas at age 13 shortly after his Polish grandmother committed suicide was an aesthetic ‘revelation’ of sorts for Schroeter and he paid tribute to her with not only his first 8mm film Maria Callas Porträt (1968), but also throughout his entire career via her songs and essence haunting a number of his films. On top of his Polish grandmother, baroness Elsa von Rotjov, committing suicide when he was only 13, Schroeter’s first lover Siegfried committed suicide when he was 13 or 14 and the boy was 16, not to mention that two of his other boyfriends died under tragic circumstances, one of which died from AIDS. One of Schroeter’s lovers that did survive is Berlin-based filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim (Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts, A Virus Knows no Morals), who is featured throughout Mondo Lux reminiscing with his lunatic lover over the good old days, including how the Berlin buggerer used to emotionally brutalize his beau. Of course, von Praunheim was not the first person to attack Schroeter as the filmmaker discusses in Mondo Lux how he was regularly beaten up as a child, even having urine dumped on his head.  More than anyone, Isabelle Huppert, who did a photo shoot with the dandy auteur before he died, drives home the fact that Schroeter approached all artistic mediums the same way, with a uniquely uncanny creative energy, which is quite apparent to anyone that has seen his films. As for Schroeter himself, he described the driving force behind his films as follows, “Of course humor, farce was a mode of expression I really enjoyed. I wanted to express myself with people I lived with. And that’s what interested me. My films at the time are by-products of my love affairs,” and, indeed, judging by virtually any of his tragicomedic films, it is easy to see that the keenly cosmopolitan kraut with a Mediterranean soul was perennially lovelorn.

Not long before he himself also died of cancer on 21 August 2010, German auteur Christoph Schlingensief (Egomania – Island without Hope, The German Chainsaw-Massacre) wrote in his blog that he hoped that Werner Schroeter’s films would reach a larger audience and make their way into film school curriculum, which, although would be great, is rather unlikely as his cinematic works only seem all the more hermetic and impenetrable as the decades have passed and as the great Teutonic philosopher Oswald Spengler once stated, “One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone,” which is even more true when it comes to man who directed Malina (1991), a macabre, if not sometimes merry, mindfuck of a movie about a man named Malina. Prophesied in 1977 by his butt buddy R.W. Fassbinder as likely to “assume a place in film history similar to that of Novalis, Lautréamont, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline in literature,” Schroeter, as the title of Mondo Lux: The Visual Universe of Werner Schroeter makes quite clear, not only created his own cinematic language and universe, but proved that cinema could be aristocratic, even if it features drag kings and queens, as well urolagnia among lesbo mental patients as surreally scatalogically depicted in Day of the Idiots (1981) aka Tag der Idioten. As Mondo Lux director Elfi Mikesch stated in an interview with filmmaker Frieder Schlaich (Paul Bowles – Halbmond, Otomo) regarding the death of Schroeter and the importance of his films, “I just have to get used to the fact that this will never happen again. That’s why his films have become so important. They are what remains. All these waste products survive. There’s a lot to learn and experience from them. Every time I watch one, and I watched many recently, I discover something new, and surprising new threads in his oeuvre. Whether it be body language, the relation between language and music and how that relates the spoken word, to physical action or the representation of vision. The way he presents speech and music. That is incomparable, it raises your consciousness.” While still alive, Schroeter was no less complimentary of Mikesch, writing of their seemingly immaculate creative partnership that began in 1986 with Der Rosenkönig, “From the beginning on, we had a specific communication code and very deep trust. While Elfi’s poetry is different from mine, it is equally multi faceted. Elfi gives the content of many images a structure, and she derives poetry from it. In my case, the poetry originates from the void, in Elfi’s from motion and condensation. This overlap enables us to collaborate,” thus it should be no surprise that he entrusted her to direct Mondo Lux, a documentary that, at least in my quasi-humble opinion, is easily the greatest tribute from one filmmaker to another as the last testament of a truly avant-garde auteur that never got his dues in terms of his importance and prestige as one of cinema's few true artists and innovators. 
- www.soiledsinema.com

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