Alexander Kluge

Discussion and info on people in film, ranging from directors to actors to cinematographers to writers.

Moderator: DarkImbecile

Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Alexander Kluge

#1 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:13 pm

ALEXANDER KLUGE
(1932 - )


Image

“The invention of film, of the cinema, is only an industrial answer to the film that has its basis in the film in people’s minds. The stream of associations that is the basis of thinking and feeling — logic, or geometry, or whatever are not the bases — this stream of associations has all the qualities of cinema. And everything you can do with your mind and your senses you can do in the cinema.”

Films 1960-1986

Brutality in Stone / Brutalität in Stein / Die Ewigkeit von gestern (1960) short, co-directed with Peter Schamoni. Edition Filmmuseum
Racing / Rennen (1961) short, co-directed with Paul Kruntorad. Edition Filmmuseum
Teacher / Lehrer im Wandel (1963) short, co-directed with Karen Kluge. Edition Filmmuseum
Transcript of a Revolution / Porträt einer Bewährung (1964) short Edition Filmmuseum
Yesterday Girl / Abschied von Gestern (Anita G.) (1966) Edition Filmmuseum
Pokerspiel (1966) short, new version of Nipp and Tuck (Del Ruth / Sennett, 1923)
Frau Blackburn, born 5 Jan. 1872, Is Being Filmed / Frau Blackburn, geb. 5. Jan. 1872, wird gefilmt (1967) short Edition Filmmuseum
Artists Under the Big Top: Disorientated / Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos (1968) Edition Filmmuseum
The Indomitable Leni Peickert / Die unbezähmbare Leni Peickert (1970) Edition Filmmuseum
Fire Fighter E. A. Winterstein / Feuerlöscher E. A. Winterstein (1968) short Edition Filmmuseum
The Big Mess / Der grosse Verhau (1971) Edition Filmmuseum
Willi Tobler and the Sinking of the Sixth Fleet / Willi Tobler und der Untergang der 6. Flotte (1971) Edition Filmmuseum
A Doctor from Halberstadt / Ein Arzt aus Halberstadt (1970) short Edition Filmmuseum
Wir verbauen 3 x 27 Milliarden Dollar in einen Angriffsschlachter / Der Angriffsschlater (1971) short
A Woman from the Property-Owning Middle Class, born 1908 / Besitzbürgerin, Jahrgang 1908 (1973) short Edition Filmmuseum
Occasional Work of Female Slave / Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave / Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin (1973) Edition Filmmuseum
In Danger and in Deep Distress, the Middle Way Spells Certain Death / In Gefahr und größter Not bringt der Mittelweg den Tod (1974) co-directed with Edgar Reitz. Edition Filmmuseum
Biermann Film / Biermann-Film (1974) short Edition Filmmuseum
Strongman Ferdinand / Der starke Ferdinand (1976) Edition Filmmuseum
Zu böser Schlacht schleich ich heut Nacht so bang (1977) revised version of Willi Tobler and the Sinking of the Sixth Fleet / Willi Tobler und der Untergang der 6. Flotte
People Preparing the Stauffer Anniversary / Die Menschen, die das Stauffer-Jahr vorbereiten (1977) co-directed with Maximiliane Mainka. Edition Filmmuseum
News of the Stauffers / Nachrichten von den Stauffern (1977) short in 2 parts, co-directed with Maximiliane Mainka. Edition Filmmuseum
Germany in Autumn / Deutschland im Herbst (1978) co-directed with Volker Schlöndorff, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alf Brustellin, Bernhard Sinkel, Katja Rupe, Hans Peter Cloos, Edgar Reitz, Maximiliane Mainka, Peter Schubert. Edition Filmmuseum
The Patriot / Die Patriotin (1979) Edition Filmmuseum
The Candidate / Der Kandidat (1980) co-directed with Stefan Aust, Alexander von Eschwege, Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlöndorff. Edition Filmmuseum
War and Peace / Krieg und Frieden (1983) co-directed with Stefan Aust, Axel Engstfeld, Volker Schlöndorff. Edition Filmmuseum
Looking for a Practical and Realistic Behaviour / Auf der Suche nach einer praktisch-realistischen Haltung (1983) short Edition Filmmuseum
The Power of Emotion / Die Macht der Gefühle (1983) Edition Filmmuseum
Auf der Suche nach einer praktisch-realistischen Haltung (1983) short
The Blind Director / Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit (1985) Edition Filmmuseum
Miscellaneous News / Odds and Ends / Vermischte Nachrichten (1986) Edition Filmmuseum



Television Work 1998 - present

N.B. This is a very incomplete list!

Titles available in the Edition Filmmuseum marked with an asterisk*.

1988

“Neues vom Tage”
Die plebejische Nachricht
Ein Raster in fünf Kapiteln
The African Woman or Love with a Deadly Finale / Die Afrikanerin oder Liebe mit tödlichem Ausgang*
The Guillotine or the Category of Suddenness / Die Guillotine oder die Kategorie der Plötzlichkeit*
The Pilot’s Song / Das Fliegerlied*
Artifacts of Advertising / Antiqitäten der Reklame*
The Eiffel Tower, King Kong and the White Woman / Der Eiffelturn, King Kong und die weisse Frau*
Death of Lucretia / Tod der Lucrezia*

1989

Portrait of Heiner Müller for his 60th Birthday / Portrait Heiner Müller

1990

Das Beste an der ARD sind ihre Anfänge (co-directed with Meinhard Prill)
Die “Stuttgarter Schule” (co-directed with Meinhard Prill)
Dokumentarfilm im 20. Jahrnudert (co-directed with Meinhard Prill)
Wild Night with Moon / Wilde Nacht mit Mond*
Darwin and the Tank / Darwin und die Panzerwaffe*
Conversation with Heiner Müller / Gespräch mit Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller on Legal Questions / Heiner Müller über Rechtsfragen
There Were Some Kind of Shadow Machines That Were Passing By There / Es waren irgendwelche Schattenmaschinen die da vorbeiführen

1991

Soviet Patriots of 1941 / Sowjetische Patrioten von 1941*
Interview with Karena Niehoff (title unknown)
Every Frozen Structure Has Its Academy / Jede gefrorene Struktur hat seine Akademie

1992

"I Confess" - Day-trip Shopping Excursion / “Ich bekenne!” - Die Kaffeefahrt*
"The Screeching Sound of Power as Soon as It Puts on the Brakes" / “Das Quietschen der Macht, wenn sie die Bremsen zieht”*
Frederick of Prussia / Friedrich von Preussen

1993

Rule a Great Country as You Would Fry a Small Fish / Grosse Reiche muss man leiten wie man kleine Fischlein brät*
The Revenge of the Betrayed Bride / Die Rache der betrogenen Braut*
What Is the Origin of the Song ‘The Flag on High’? / Woher stammt das Lied “Die Fahne hoch”*
Anti-Opera / Anti-Oper
Mind, Power, Castration / Geist, Macht, Kastration
Plowshare of Evil / Pflugschar des Bösen
The Death of Seneca / Der Tod des Seneca
The Last of the Mohicans / Der letzte Mohikaner

1994

The World Is Not Bad, but Full / Die Welt ist nicht schlecht
Under the Sign of Mars / Im Zeichen des Mars
I Owe the World a Dead Person / Ich schulde der Welt einen Toten

1995

Love as Passion / Liebe als Passion*
Die Liebe störte der kalte Tod / Cold Death Interrupts Love*
Camp Money / Lagergeld*
Queen of Hearts on Judgement Day / Herzkönigin am jüngsten Tag*
Zoo Animals in War / Zootiere im Bombenkrieg*
My Rendezvous with Death / Mein Rendezvous mit dem Tod
On the Way to a Theatre of Darkness / Theater der Finsternisse
The Voice of the Playwright / Die Stimme des Dramatikers

1996

Engine Cough / Triebwerk-Husten*
Stop, Stranger, and Read / Bleib steh’n, Wanderer, und lies*
“The Wind Will Clean It Off” / “Der Wind, der reinigt das. . .”*
Whoever Smokes Looks Cold-Blooded / Wer Raucht sieht kaltblütig aus
Heiner Müller in Time Flight / Heiner Müller im Zeitenflug
Epic Theatre and Post-Heroic Management / Episches Theater

1997

The Day Is Nigh / Der Tag ist nah*
High on Work / Im Rausch der Arbeit*
The Poet as Metaphor Slingshot / Dichter als Metaphernschleuder

1998

I Come Every Morning for Sex / Ich komme jeden Morgen zum Sex*
An Experiment in Love / Ein Liebesversuch*
Minute Films / Minutenfilmen (Including: 5 Stunden Parsifal, Neonröhren am Himmel, 100 Jahren deutscher Rhein)*
Happy Easter / Frohe Ostern*
Desire that Rules the World / Begehren, das die Welt regiert*
The Mute Girl of Portici / Die Stumme von Portici*
"Place and Time Without Reason Is Violence" / “Ort und Zeit ohne Grund ist Gewalt”*

1999

My Love Is Deeper than the Sea / Meine Liebe ise tiefer als das Meer*
I Was Hitler’s Bodyguard / Ich war Hitler’s Bodyguard*
He Who Hopes, Dies Singing / Wer immer hofft, stirbt singend*
Spaceflight as an Internal Experience / Raumfahrt als inneres Erlebnis*
Post-Heroic Management / Postheroisches Management*
The Belshazzar Project / Projekt Belsazar*
The Deluge / Die Sintflut*
Snapshots for My Fiancé / Ich Knipse für meinen Verlobten*
"With ASll the Wealth of My Needs" / “Mit allem Reichtum meiner Nöte”*
Nietzsche's Gay Science / Nietzsches fröhliche Wissenschaft*

2000

The Execution of an Elephant / Hinrichtung eines Elefanten*
August 1914*
The Sahara Became Swampland / Die Sahara wurde Sumpf*

2001

Attention: Total Loss! / Achtung Totalverlust!*
Love in a Space Suit / Liebe im Raumanzug*
“Love Pain Like Mute Fish” / “Liebesschmerz wie stumme Fische”*
The Flexible Entrepreneur / Der flexible Unternehmer*
Blind Love – Talk with Jean-Luc Godard / Blinde Liebe – Gespräch mit Jean-Luc Godard*
The Kiss of Death / Der Todeskuss*
Dance on the Volcano / Tanz auf dem Vulkan*
True Love on the Front / Wa(h)re Liebe im Fronteinsatz*
The Holding of Skulls Is Not My Thing! / Das Halten von Totenschädeln liegt mir nicht!*
Glasnost in Ancient Rome / Glasnost im Alten Rom

2002

A Farewell to the Secure Side of Life / Abschied von der sicheren Seite des Lebens*
N.Y. Ground Zero*
Amok, the End of Empathy / Amok, Das Ende der Einfühlung*
Only God Witnesses It / Nur Gott hat zugeshen*
What Is War? / Was ist Krieg?*
Darklings Sing Bass / Finsterlinge singen Bass*

2003

The Sinking of the Titanic / Der Untergang det Titanic*
A Woman Like a Volcano / Eine Frau wie ein Vulkan*
Every Man for Himself / Rette sich, wer kann*
Only Cans Were Saved / Nur Dosen werden gerettet*
First the Music, Then the Words / Erst die Musik, dann die Worte*

2004

A Tear for Every Drop of Blood / Für jede Träne einer Blutstropfen*
Freedon for the Consonants! / Freiheit für die Konsonanten!*

2005

The Officer as a Philosopher / Der Offizier als Philosoph*
The Black Market of Love / Schwartzmarkt der Liebe*
As a Military Judge in November 1918 / Als Kriegsberichterstatter im November 1918*
Women as Warriors / Frauen als Kriegerinnen*
"Surplus Value" and Its Images / Der “Mehrwert” & seine Bilder*
The Moon Has Risen / Der Mond ist aufgegangen*
Thinking for Oneself / Selbstdenken*
Navigation in der Geisterwelt: Michael Jennings über Erfahrung & Phantasmagorie bei Walter Benjamin
Man as Predator / Der Mensch als Raubtier: Oskar Negt über die neue Ethikder Ökonomie

2006

16 Minute Films / 16 Minutenfilme (including: An Vertov, Sam Remembers Papa Kong, Die traurige Nachricht, Learning Processes with a Deadly Outcome, Das gab’s nur einmal, Die Frau auf dem Schlachtfeld, La Habanera, So tückisch sind Friedensschlüsse, Stürm über Äegypten, Zwischen Mitternacht und der vierten Nachtstunde, Jedes Mal nach den Untergang, Das tödliche Dreieck)*
Primal Ocean and Snowball Earth / Von Ur-Ozean und Snowball-Earth*
On Laughing and Walking Upright / Vom Lachen und dem aufrechten Gang*
Flexible Memory / Das flexible Gedächtnis*
"80,000 Operas!" / “80.000 Opern!”*
"Of Which We cannot Speak We Must Sing!" / “Woron man nicht sprechen kann, davon muss man singen!”*
Soprano Versus Bass / Sopran gegen Bass*
Borderline Cases of Damage Control / Grenzfälle der Schadensregulierung*
Ein Labyrinth ohne Anfang und Ende – Joseph Vogl: Was ist ein Rhizom?
Die Mozart-Lüge: Helge Schneider zum Mozartjahr
Musik ist meine Republik: Begegnungen mit dem Dirigenten Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Proben zu Don Giovanni Martin Kusej in Salzburg
Der Muschelhändler: Peter Berling als Massimo Puta über leckere und tödliche Meeresfrüchte
Ich bin in erster Linie Filmemacher: Begegnungen mit Christoph Schlingensief
Die Herrin der Texte: Hannelore Hoger als Souffleuse Rita Ohnesorg
Im Weltall braucht man keine Lesebrille: Helge Schneider und Peter Berling im Orbit

2007

Love Makes You Perceptive! / Liebe machte hellsichtig*
“The Burning Giraffe” / “Die brennende Giraffe”*
Clinton’s Chief Economist / Clintons Chefökonom*
“50 Knuckles of Pork Is About Right” / “Ab 50 Eisbein wird es schön”*
The Bridge Crosser / Der Brückengeher*
Megastars of the Art of Love / Megastars der Liebeskunst*
War Is the End of All Plans / Krieg ist das Ende alle Pläne*
The Magical World of Evolution / Zauberwelt der Evolution*
The Opera Doctor / Der Opern-Arzt*
I Lived for My Art / Der Kunst weiht’ ich mein Leben*
Richard Wagner and the Law of Ruin Value in Music / Richard Wagner und das Ruinengesetz in der Musik*
The Phenomenon of the Opera / Das Phänomen der Oper*
The Car Is Your Second Skin / Das Fahrzeug ist die zweite Haut*
The Safety of the President / Die Sicherheit des Präsidenten*
The Deterrent / Der Abschrecker*
Spinoza and the Modes of God / Spinoza und die Modi Gottes*
What Does "Good Will" Mean? / Was heisst “guter Wille”?*
The Gentle Make-Up of Light / Die sanfte Schminke des Lichts*
The Magic of the Darkened Soul / Der Zauber der verdunkelten Seele*
Multiple Images for 5 Projectors / Mehrfachbilder fur 5 Projektoren*
Das Jahr 1929 - Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Wie erzählt man von ferner Zeit?
Der Spanische Büregerkrieg: Prof. Dr. Pedro Barceló über einen Schlüsselkonklikt des 20. Jahrhunderts
Das entfesselte Kino: Dziga Vertovs Donbass Sinfonie
“Meine Heimat ist der Filme”: Edgar Reitz über die Magie der bewegten Bilder
City Girls: Aufbruch junger Frauen im Film der Zwanziger Jahre

2008

Evolution in the Universe / Liebe im Universum*
Fifi*
Headless Man / Mann ohne Kopf*
The Time That Must Pass before an Audience Takes the Initiative / Die Zeit, der vergehen muss, damit eine Zuschauermenge Initiative ergreift*
Preying Angel / Raubengel*
The Siamese Hands / Die siamesischen Hände*
As Long as Sheet Music Lasts / Solange die Notenblätter reichen*
The Inseperable Nine / Die neun Unzertrennlichen*
Sense below the Sense / Verstand, unterhalb des Verstandes*
News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx – Eisenstein – Das Kapital / Nachtrichten aus der ideologischen Antike: Marx – Eisenstein – Das Kapital Filmedition Suhrkamp
Who Am "I"? / Wer bin “ICH”? - Peer Gynt*
Man Is the Soft Target / Das Weichziel ist der Mensch*
It’s a Free World: Soziale Dramen vom britischen Filmemacher Ken Loach
“Ich geh Nicht in den Keller lachen!”: Michael Haneke über seine Haltung beim Filmemachen
“Und will Ich in die Sterne seh’n muss stets das Aug mir übergeh’n”: Edgar Reitz über den Hunsrück und über das Filmemachen
Die Entfesselung des Films: Oksana Bulgakowa über Sergej Eisensteins “Wolkenkratzer aus Glas” und sein Kugelbuch
Ein Mann aller Altersklassen: Der einzigartige Filmemacher, Autor und Anwalt Dr. Norbert Kückelmann
Extra-Post der Hölle: Joseph Vogl über Den Schurken
Das Prinzip Stadt: Oskar Negt über “Die Stadt in Uns”
Kaufen & Verkaufen: Die Theorie der Börse
Kann Das Kapital “Ich” sagen?: Wie hätte Eisenstein Das Kapital von Karl Marx verfilmt?
Weltmacht Staub: Hartmut Bitomsky über einen unbesiegbaren Zustand der Materie
Heiner Goebbels interview (title unknown)
The Theatrics of Things / Das Theater der Dinge – Joseph Vogl: Die Dinge schlagen zurück!
Die Reinschrift des Lebens: Joseph Vogl über Robinson and den Robinsonismus
Die Heimkehr der “Hottentotten-Venus”: Gesine Krüger über die Odyssee der Sarah Baartman

2009

Ein Leben im Jahrhundert der Extreme - Franziska Augstein über Jorge Semprún: “Schauspieler seiner Ideale”
Das Theater der Praktischen Vernunft: Sekretarius Heinz Scaevola Mutius über seine “Raketen des Vergnügens”


Forum Resources

Alexander Kluge Box Set (and Edition Filmmuseum in general)


Recommended Web Resources

Kluge's dctp production company
Alexander Kluge Research Collection – Princeton (coming soon)
Müller-Kluge: Conversations between Heiner Müller and Alexander Kluge Cornell Archive, includes video
Senses of Cinema profile
Strictly Film School
Film Comment interview, 1974


Books

The Devil’s Blind Spot: Tales from the New Century – Alexander Kluge (Amazon; Google Books)
Public Sphere and Experience: Towards an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere – Alexander Kluge, Oskar Negt, Peter Labanyi, Miriam Hansen, Assenka Oskiloff (Amazon; Google Books)

Alexander Kluge: The Last Modernist – Peter C Lutze (Amazon; Google Books)

. . . and lots more, but many untranslated or out of print

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#2 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:23 pm

Every filmography I could find tailed off in 1986 or thereabouts. Now I know why! Still, I've tried to note all the television work I could find reliable references for, from the Edition Filmmuseum on down. The forthcoming catalogue will presumably provide a lot more detail. I concede that the web refs and bibliography are somewhat perfunctory, but as with the TV stuff, there's the where-do-you-stop issue with Kluge. Any additions and corrections gratefully accepted.

I'm probably being ridiculously ambitious, but I’m intending to work my way through Edition Filmmuseum’s bumper set chronologically and, for the moment at least, I’ll try to share my thoughts. (I now realise that I ran out of steam midway through my similar Fassbinder endeavour when the films began to get harder to find - at least that’s not an issue here!)

Brutality in Stone

Kluge’s first film was co-directed with Peter Schamoni, a significant figure of the New German Cinema (and fellow signatory of the Oberhausen Manifesto), though I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other films. Brutality in Stone is somewhat legendary, and I can see why. It’s proto-New German Cinema and directly influenced by the proto-French New Wave, particularly the Left Bank essay films of Resnais and Varda.

The film is a brilliant collage of abstracted fascist architecture and historic stills accompanied by a confrontational soundtrack: stark silence, dissonant music, documentary sound and quoted texts. Kluge’s characteristic formal verisimilitude and co-option of pre-existing texts is already in full force, and the layering in this film is both concise and complex, documenting Hitler’s obsession with architecture, the propagandistic ends to which it was put by the Nazi regime and, in a telling quotation from Rudolf Hess, the ‘architectural’ dimension of the Final Solution.

Visually, the film evokes the cool modernism of Resnais and Varda (e.g. the highly aestheticised spaces of La Pointe courte), but also that of Antonioni. The forlorn Nuremberg rally grounds (at times eerily enlivened by the sound of past Nazi events) are reconfigured as oppressive geometric patterns. Framing is often static, but at times the camera moves rapidly (while preserving the abstraction: a track up a flight of steps rather than a contextualising panorama) and even violently: e.g. a swish pan to a new detail.

Even in this first film, we’ve got a very full consideration of one of the key concerns of Kluge (and the New German Cinema as a whole): the marks left by recent history, specifically the Nazi period, on present-day Germany.

Racing

A much less pointed short, ostensibly about motor racing, but Kluge’s political agenda provides depth and bite. Kluge piles additional texts onto the racing footage, including very early motorcar footage, apparently incongruous African music to accompany the race and a sly, almost straight commentary read by Mario Adorf. These disparate elements add up to a veiled Marxist critique of the winner-takes-all ethos that underpins both the race, capitalist society and international politics (Kluge is careful to set up the road race as a nationalist display through a pompous parade of flags). The narration winds up to the triumphalist high note of “Victory and victor, machine and politics are in harmony!” just before the unwelcome intrusion of a fatal conflagration hints at the cost of the contest. The crowd scuttles away from a tragedy they’d rather ignore.

Transcript of a Revolution

A found documentary on the then-recent successful revolution in the island republic of Las Villas, which managed in 1961 to overthrow the dictatorship established by Stromberg in 1934. Kluge’s dilemma in making this documentary lay in the absence of any footage of the revolution, of Stromberg or of Las Villas, none of which exist. As a consequence, this wonderful conceit consists of found footage (including stuff from old gangster movies) and staged scenes accompanied by a soundtrack of tuning radios, faux news broadcasts, narration, crowd noises and hilariously corny sound effects (just about every image of a weapon being fired brings with it that familiar ricochet ‘pwang!’ from a million TV westerns). It’s all tied together into a brilliantly breathless montage that never gives us space to reflect on the absurdity of it all.

It’s one of the best conceived and delivered ‘mockumentaries’ I’ve seen - and surely one of the earliest. It makes you realise just what a formative influence Kluge was on Werner Herzog. (Kluge really is the ‘father’ of New German Cinema in a stylistic sense - there’s not a lot of similarity between the work of Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog and von Praunheim, say, but they all owe specific debts to Kluge). Herzog’s early shorts follow closely in the footsteps of Kluge’s. The (rather simplistic) found footage juxtapositions of Herakles reflect several of Kluge’s more accomplished films, and the absurdist militaristic stagings of The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutchkreuz, the journalistic put-on of Precautions Against Fanatics and the more elaborate and poetic fakery of Last Words could all be traced directly back to this film.

Teacher

Another pointed collage that, like Racing, looks a little like it emerged, kicking and screaming, from an anodyne commission. A collection of historic stills segues into a montage of fragments from speeches that builds into a sarcastic portrait of ‘the local establishment’. Kluge then opens up the frame to reflect (also sarcastically?) on the ‘decline of the teaching profession’. But then, what was that brief glimpse of Hitler doing amongst the parade of venerable old school teachers that opened the film? Oh, and here he is again. Kluge kicks it up another gear and arrives at the meat of the film: three case studies of how specific teachers dealt with the social and political challenges of teaching during the Nazi period and in East Germany. Kluge’s brought us back to his old concern of the impact of history and politics on ordinary lives, but he’s not trying to score obvious didactic points. There aren’t easy parallels or counterpoints between the three stories: the vocation of teaching, like history itself, is problematised. Kluge would follow up on several of the ideas explored in this film in The Patriot.

A Policeman’s Lot

Another witty deconstruction of the documentary form, this time taking in its sights the observational portrait. Kluge’s subject is an involuntarily retired policeman, who we follow through his (somewhat comically exaggerated) daily routine. His reflections and memories are illustrated with historic stills (including a couple of shots recycled from Teacher) and found footage, and the narration / text, like that in many of Kluge’s early films, is running a sort of contrapuntal relay race with the stream of imagery. Once again, the subtext is history, and we can trace the indirect impact of Nazism on both German society and the individual psyche (though the protagonist is nothing so simplistic as an unreconstructed National Socialist). The weight of history contributes to the act that gets our policeman dismissed from the force and the internal contradictions of the character - and of Germany itself - are comically summed up in his aphorism “I would punch anyone in the face who did not act in a democratic way.”
Last edited by zedz on Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
HypnoHelioStaticStasis
Joined: Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:21 pm
Location: New York

Re: Alexander Kluge

#3 Post by HypnoHelioStaticStasis » Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:48 pm

Go Zedz Go!

Kluge is a unusually deft, sensitive filmmaker, and as always, I look forward to reading your well thought-out ruminations. I'm particularly anxious to hear your reactions to Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave and the great Yesterday Girl!

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#4 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 11, 2009 6:02 pm

HypnoHelioStaticStasis wrote:Go Zedz Go!

Kluge is a unusually deft, sensitive filmmaker, and as always, I look forward to reading your well thought-out ruminations. I'm particularly anxious to hear your reactions to Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave and the great Yesterday Girl!
OK, I cheated. I waited to make my first post until I was well ahead in my viewing, so here's Yesterday Girl and the next couple of shorts:

Yesterday Girl

I managed to see a large chunk of Kluge’s feature film work in the early 90s, but this breakthrough film had always eluded me.

It’s a spectacular starting point for the New German Cinema. Schlondorff’s first feature may have preceded it, but that’s really only New German Cinema by association. Yesterday Girl is quite clearly a whole new thing from frame one, and you can trace so much of what followed from this film.

One of the ‘problems’ of New German Cinema has always been its diversity. In the clear light of day, there’s very little common ground between Wender’s demotic road movies, Herzog’s ecstatic visions, Fassbinder’s claustrophobic poison-pen melodramas, Hauff’s dour realism, von Trotta’s tough feminism, Syberberg’s epic pseudo-documentary forms and Achternbusch / Von Praunheim / Ottinger’s anarchic, absurdist theatricalism, but you get aspects of all of those modes in Kluge’s work, and often all in the same film, as is the case with his debut feature.

Stylistically, the film is all over the place (or, if you prefer, post-modern), combining documentary talking heads, conventional dramatic scenes, improvisations, animation, intertitles, and various found texts (at one point the film stops to allow a children’s poem, with storybook illustrations, to take the stage). The obvious reference point is Godard, but Kluge goes much further and, arguably, deeper than JLG.

Alexandra Kluge, as Anita G., strongly evokes Anna Karina, but for me her brother is a much more generous director than Karina’s husband tended to be. Unlike Karina’s characters, Anita is in on the joke, and she comes off as the animating force of the film (and later of Occasional Work of a Female Slave) in a way that Karina never managed. The difference for me is between mere muse and co-author.

The film can be exhausting, but it’s not dull. The satire can be shrill, but it’s punctuated by arresting asides and ingenious formal elements. The opening sequence, for example, of Anita G. being convicted for theft, is comprised of shots that are 90% conventional, but the way they’re assembled is striking. We begin with a long close up of the back of the judge’s head (an allusion to Vivre sa vie, perhaps); in the midst of one of the judge’s spiels we cut to a close-up of his face, which isn’t speaking; when the judge instructs Anita to place her hands on his bench we cut, on those words, to her hands already there. The sense of the present moment in this sequence and elsewhere in the film is fluid and complicated: the images are often a little bit ahead of, or a little bit behind, the soundtrack - or vice versa. Anita G. is a woman constantly on the run from her past (as a defaulting tenant, as a thief, as an East German, as a Jew), and that personal history is intimately tied up with that of Germany itself. The film’s form has a restless, somewhat frantic, forward motion to match, but it’s also cyclical and non-progressive: progress is a trap and an illusion unless or until Anita turns to face what she’s running from.

Yesterday Girl is full of memorable bits and pieces, but there’s a particular sequence in the middle of the film that’s gob-smacking in its audacity and irreverence and might give you an idea of what you’re in for. In the course of about three minutes, we get the following shots, in sequence:
- A display of elaborately stylised police stunt-driving, sped up so that the headlights become blurred, spinning halos.
- A second pixillated shot of the police display, this time of marching in formation.
- Anita’s pious friend, last seen at the very beginning of the film, walking through a forest and spying something as she approaches the camera.
- A close-up of Anita, in the forest, holding up her palm, which is full of slime.
- An actor (not seen anywhere else in the film) declaiming a speech melodramatically at the camera.
- A white rabbit chomping on a carrot.
- Pan shot of a stretch of mud.
- Longer scene in which two men in a park (new to the film) offer a woman (ditto) the choice of which of her two children will undergo a lobotomy - it’s OK, you see, because she has a choice. They cart off her son.
- A shot of dozens of toy soldiers advancing in stop motion across a hilly landscape.
- A couple of extra shots of the toy soldiers in the landscape, this time unanimated, but caught with the camera circling around them.
- Sped-up footage of Anita running around a park, amongst other people who may be chasing her.
- An intertitle that reads: “Will yesterday come tomorrow?”
- More footage of Anita running through the park - now chased by the sinister lobotomising pair. She turns and fires a gun at them.
- Anita steps onto a table at which another woman is sitting and starts to walk towards us. She steps in her high heels on the woman’s thumb, which is crushed and explodes in a mess of blood and latex.

Whew! According to imdb, if I liked this film, I might also like Annie Hall, Cuba Libre (a Christian Petzold downer), Theo gegen der Rest der Welt (a 1980 trucker movie), The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and The Bacherlor and the Bobby-Soxer. Which sounds about right to me!

Frau Blackburn, Born 5 Jan. 1872, Is Being Filmed

At first, this portrait of a very old lady looking back on her life seems uncharacteristically straightforward, though there is the unusual exposure of artifice - when asked to grind some coffee, she explains that it’s already been ground, but she’ll pretend to do it slowly enough to fool the audience - and a gentle teasing of documentary protocols - when Kluge uses old snapshots to illustrate Frau Blackburn’s recollections, he shuffles a still of his sister from the end of Yesterday Girl in amongst them.

The slippage between fact and fiction becomes an avalanche when we see Frau Blackburn entertain a guest. His intrusion into the documentary is announced by an intertitle that reads “he was - he said - once a pilot with the RAF”, and his presence is grotesquely stylised by Kluge, with extreme close-ups of his spivvy moustache and narrow eyes and his creepy laugh looped on the soundtrack. He isn’t afforded a voice during the encounter. Instead, we get his dialogue reported by a narrator (i.e. “he says. . .”). We only get to hear his voice in sync for the first time after he leaves Frau Blackburn’s flat, when he announces to camera that he has arranged another meeting with her elsewhere to continue their business discussions, but that this is just a pretext to get her out of the flat so that he can burgle it. The robbery takes place, and Frau Blackburn returns to find the lifetime’s worth of heirlooms she’d previously shown to the filmmakers stolen or shattered (those heirlooms - Dresden china, the complete works of Goethe - are a neat encapsulation of Germany’s cultural heritage). She then proceeds to reenact - very unconvincingly - her discovery of the robbery, complete with theatrical expository narration for the camera (“Oh well, I suppose I ought to phone the police now!”)

It’s hard to know how much, if any of this film is real - Is it all reenactment? Is it part fiction? Was there ever a robbery? Was there ever a Frau Blackburn? Watch this space.

E.A. Winterstein, Fire Extinguisher

A weird translation of the title (as opposed to the more standard “fireman”), but that’s what the German Filmmuseum Edition have gone with, and it’s a weird film.

This is the most extreme example so far of Kluge’s radical collage approach to filmmaking, and it presents a densely layered soundtrack running parallel to a densely layered visual track, the two only occasionally meeting in terms of conventional sense relationships. Ostensibly it’s another portrait, this time of a fireman, but that material is so swamped with all the other stuff that the ultimate impression of the film is one of wild free association.

Some of the component elements are: synchronised public displays by firemen; extreme close-ups of eyes, animal and human; frenetic clockwork toys superimposed via double exposure onto rainy landscapes or fireman shots; accelerated point-of-view driving shots; opera; pictures of cats from various books; a disturbing filmed portrait of a woman with her facial details scrambled through refraction and superimposition. In some mysterious way, this seems to be an answer film to Yesterday Girl. A lot of outtakes from that film are included (plus what seem to be additional shots with Alexandra Kluge ‘in character’), and the elusive figure of Winterstein, dressed in mock Roman centurion garb, at one point reenacts, on the same path in the same park, Anita G.’s circular flight.
Last edited by zedz on Tue Jun 12, 2012 10:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
HypnoHelioStaticStasis
Joined: Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:21 pm
Location: New York

Re: Alexander Kluge

#5 Post by HypnoHelioStaticStasis » Wed Mar 11, 2009 11:52 pm

It’s a spectacular starting point for the New German Cinema. Schlondorff’s first feature may have preceded it, but that’s really only New German Cinema by association. Yesterday Girl is quite clearly a whole new thing from frame one, and you can trace so much of what followed from this film.

One of the ‘problems’ of New German Cinema has always been its diversity. In the clear light of day, there’s very little common ground between Wender’s demotic road movies, Herzog’s ecstatic visions, Fassbinder’s claustrophobic poison-pen melodramas, Hauff’s dour realism, von Trotta’s tough feminism, Syberberg’s epic pseudo-documentary forms and Achternbusch / Von Praunheim / Ottinger’s anarchic, absurdist theatricalism, but you get aspects of all of those modes in Kluge’s work, and often all in the same film, as is the case with his debut feature.

Stylistically, the film is all over the place (or, if you prefer, post-modern), combining documentary talking heads, conventional dramatic scenes, improvisations, animation, intertitles, and various found texts (at one point the film stops to allow a children’s poem, with storybook illustrations, to take the stage). The obvious reference point is Godard, but Kluge goes much further and, arguably, deeper than JLG.
As always, great analysis. I think where Kluge succeeds where Godard (sometimes) fails is to engage his audience in a quasi-dialogue, as opposed to berating them with his "politics," to use a somewhat crude word. Yesterday Girl is certainly the finest Kluge film I've seen (I've only seen four, but I admire them all immensely), and it manages to be his most unhinged and his most disciplined. Everything feels deliberate, but never heavy (even in its most obvious moments, which grow very nicely from Kluge's framework), like so much of Godard's output.

I'm a relative novice with non-mainstream German New Wave cinema, but Kluge's films have a lack of self-importance that is refreshing. Yesterday, Domestic Slave and The Indomitable Leni Peickert all have an anthropological edge, and Kluge is searching for some kind of profundity within these hermetically sealed little worlds. What that truth is remains to be seen, but Kluge recognizes this. I can't wait to see more of his work.

accatone
Joined: Thu May 04, 2006 8:04 am

Re: Alexander Kluge

#6 Post by accatone » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:22 am

HypnoHelioStaticStasis wrote: I think where Kluge succeeds where Godard (sometimes) fails is to engage his audience in a quasi-dialogue, as opposed to berating them with his "politics," to use a somewhat crude word. Yesterday Girl is certainly the finest Kluge film I've seen (I've only seen four, but I admire them all immensely), and it manages to be his most unhinged and his most disciplined. Everything feels deliberate, but never heavy (even in its most obvious moments, which grow very nicely from Kluge's framework), like so much of Godard's output.

I'm a relative novice with non-mainstream German New Wave cinema, but Kluge's films have a lack of self-importance that is refreshing. Yesterday, Domestic Slave and The Indomitable Leni Peickert all have an anthropological edge, and Kluge is searching for some kind of profundity within these hermetically sealed little worlds. What that truth is remains to be seen, but Kluge recognizes this. I can't wait to see more of his work.
Nice addition to the Filmmakers board! I do not want to disrupt zedz(s?) reviews here but just want to point out two things:

01. Kluges dctp

I think its important to add this to the first post so that people can see right from the beginning that what we have here is not the solitary artist (maybe as opposed to JLG) but someone with a practical & dialectical mission for the public - or better in a Kluges term counterpublic.

02. The JLG reference is obvious and to this day brought up by Kluge himself. However my personal opinion on comparing these two is not complete or can not be complete if you do not take a closer look on their specific geographical, social and biographical background. Just comparing them on a formal level does not get you too far. There is a reason for the differences of lets say La Chinoise and Abschied von Gestern that is to be found in their origin rather than the final (formal) product. (sidenote: both films are sometimes equally awkward in their realisation…).

For whats worth it - personal highlights for me were Die Macht der Gefühle and Krieg und Frieden (plus Der Kandidat)- where i was really impressed by the editing/collage work that i did not expect prior to the Histoire(s)…and Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit…

ps: i might be able to add some more info just for the simple fact that Kluges work (and reception) is mainly available in the german language - so feel free to ask and i will check my shelves…
Last edited by accatone on Fri Mar 13, 2009 7:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#7 Post by zedz » Thu Mar 12, 2009 6:05 pm

accatone wrote:Nice addition to the Filmmakers board! I do not want to disrupt zedz(s?) reviews here but just want to point out two things:

01. Kluges dctp

I think its important to add this to the first post so that people can see right from the beginning that what we have here is not the solitary artist (maybe as opposed to JLG) but someone with a practical & dialectical mission for the public - or better in a Kluges term counterpublic.
Added - thanks for the link. And by all means disrupt away: it would be a bit ridiculous for a thread on Kluge to be univocal!

More films:

Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed

Kluge's second feature takes the same basic format as his first - the picaresque adventures of a female protagonist at odds with society, related in a variety of styles and modes - but he's a little more ambitious and a little more refined this time. The formal values are stronger: there are some lush colour passages documenting circus life, and the black and white photography in the rest of the film is often luminous where Yesterday Girl was going for a ratty, on-the-fly look. The central story of Leni Peickert, an ill-fated wannabe circus entrepreneur, is still fragmentary and episodic, but Hannelore Hoger holds the film together with her personality (as did Alexandra Kluge in the previous film), and with that central thread in the bank, Kluge allows himself to be even bolder with his digressions. These include found footage of Hitler addressing his fanbase set to a German version of 'Yesterday', the tale of a secretary who sets about flushing her boss's ill-gotten gains down the toilet, an illustrated mini-essay on the sexual performance problems associated with space travel (not the last time Kluge would address this burning issue), and a peculiarly moving section presenting the musings of anti-Fascist elephants.

The Indomitable Leni Peickert

A short sequel to Artists under the Big Top, which follows Leni as she ventures into television, which she sets about subverting. It's a more straightforward narrative than that of the parent film, without many of the digressions, and presented in a more unifed form, this time using the format of a television documentary, with a single, "authoritative" narrator.

Kluge has an interesting technique of using his films to 'seed' subsequent projects. Just as outtakes from Yesterday Girl were used in Frau Blackburn and E.A. Winterstein, unused footage from Artists under the Big Top appears here alongside a lot of new material - or, possibly, entire sections shot for the feature that never made it in. In the television discussion Reformzirkus that appears on the DVD, Kluge briefly refers to Leni's subversive television career as a part of the parent film, so he may have considered this addenda as integral to a revised version of the film. He'd do this again, apparently reworking his next two features nine times over the years.

That Reformzirkus show has to be seen to be believed. Kluge appears alongside an earnest TV host, an earnest trade unionist and an earnest film critic to discuss the merits of Artists under the Big Top after (presumably) its first television screening. The topic is "Film and Society" and the discussion is framed wholly in what-about-the-workers platitudes against which a work as whimsical as that film could not hope to prevail. To give you a hint as to how hopeless Kluge's situation is, it's pointed out several times that aesthetics have no place in this discussion of "film". Kluge manages to wrestle the discussion around to a consideration of the role of television in society, and specifically the way in which it constrains debate and the articulation of ideas by imposing rigid forms on discourse (as we've seen here). At this point, three-quarters of an hour in, the television show's editor, completely pissed off that Kluge has 'violated' the bounds of discussion he'd hoped his guests would follow, intervenes, calling "cut" and walking on stage to denounce Kluge (who quite sensibly points out that he shouldn't invite people onto a discussion show if he didn't want to hear what they have to say). The tirade runs and runs, and so does one of the cameras, and eventually this showdown turns into the show itself. By the hour and a half mark, the crew have emerged from the darkness and joined the debate and they take a vote as to whether the entire programme should be canned, screened only in part, or screened in its entirety, tantrums, breakdowns and all (it's unanimously for the latter). But here you start to suspect that the programme's editor, and maybe the crew, have engineered this 'intervention' simply to try and disprove by example Kluge's earlier assertions about the constrained formats of television discourse (in fact, you half wonder whether this might be another of Kluge's subversions of documentary forms). Kluge seems to be alert to this possibility and notes that this single example proves nothing about television as a mode of discourse, and even in this anarchic example, the discussion is still being mediated and contained by the host and editor of the show. The whole thing, running for more than two hours, is quite a spectacle, and though it sheds little light on Artists under the Big Top, or Kluge's film practice at the time, it's fascinating given his later move into television as his preferred mode of expression.

A Doctor from Halberstadt

Another of Kluge's 'documentary portraits'. Here the subject is a doctor from East Germany vacationing in West Germany. It's played very straight, but you have your suspicions about the fictionality of it all (for the record, Kluge himself was the son of a "doctor from Halberstadt"). The narration imposes certain 'literary' qualities on the events described, notably a gentle ironic twist at the end of the tale, and at one point the doctor and his friend perform the same lewd, comical mime song that Leni Peickert and her friends did in The Indomitable Leni Peickert, which they present as an "old favourite." There are several possibilities here: these old men just happened to perform the same old folk song that Kluge had already used; Kluge shot this film first and relocated this authentic performance to the fictionalised world of Leni et al.; Kluge asked the doctor and his friend to perform this song so there would be a connection between the two films. Each of those possibilities suggests a different kind of relationship between reality and film, but none of those issues are raised unless you've seen both films. We'll see an even more striking example of this kind of intertextuality in a later portrait film.

The uncertainty about the authenticity of the events depicted complicates the film's most absurd scene. While the old men are chatting in a hotel courtyard, the befuddled hotel owner tries to figure out what to do with a delivery of ridiculously ornate furniture which has turned out to be too large for his rooms. Is this a literary absurdism, or the kind of ridiculous detail that could only happen in 'real life'?
Last edited by zedz on Tue May 27, 2014 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#8 Post by zedz » Sun Mar 15, 2009 4:38 pm

The Big Mess

An outrageous film. Sometime in 1969, Kluge must have realised that his radical collage aesthetic had the potential of rendering no subject matter 'unfilmable' and, furthermore, made a lot of conventional resource constraints irrelevant. And so he undertook the making of an enormous science-fiction epic on small change. The spirit of Ed Wood is alive and well in this enterprise - Kluge's ambition-to-resources ratio dwarfs that of Plan 9 from Outer Space - but Kluge is, of course, much smarter and more ingenious.

So he uses lots of models, very basic opticals, Gilliamesque animation, maps and diagrams, pictures from pulp magazines, and intertitles (complete with pseudo-scholarly references to the 'Galactic Encycopedia') to fill in the space-operatic sweep between the dialogue scenes. It's sort of like Alphaville cubed, though the aesthetic also owes something to Flaming Creatures or certain Warhol films like Vinyl. A construction site is a construction site is a construction site, Kluge reasons, so let's just tell the audience that this particular one is the construction site for a 12.5 km long spaceship.

The loose story follows various groups of spacefarers in and around the Kruger 60 star system, in and around the year 2036. There's drastically underqualified Space Pilot Douglas, of Joint Galactical Transports (his job interview: "Do you have a Space Pilot's licence?" / "No." / "Can you fly a spaceship?" / "Yes." / "You're hired!"); a family in flight from galactic bureaucracy, heading out for the "edge of industry" in a galaxy controlled by the Suez-Kanal Company; and an aged couple of 'accumulators' / scavengers ("Ooh, look! Here's the engine room! We'll take all of that!"). There's even a guest appearance by Amon Duul II, for all you krautrock fans, and they look completely at home in Kluge's ramshackle universe.

The ridiculous cut-price ambition of this film points directly to Syberberg's Hitler: A Film from Germany, and Craig Baldwin's and Guy Maddin's careers both seem to be in large part derived from this particular film.

Willi Tobler and the Decline of the 6th Fleet

A sequel to The Big Mess, but, yet again, a sort of refinement. In narrative terms, this is much more focussed, closing in on a single protagonist, Tobler, played by Kluge axiom Alfred Edel, and jazzing up the homemade aesthetic (this is a gorgeous transfer, with magnificent, vivid colour). Some shots recur from The Big Mess, as do several characters. But the tightening up is also accompanied by some wilder collage elements, particularly sequences of stills that stray far from the science-fiction basis of the film's central imagery (antique scenes of ice-skating?). Ultimately, this makes for a more coherent whole than The Big Mess, but one that expresses Kluge's bizarrely visionary concept even more effectively.

Kluge has more than once identified these insane films as among his favourites, and he claims to have reworked them up to nine times. I know that one of those re-versions was released as Zu baser Schlacht schleich ich heut Nacht so bang in 1977, but none of those later versions are documented in this set. Perhaps the long-awaited book will clarify the matter.
Last edited by zedz on Thu Aug 24, 2017 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Camera Obscura
Joined: Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:27 pm
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Alexander Kluge

#9 Post by Camera Obscura » Sun Mar 15, 2009 7:46 pm

Wow. Very impressive!

Until recently I only knew Kluge from his appearances on German television, but last year I started watching his feature film output and by now, he's defintely one of my favorite filmmakers.

Perhaps one of his more readily "accessible" films, to use a slightly derogatory term, is Der Starke Ferdinand/ Strongman Ferdinand (1976). It seems more poignant than ever, and very funny as well.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#10 Post by zedz » Sun Mar 15, 2009 11:41 pm

Camera Obscura wrote:Until recently I only knew Kluge from his appearances on German television, but last year I started watching his feature film output and by now, he's defintely one of my favorite filmmakers.
Kluge's an interesting example of a figure whose profile is no doubt very different in his homeland than it is elsewhere, where he effectively vanished from public consciousness (not that he was ever strongly there in the first place) twenty years ago. He's also probably one of the very few major filmmakers who would probably have been an important cultural figure even if he'd never made a single film.

Onward. Two of my favourites:

A Woman from the Property-Owning Middle Class, Born 1908

Okay, now this is what having a compendious edition of a director's works is all about. This film exhibits some kind of genius, but only in this particular viewing context. SPOILERS AHOY from here on in, so if you're intending to get the Kluge set you might want to skip the rest. Its impact and humour is wholly intertextual, and unless you'd seen Kluge's Frau Blackburn short, made some six years earlier, essential aspects of its meaning will elude you entirely. But on the other hand, it's not as simple as programming these two films together. If you encounter these two films as simple A/B elements, expecting some kind of connection between them, you'll also lose quite a bit of the delight and discovery, which crept up on me as an unexpected, wonderful surprise. In the German Filmmuseum edition, the two films are at either end of a short programme of Kluge's profiles, with A Doctor from Halberstadt in the middle to throw you off the scent.

Now, the title already alerts you to a certain similarity to the earlier film, and the documentary presents a similar figure: an older woman displaying her home and heirlooms for us. In this case she's planning to sell off her crockery and other treasures to pay her bills. She tells us a little about her life, and her recollections are illustrated with old family snapshots. There's a whiff of Kluge's fiction / fact slippage when a couple of the illustrative images look a little familiar, but generally this seems to be a straightforward portrait, less suspect even than A Doctor from Halberstadt.

But then, she invites her guest for tea, Mr Guhl, and it's the same guy who burgled Frau Blackburn in the earlier film. We even get the same creepy close-up of his scheming, squinting eyes. Our heroine lays out her valuable treasures before him, but he says he's not really interested in buying them. Instead he offers her an interest-free loan so she can get over her immediate financial difficulties. Our happy bourgeoise packs a suitcase to go on holiday and the film closes with a series of shots of all her lovely stuff sitting in her lovely house. The End. No burglary, no fraud. The suspicions that naturally arise in our mind are entirely based in our experience of an unrelated film. It's a brilliant bait and switch, and those who hadn't seen Frau Blackburn would be completely in the dark about Kluge's neat conceptual joke. Since I can't unsee that earlier film, it's hard to imagine how this film would read in isolation.

Occasional Work of a Female Slave

German Filmmuseum has this as Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave, but I prefer the dactyllic elegance this version shows. It's one of Kluge's best films, and it exhibits a degree of formal unity and concision that hadn't been seen in his features before this. There are still the same diverse components, including an illustrated children's story, found footage (e.g. the Vasilievs' socialist realist milestone / millstone Chapayev), 'converted' documentary footage, a couple of dips into the consciousness of secondary characters, and incongruously fulsome romantic music overlaid on scenes of domestic or political drudgery, but they're more successfully integrated into an organic whole in this film - which isn't to say that such integration was Kluge's failed goal in previous films.

That integration is assisted by a consistent documentary-derived look - the kind of aesthetic he'd been using for many of his shorter works - by consistent narration and by the strong grounding performance of Alexandra Kluge. As in Yesterday Girl, she brings the material alive, but she's not the only thing holding it all together this time around.

After the glorious excess of his previous features, Kluge is moving into a phase of concision and clarity that will yield some of his strongest and most accessible films, works that are political and provocative but not easy to pin down in terms of overt messages. Occasional Work of a Female Slave and Strongman Ferdinand are 'problem films' in the best sense, works that set up complexes of issues but refuse to resolve them reassuringly. In both cases, the personality of the protagonist is the central site of this thematic conflict.

In Occasional Work, Roswitha Bronski is a friendly neighbourhood abortionist, supporting her student husband and funding her own growing family by doing away with the unwanted pregnancies of others. I saw this film screened in 16mm several times and it was a notorious crowd-disperser owing to the graphic abortion footage that features in the first ten minutes. This sequence is designed to be polarising, and even among pro-choice women there were sharp differences of opinion as to the 'usefulness' of the footage. But Kluge is not making a film about the pros and cons of abortion, and he approaches both of his hot-button topics in the film (abortion in the first half; the growth of political consciousness in the second) in a clinical and detached manner.

In the heat of the burgeoning feminist movement of the early 1970s, Roswitha's heavily politicised roles (wife, mother, abortionist, activist, seditionary) suggest a political message, but Kluge resists giving his audience easy resolution in those terms. Her abortion practice is framed primarily in economic terms: she's supporting her family, she's concerned with collecting her commissions, the end of her practice is the result of commercial competition, and its biggest impact - in terms of the film's story - is on the family budget. By the same token, Roswitha's shift to political activism is not overtly validated by Kluge. Rather than representing an 'awakening of consciousness' - the radical cliche of the time - her activism is presented rather more as a new false consciousness. She's over-earnest and unrealistic, and her actions have no demonstrable positive outcomes. Kluge carefully patterns the second, activist half of the film as a near-repeat of the first to suggest that Roswitha hasn't progressed, but is instead reenacting the same conflicts on a different stage. Where Roswitha collides with a parked car at the start of the film, the bus she's riding in does so in the second; in both parts her 'occupation' brings her into conflict with the authorities and leads her to be shut out of a workplace; in both parts it's her husband who ends up paying the price for her actions.

The domestic role in both instances hangs in the balance, and Kluge's structuring of the film is very interesting in this regard. In the first half of the film, Roswitha's husband Franz is presented as an irredeemable arsehole. Roswitha is working all day to support him, but she's still expected to look after the kids and cook the meals, and he boorishly abuses her for the manner in which she does these things. It's a really bad marriage, and you suspect that getting out of it will be an important station of the cross for this feminist martyr. But after a while we do get to see a couple of glimpses of genuine tenderness between the couple, and when the police descend on Roswitha, Franz stoicly steps forward to take the rap.

In the second half of the film, Franz has to take on a job to support the family and the roles are reversed, with Roswitha becoming the self-motivated 'intellectual' of the house. But what happens to the kids? Roswitha is driven, she's expanding her horizons, but she's admirable rather than likeable, and this new interest seems to come at the expense of her family. As a viewer, you can get dangerously close to endorsing reactionary models of domesticity (why isn't she looking after the kids?), but when the cost of her politicisation is that unsupervised toddlers are setting fires in the courtyard, you have to question her priorities. Kluge makes us wonder whether it's ever possible to reconcile all of these conflicting demands on Roswitha, and our final view of her, more obsessive than ever, is comical, disturbing and sort of inspiring all at once.

Unfortunately, this film features the weakest transfer so far in the Filmmuseum Edition, very jaggy with some chroma. It looks a little like the most prominent titles were transferred some time back, and the most obscure works (e.g. Willi Tobler) tend to look the best.
Last edited by zedz on Thu Aug 24, 2017 8:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Camera Obscura
Joined: Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:27 pm
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Alexander Kluge

#11 Post by Camera Obscura » Wed Mar 18, 2009 3:53 pm

zedz wrote:Kluge's an interesting example of a figure whose profile is no doubt very different in his homeland than it is elsewhere, where he effectively vanished from public consciousness (not that he was ever strongly there in the first place) twenty years ago. He's also probably one of the very few major filmmakers who would probably have been an important cultural figure even if he'd never made a single film.
Kluge is sort of known as a Cultural Mandarin envolved in all kinds of politicial and historical debates in Germany, but I think hardly any German, if any, is aware of his feature films. How could they? They never made any impact outside the tiniest circle of critics. And that's a disgrace, time for an offensive!

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#12 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 18, 2009 5:03 pm

In Danger and in Deep Distress, the Middle Way Spells Certain Death

For a long time this has been one of my favourite film titles, so it’s nice to finally see the film. The film looks to have been shot on the fly, partly in response to current events – specifically the heavy-handed eviction of young radicals from their occupation of two buildings – and it’s co-credited to Kluge and Edgar Reitz (a longtime collaborator, having shot a couple of Kluge’s early films between directing his own). As such, it signals a tentative start to a period of heavily collaborative filmmaking that would result in such multi-director efforts as Germany in Autumn and The Candidate – taking Kluge’s collage aesthetic right back to the point of creation.

On the screen, this film plays like a lot of Kluge’s other films read on the page, as an interweaving of documentary and vaguely satirical fiction. In this case it seems to me more of a collation of disparate elements than most of his other collage films. Although there are crossovers between the film’s four layers (as when Inge Maier crosses the road in the middle of riot police actions), they don’t bounce off one another as provocatively or laterally as the diverse elements in other Kluge films, and the film doesn’t reach the same unexpected poetic heights.

The ‘anarchy’ also seems to be a little more polite and tidy than I’d expected, though this might be the consequence of the helpful key to the film’s four component parts provided at the outset:
1) The Story of Inge Maier – We’re warned at the very beginning that Inge feels like she might be in the wrong film, and I’m inclined to agree. There’s a great sequence in which this chancer seduces an old capitalist and then steals his car, leaving him pissing in the woods, but the storyline sort of withers on the vine after that.
2) Secret Agent Rita Muller-Eisert – Probably the best developed of the four threads, and it’s pretty entertaining. Rita is an East German spy who exasperates her superiors by reporting way too thoroughly on life in the West.
3) The Language of Public Events – This aspect of the film takes the form of various documentary records of pageants, parades and so forth.
4) Evicting People from Schumannstrasse 69, 71 and Bockenheimer Landstrasse 111, 113 – Overreacting police and the scenes of urban conflict they engender captured on film by Kluge and Reitz.

Biermann-Film

A very short extract of documentary footage (riot police dispersing crowds) from its parent feature, In Danger and in Deep Distress. . ., this has previously been identified as a 1982 or 1983 film in many sources. It clearly wasn’t shot then, and the Filmmuseum edition lists its date of original broadcast as 1974. Not much to say about it: a newsreel set to a Weillish song by dissident folkie Wolf Biermann, who’d also appear in Germany in Autumn.

Strongman Ferdinand

Quite possibly my favourite Kluge feature, and quite possibly his most straightforward one. There’s a real elegance of conception and significance and an economy of expression at work, but the film also has plenty to say.

The political subtext is simple and serious and has an ongoing relevance, namely the ways in which the establishment can and will use the threat of terrorism to consolidate their own power. This was extremely relevant in the terror-plagued Federal Republic of Germany of the 1970s (see also Germany in Autumn and Fassbinder’s The Third Generation) and it’s globally relevant now. But Kluge chooses to illustrate this issue through dry humour and character-based satire rather than presenting an illustrated political lecture (and Kluge, unlike most directors, could make that latter approach work).

Much more impressively, Kluge couches his ideas in an expertly calibrated character study. Although Ferdinand Reiche is in many respects a figure of fun, and it’s assumed that many of his views and positions would be anathema to the film’s audiences, Kluge also identifies strongly with his protagonist. The film shares his obsession with process, even if it can also step back and laugh at the tight, manic circles into which that obsession drives him, and it continually reminds us that the character’s most outrageous excesses are rooted in the very real and widely shared experience of job insecurity. In Occasional Work of a Female Slave, Kluge nudged the personality of his protagonist into the unsympathetic without abandoning empathy; in this film he goes even further, but still manages to keep us provisionally on Reiche’s side.

Ultimately, that understanding may be down to Ferdinand being a perpetual underdog, despite his illusions of mastery and his self-identification with the establishment. In fact, when it really counts he’s almost as much of an outsider as Leni Peickert or Roswitha Bronski, but one aspect of his tragedy is that he never realises it.

So there’s a strong emotional core to this film that’s missing from several of Kluge’s wilder stylistic forays, and the comparatively traditional form of Strongman Ferdinand demonstrates just how good Kluge could be even when he played by the rules. It’s continually, slyly funny, with unexpected visual gags cropping up all over the place: obsessive Ferdinand turning back during his morning run mid-conversation; shooting a bag of returned swag across a counter with the deft nonchalance of Keaton; answering the phone in nothing but a ridiculously draped duvet; the ‘is-it-too-much?’ signpost gag. Just the sight of tichy Ferdinand (definitely a case of Short Man Syndrome here) alongside his colossal friend Kneipling suggests a comedy duo. And there’s plenty of more elaborate situational humour: Ferdinand’s sleeping arrangements; his final interview; the large aquarium in which he places a replica of the factory he’s guarding, with the various fish representing different kinds of potential threat.

So many of Kluge’s films grow out of other ones, directly, organically, or mysteriously. Even partway through the oeuvre we’ve seen a half-dozen or more pairings (Yesterday Girl / Fire Fighter E.A. Winterstein; Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed / The Indomitable Leni Peickert; Frau Blackburn / A Woman from the Property-Owning Middle Class; The Big Mess / Willi Tobler and the Sinking of the Sixth Fleet; In Danger and In Deep Distress / Biermann-Film). Although Strongman Ferdinand stands alone, it’s interesting to note that three of Kluge’s earlier films featured Heads of Security as significant characters, and in each case the Head of Security was played by one of Kluge’s favourite actors, who’d played the protagonist of an earlier film: Hannelore Hoger (the former Leni Peickert) as the Security Chief in both The Big Mess and Willi Tobler, and Alfred Edel (the former Willi Tobler) as the Security Chief in Occasional Work of the Female Slave. So it seems as if the idea of Security Chief / Feature Protagonist might have been rattling around Kluge’s mind for some time before he hit upon this project. As Franz aphorised in Occasional Work, “unused ideas do not keep, they go to waste.”

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#13 Post by zedz » Thu Mar 19, 2009 4:32 pm

People Preparing the Staufer Anniversary

Alexander Kluge makes a ‘proper’ documentary? If so, it’s a first, so throughout this account of the preparations for a museum exhibition celebrating the Staufer era I kept expecting a big reveal that the whole thing was a put-on. Museum staff (particularly the old school variety) tend to sail so close to the edge of self-parody it was hard to tell, but there was no obvious giveaway, so I’m prepared to declare this legit. As such, it’s pretty dry stuff.

News of the Staufers

Although also co-directed with Maximiliane Mainka, this was much more Klugische, an idiosyncratic and fragmentary exploration of its subject through old images, clipped narration, on-screen texts, Verdi, and stylised explorations of medieval architecture (harking back, deliberately no doubt, to Brutality in Stone). Kluge seeks out the most bizarre historical imagery (lots of imaginary beasts, many of them devouring men) and gradually, carefully superimposes this safely distant ‘glorious German past’ onto the more immediate, unspeakable ‘glorious German past’ of the Third Reich.

Germany in Autumn

This is the film in the Kluge box set I was most eager to see, though to tell the truth it was the celebrated Fassbinder section that interested me the most. Getting that out of the way first: it’s by the far the most effective dramatic sequence in this compilation, it’s a really important Fassbinder film, and it’s nothing like I anticipated but very much like most of Fassbinder’s other films of this period. All the talk about how raw and personal RWF’s contribution to this film was, along with suggestions that it was something of a radical departure and largely documentary in content had me expecting long, unmediated shots. In fact, the film is as carefully scripted, edited, framed and lit as any of his features, an artfully constructed little drama that happens to draw a lot from Fassbinder’s own life and surroundings – but that’s hardly unusual for him: it’s just that the autobiography this time is less veiled. So it is revealing, but it’s no more revealing than Fassbinder wanted it to be: it’s hardly an unmoderated emotional outpouring for the waiting camera. RWF was never RWF’s best actor, but this is surely his best film performance, and poor Armin is extremely touching. How many other film portraits of a gay ‘married couple’ were available at the time, and how many even now are this unsentimental? Lilo Pempeit also gets to give a great performance as herself. She was almost always constrained into highly stylised, satirical portraits in her son’s films, so I’d never seen her this animated or passionate.

It’s a little unfair that Fassbinder’s contributionhas come to overshadow the rest of the film, but Germany in Autumn is rather patchy, particularly in terms of its other dramatic interludes. The sequence in which Franziska Busch rescues a woman in the street is slick, commercial and completely unconvincing, and the television staff getting antsy about a production of Antigone is overcooked. Kluge’s sequences introducing the character of Gabi Teichert, who’d go on to be the focus of The Patriot, have touches of the lyrical montage that carried the subsequent film, and he very elegantly manages to parallel the funeral of Hanns-Martin Schleyer – the event that starts the film – with the funeral of Rommel – whose son will help us bring the film full circle, but they’re also pretty sketchy. The second-best dramatic sequence is perhaps the most vestigial, the minimalist suspense sequence of the couple stopped momentarily at a border crossing.

The film’s documentary passages are more effective and, at this distance, more valuable, and the concluding one regarding the funeral of the Baader-Meinhof ‘suicides’, is unexpectedly eloquent and moving. There’s a superb balance between stillness, implicit violence, rage, resignation and lyricism in the way the images (from various sources) and soundtracks (ditto) are assembled. In documentary mode, it manages to convey a similar complexity of response to complex events that Fassbinder’s dramatic section had at the start of the film.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#14 Post by zedz » Sun Mar 22, 2009 6:22 pm

The Patriot

This may be the quintessential Kluge film, and Gabi Teichert his quintessentaial protagonist. It’s preoccupied with history, and specifically the problems of German history (Gabi Teichert, school teacher and patriot, confronts the dilemma of “how does one present a patriotic version of German history?”). In an era of cynicism and disillusionment (hot on the heels of Germany in Autumn), Kluge makes the bold move of taking the idea of German patriotism seriously, rather than satirically, and sets about trying to discover, via his proxy, what fragments of pride and honour might be salvaged from the ashes of shame.

Gabi, like all of Kluge’s feature protagonists, is naïve and driven, and the film does not manage to resolve her quest – though, significantly, she’s still questing at the close of the film. The film documenting her optimistic frustration, however, is rich and detailed, and one of the potential solutions to her dilemma lies in its focus on microcosmic, personal histories as an antidote to ‘capital H’ received history – the individual experiences of battlers against the tide like Gabi herself. The naïveté of Kluge’s heroes is generally a source of their strength: they don’t know what they’re not supposed to be able / allowed to achieve.

The film’s lack of conventional resolution is very Klugische. Of his various features, only Strongman Ferdinand (and maybe, at the outside, Occasional Work of a Female Slave) manages to resolve its narrative in anything like a conventionally satisfying way. So with this film, you have to find your satisfactions elsewhere, and, for me at least, they’re copious.

It’s one of Kluge’s most sophisticated and beautifully crafted collages. Probably 50% of the film consists of found material (old films and newsreels, still images, paintings, contemporary documentary footage, the music on the soundtrack, even retreads of sections from News of the Staufers), with another 25% shot to look like found material (e.g. footage of real events in which Gabi appears, a gorgeous series of ‘night vision’ close-ups, various exquisite landscapes). The conventionally ‘filmic’ and dramatic elements are only a small part of the overall picture. The material is incredibly diverse, and it’s going to sound all the more outré when I inform you that the entire film is narrated by the knee of a soldier who died at Stalingrad in 1944, but the effect of the film’s complex montage is poetic, lyrical and surprisingly coherent: a stimulating wash of sound, image and ideas that’s often mysteriously moving.

The Candidate

By rights, this should be the most recherché and inaccessible of Kluge’s features, an agit-prop piece (albeit a stylish one) arising from a specific event (the candidacy of Franz Josef Strauss for Chancellor in 1980) with much less international resonance than the Baader-Meinhof incidents (Germany in Autumn) or the arms race (War and Peace). But I found it quite gripping.

This film, like The Patriot, seems a little like a reaction to the unruliness of Germany in Autumn. The Patriot could almost be seen as Kluge’s example for future collaborative projects – this is how a collage film can have coherence and unity of form; and the two following features are indeed multi-director works that exhibit a unified, rather than fractured, authorial identity.

The Candidate uses diverse means – original footage, co-opted footage, lots of archival material, stills, television broadcasts (often shot off the TV screen with the textural consequences of that) – to build up a portrait of Strauss. Kluge, in lawyerly mode, organises his ‘evidence’ so calmly and lucidly that it’s only towards the halfway point that you realise just what sort of exposé this is going to be. Strauss has had a slippery career, but the intimations of bribery and abuse of power have a powerful cumulative effect – the filmmakers don’t have to shout.

These late collaborative works are not that different from Kluge’s own later collage-driven features. He’s always been concerned with incorporating different voices into his work (expressed as subjects, as characters, as found materials, as episodes, as differing modes), but he wants to get those voices engaged in discourse – he’s not just seeking variety for variety’s sake, and the diversity of his materials is not simply a matter of style. The Candidate, despite having four credited directors, is probably more unified than almost any other Kluge film, and it’s more purely documentary than any of his other features.

This film doesn’t seem to have survived especially well. This transfer comes from a solid but well-used projection print.

War and Peace

An interesting variant on that early 80s staple, the anti-nuclear documentary. The starting point here is specific concern for how divided Germany has become the logical battleground for World War III, and Kluge and his cohort riff on the implications of this. It’s far more pointed and less associative than Kluge’s own essay films of the period, but much looser and more diverse than The Candidate.

Its components include distorted old feature films, magic lantern slides, alienated propaganda films (with their audio stripped out entirely or with multiple layers of narration and translation), television extracts (including a CBS report on the little German village that will be the ‘first to go’ that appropriately includes, in a film about colonisation, its original American ad break), post-apocalyptic vignettes (starring Gunther Kaufmann and Angela Winkler, among others), pre-apocalyptic vignettes (Bruno Ganz trying to figure out how to evacuate Bonn) and occasionally some actual, normal ‘documentary footage’.

An interesting mid-point between The Candidate and Germany in Autumn in terms of its documentary / fiction balance, but it’s in his sole-director films of this period that Kluge really makes this particular idiosyncratic form sing.

The Quest for a Practical and Realistic Solution

This short film (subtitled “a short feature film from the rocket crisis era”) seems an awful lot like a stray episode from War and Peace. It concerns a man, Fred Tacke, who’s trying to figure out a way to survive World War III. His initial idea for a bolthole in Spitzbergen turns out to be misguided, his second choice (the sub-Antarctic) too expensive, and he has to settle for a common or garden bunker. Kluge’s back in more traditional mockumentary mode here, which makes me realise how far he’d strayed from that in his essay films of the late 70s and 80s, though there are also specific elements brought in from War and Peace (and one of those eerie night-vision portraits from The Patriot). Formally, this portrait film anticipates one strand of Kluge’s later TV work.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#15 Post by zedz » Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:05 pm

The Power of Emotion

I saw this film years ago, but honestly only remembered a single sequence from it. It was run along with The Blind Director, and since they’re both drifting, episodic works I’d amalgamated the two and had long since lost the capacity to figure out which bit came from which film (except the bit about the blind director, naturally). Most of the bits I remembered came from the later film, it turns out.

The Power of Emotion is nevertheless rather wonderful. It adapts the episodic structure of Kluge’s essay films to an altogether more mysterious and personal topic. There’s a common thread about how people deal with extraordinary events in different ways, and how the oddities of human experience cannot always conform to expected narrative patterns. Opera is adduced as a key metaphor (and there’s plenty of actual opera on view, but all from an oblique angle – sidestage, from behind, from up in the flies), but it jostles alongside other ‘national myths’ (including extracts from Lang’s Nibelungen). There are repeated instances of people talking past one another, of interrogators failing to understand the terms of reference of their subjects (a trope that will continue in The Blind Director and had already appeared in a couple of earlier films), and a couple of the episodes exhibit Kluge’s lawyerly concern for shades of morality and motivation.

In an early sequence, ‘The Shot’, Hannelore Hoger is on trial for murder. The judge tries in vain to get her to build a conventional revenge narrative out of incidents that she insists are mere incidents, lacking the psychological inflection he’s trying to narrate into them. A later, disturbing episode, “In her final hour. . .”, presents a woman “saved by the guilt of another”, an attempted suicide whose life is saved by a businessman who goes on to rape her while she’s still comatose. Again, the judge is frustrated by this woman’s inability to respond to her extraordinary experience in conventional terms because, as she notes, she didn’t really ‘experience’ anything and has no feelings towards her assailant / saviour. She feels much more hostility towards the man who drove her to suicide in the first place, but he’s not legally culpable.

There are other dramatic vignettes, including the story of a fireman who, knowing that the opera house he’s guarding will never withstand the oncoming firestorm, takes the opportunity to see what’s really inside the grail from Parsifal. The film’s most fully developed narrative, which closes the film, is spread across four ‘chapters’ (‘Bought for her own sake’, ‘A Crime’, ‘The Undoing of a Crime by means of Cooperation’, ‘Meanwhile, in Barcelona’). It’s a concise and weirdly uplifting story of theft, prostitution, murder and resurrection in which two couples, one slightly less bad than the other, commit and redeem a very bad act. Murder is a stronger bond than marriage, after all. The final coup de grace of this story, a smart and lovely touch, was the sequence I remembered from the film.

In the gaps there’s a lot of found footage and some fascinating and beautiful sequences: a brief consideration of the Crystal Palace Exhibition (“a parliament of objects”, as Kluge puts it, seguing from “In her final hour. . .”, in which we had been told that pain is personal property: too much of it and you become an object yourself); a simply exquisite dawn sequence that opens the film (Kluge is great with architecture – there’s a later montage of city reflections that is much more moving and mysterious than anything in Koyaanisqatsi); extracts from an interesting-looking silent version of Aida; and a funny job interview with Frau Barlamm (Hannelore Hoger again) who insists that the interviewer acknowledges that she has no wrinkles (and is therefore, presumably, suitable for the vacant position), though neither she nor he mention the fact that her face is ringed with clothes pegs.

The thematic or narrative thread linking all of these sequences is much less obvious than with Kluge’s preceding films, but there’s a strong emotional and aesthetic coherence to the film as a whole. In this film and The Blind Director, the collage feels a bit like the picaresque narratives of Yesterday Girl or Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed relieved of the obligation of a consistent protagonist. I really like the way these two films work as assemblages, even though they don’t satisfy regular narrative expectations.

The underlying meaning / coherence of The Power of Emotion actually lies slightly outside the film, and when you read that Kluge created this film as a refracted reaction to the unexpected death of his mother, it makes emotional sense in whole new ways. The paradox of the inevitable tragedy in Act V of an opera, and the perpetual hope that it could be averted with each performance, resonates, as do the various characters railing against the narratives into which they’ve been shoehorned. This might also be why the peculiar double denial of death in the concluding story is so affecting, despite its sordid backdrop.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#16 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:09 pm

This post rounds up the film works. I've started in on the television stuff, but haven't really figured out how to write about it yet!

The Blind Director

Let’s get the title out of the way first. The Blind Director is an evocative title, but it only accounts for one episode of this film. The actual German title, Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit, is much, much more helpful in clueing viewers into what the film is actually about. Roughly speaking, it’s “the attack of the present on the rest of time”, and that, more or less, is the slender common thread that connects the episodes of this film.

The film presents various examples of the past or future being under threat from the present: Wronski, trying to protect Polish film heritage in the face of the Nazi invasion in 1939; the awkward transition between the end of the Industrial Era and the beginning of the Communications Era; a ‘superfluous woman’ (Veronika Voss herself, Rosel Zech) returning from vacation to find her space usurped by a new doctor and his big machine.

There’s a good dose of Kluge’s conceptual humour. At one point a scrap merchant is incongruously interviewed by an arts reporter because the ‘metal products reporter’ wasn’t available. Earlier on Dr. von Gerlach is interviewed by a reporter determined to get him to repeat a particular tidbit, which leads to an excruciating dance of mortification as the pushy and obtuse interviewer obsessively nudges the reluctant academic, without actually spilling the beans himself.

Unlike the previous several features, this one is almost entirely composed of dramatic fragments (rather than documentary or archival ones), bringing the film almost full circle back to Kluge’s earliest features, and there are a couple of particularly strong sequences. The concluding episode, featuring a superb Armin Mueller-Stahl as a film director who has gone blind but who continues to helm the film he’s working on (since the insurance company won’t cover a replacement in these circumstances) is very effective. Kluge developed this story after hearing that Fritz Lang, in the 1970s, gave his failing eyesight as the reason he’d given up directing and wondering: 1) was this an old man’s pride covering for his inability to attract financing for his films? and 2) how essential was eyesight to a director who had conceived everything in his mind beforehand if he had a crew who could deliver his vision? The episode, like the film itself, is intriguing and thought-provoking. A nice aphorism: cinema projects images 24 times a second, but its secret is that it projects darkness 24 times a second too.

My favourite episode from the film is ‘The Handover of the Child’, which features Jutta Hoffmann as a woman who looks after a young girl, the sole survivor of a terrible car accident, but has to deliver her to relatives when they’re located by the courts. It’s a moving tale (the new parents seem unsuitable, and they’re derisive of Jutta’s concern for the child), but it’s the relevance of this story to the film’s themes that I find most provocative. The key here is decision-making: people want the moment of the present to be prolonged because it is only in the present that decisions can be made. This belief in an extended present is an illusion that creates a distorted perception of past and future. The same idea was expressed earlier when Dr. von Gerlach (finally) summed up his idea of historical change based on 16 year periods. Having documented the immense changes in Germany between 1984 and 1968, and 1968 and 1952, and 1952 and 1936, and so on, he asks his interlocutor what he thinks the year 2000 will be like. He can’t imagine it will be any different from 1984. The tyranny of the present in a nutshell.

Miscellaneous News

Kluge’s last feature, also known as Odds and Ends, follows very much the same format as his previous couple of features, but it also looks forward to his television work, being structured loosely as a series of items in a news magazine programme, complete with perky continuity announcer.

The film doesn’t work as well for me as Kluge’s previous features, perhaps because the connections seem more arbitrary than ever. There’s a thread dealing with how different people respond to catastrophic historical events: reports of other news stories from September 1939; a short drama about cannibalism among German soldiers at Stalingrad; apparent documentary footage relating to German responses to the declaration of martial law in Poland.

But there are also instances of the television news format being used sarcastically (“this report will show you that waiters hold their trays in the left hand, leaving their right hand free”) and the most fully developed strand, about Max the waiter and his African bride, stands off on its own. It’s also pointedly alienating, with the leading role of Miss Fassassi played by Sabine Wegner in blackface as disconcerting and unconvincing as that sported by the cook in Fassbinder’s Whity. I have no idea what Kluge was trying to do here.

You could stretch the ‘catastrophic historical events’ theme to ‘dealing with crisis’ (other episodes concern Rosel Zech as a dying woman, a widow who goes on holiday rather than fret over what dress to wear to her husband’s funeral, a son who defends his mother from her violent partner), but that’s stretching the conceit so thin as to be almost meaningless – just about any other episode from any other Kluge film could be accommodated.

One mystery. According to the end credits, one of the sequences at least was ‘contributed’ by Volker Schlondorff, but nothing particularly stands out, and none of the usual sources offer any clues.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#17 Post by zedz » Mon Apr 13, 2009 11:13 pm

Continuing my one-man show about the life and works of Alexander Kluge, it's teevee time!

Television Work

Commenting on Kluge’s television work is going to be a bit more of a challenge than annotating the films. There’s so much of it, only an uncertain proportion of it is included in the Filmmuseum set, and Kluge’s aesthetic approach is rather more consistent over this twenty year period than it had been for the previous quarter century, so I don’t know if I’ll have that much to say that’s meaningful if I go item by item.

Instead, I’ll start out summarising this material roughly year by year, based on the box set coverage, then wilfully degenerate into thematic groupings as I run out of ideas.

1988: First Steps

There are a number of Kluge’s earliest television works represented on the Eiffel Tower, King Kong disc (Filmmuseum Edition 28). He immediately leapt into the medium with a voice that’s distinctively different from other television programming and largely consistent with his previous film work.

The collage aesthetic remains important, and may be even more foregrounded in this mass-media context. There’s still a lot of found footage, stills and captions and plenty of playful structural games (list films, fakes and ringers, pseudo-documentary formats), but these television works are more focussed – fewer disparate elements bumping up against one another – and generally more text-heavy – lots of talk, and in some cases the film’s narration is primarily through intertitles.

Old preoccupations such as opera (The African Woman), science fiction (the comic book narrative of a stolen Eiffel Tower in The Eiffel Tower, King Kong and the White Woman) and catastrophic history (The Guillotine, a morbid celebration of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, Death of Lucrezia) – specifically the rise of German Fascism (The Pilot’s Song) – are immediately apparent, but in his first few years in television the forms Kluge would come to rely on had yet to fully emerge, so this initial batch in in many respects closer to his last few features than to his later work.

The African Woman, or Love with a Deadly Finale is quite whimsical. Its on-screen prefatory title is 'Imaginary Opera Guide', and it takes the form of a 10-part ‘guide’ to the plots of various operas. Some of these cribs take the form of footage of opera prompters hissing the dialogue from below-stage (Otello, Carmen), some excerpt silent film versions (Carmen again), some suspend stills of set décor with primitive animation above an orchestra pit (Aida), some create illustrative slide-shows from still images of the period (Madame Butterfly, The African Woman). Some of the operas are imaginary. Two scenes attributed to the climax of Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta’s ‘Bolshevik opera’ come from Coup de Grace, and there’s also an enchanting magic lanternesque representation of Stanislaw Lem’s opera Solaris.

The Guillotine is quite different, focussed on the enthusiastic ravings of dishevelled obsessive Karl-Heinz Bohrer. In-character on-camera discussions would become a staple of Kluge’s television work, and this somewhat one-sided encounter is the earliest example in the Filmmuseum set. Artifacts of Advertising, which is for the most part a cavalcade of old advertisements for now defunct German brands (including, slyly, a Nazi calisthenics display), also includes an interview with Alfred Edel, posing as Advertising Researcher Gert Muckert, by Alexander Kluge, posing as a television journalist (wait a minute. . . ).

Kluge is playing about with television’s forms, as he did in Miscellaneous News, and several of these first television films feature Sabina Trooger’s eerily calm continuity announcer – a role that would later be taken by laterally scrolling introductory text or by Kluge himself. At this point he’s already quoting from his previous films, a practice he’d continue, albeit irregularly, up to the present day. Death of Lucrezia, for example, utilises some of the Rigoletto material from The Power of Emotion.


1990 – 92: Rethinking Film

No 1989 productions made it into the Filmmuseum set, and only two from 1990, one from 1991 and two from 1992 are present. It’s interesting that several of these films seem like conscious variations on or extensions of aspects of Kluge’s feature films.

You can imagine the urges that drove Kluge into television. It must have been frustrating for him to have to stockpile his wildly proliferating ideas and fillet them down to one feature film every couple of years. The rapid turnover of television production allows the ideas to come thick and fast, without having to worry about larger-scale unities. The cost, however, is the finesse and formal beauty of his feature work. There’s little room for those lyrical montages that punctuate the features from The Patriot onwards, for instance. He does, somewhat surprisingly, manage to preserve the free-wheeling associative structures of those late features in works like The Pilot’s Song (1988) and The African Woman, and Wild Night with Moon from 1990 also comes through with a low-tech version of the lyrical montage.

The starting point for Wild Night with Moon is the Paul Klee / Walter Benjamin work(s) ‘The Angel of History’, but most of this short film is not text-driven. There’s a dissonant soundtrack, found film footage, and the recurring image of a night-time landscape (with moon) on which is inset furious found imagery (cavalry attacks, wild storms) in negative. There’s also a brief extract (cosmic animation, a World War I tale) recycled from one of the features (The Patriot, I believe, which would be appropriate given the film’s inspiration).

Soviet Patriots of 1941 (1991) is another artful collage construction, inspired by the story of Kiev firefighters who went back through the advancing German lines to save their city. It’s sort of a video sketch for a bigger film (you could easily imagine a fleshed-out version nestled into one of the late features), using found footage (looped and digitally manipulated, shot through with blood-red superimpositions) and on-screen text, notably a stiff, Stalinised interview with the lead firefighter. It’s a great story, with some tremendously evocative (reported) scenes: the German soldiers’ dumbfounded passivity in the face of the Soviet firefighters’ mad behaviour; the tricky dance the firefighter has to perform in his interview between different conceptions of patriotism; the epic ending, with the motorised fire brigade, adrift from the war, dispersing across the landscape.

Darwin and the Tank (1990) sees Kluge settling into the interview format that he’d soon formalise to a much greater extent (I’ll consider this format in a forthcoming post). In this film he talks with Heiner Muller on the “biodiversity of the tank”, extending to its antecedents among war machinery (there’s old film footage of seige engines and a wonderful early walking wooden monstrosity) and dramatic characters, specifically Coriolanus. Kluge’s twenty-two films with dramatist Muller are a major body of work. They’ve even got a dedicated website at Cornell (here), with video and transcipts of everything. This and Queen of Hearts on Judgement Day (1995) are the only two to appear in the German Filmmuseum set.

“I Confess”: A Day-Trip Shopping Expedition (1992) is a bizarre faux-interview with a former Stasi agent (with floating black strip obscuring his eyes, even though his ‘confession’ is tantamount to “I attended a Tupperware party”) reporting back on the bus-trip-cum-sales-pitch he underwent while his country was collapsing. He ended up buying an overpriced llama-wool blanket and marvels at how this mild capitalist scam worked. Maybe the GDR could use this as a model for their brave new world. It’s something of a riff on a key idea of In Danger and in Deep Distress: the East German agent’s morbid fascination with the low-wattage details of life in the West.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#18 Post by zedz » Sun Apr 19, 2009 11:41 pm

The Kluge Interview

Love as Passion (1995), subtitled “Niklas Luhmann on the codification of intimacy,” features the author talking for quarter of an hour about his writings. It’s an example of one of Kluge’s standard formats for his television work, the extended interview, usually occasioned by a recent publication or event, but tending to range freely over related topics. He’s a great, highly engaged interviewer. At times too highly engaged, it might be accused, and occasionally his subjects have difficulty either keeping up with his enthusiastic leaps or dealing with his finishing of their sentences.

The Kluge interview film also becomes a source of self-parody, in the form of the many faux-interviews with historic or invented subjects, of which more anon. The ones he conducts with Peter Berling (as general, astronaut, scientist etc.) are particularly reflexive, with Berling taking perverse delight in skewering his friend’s assumptions and putting him down for being pushy.

The regular interviews can be fascinating, but one of the problems in terms of commenting on them is that they’re formally very similar. Kluge sometimes films his subjects in ‘living’ spaces (restaurants, cafes), with background action visible, though generally he shoots them in his home studio (this is a real cottage industry) against a green screen, with relevant or irrelevant backgrounds dropped in later. His hand or profile is occasionally visible at the edge of the frame, but he doesn’t insert himself as ‘listening’ or ‘questioning’ reverse shots. In at least one instance, Kluge is on the other end of the phone (“The Holding of Skulls Is not My Thing!” (2001)). The introductions and framework are standardised, even down to the scrolling text and title and intertitle fonts, and the majority of the interviews continue through the end credits, demonstrating that the television programme has been artificially constructed to meet standard television run times.

Once the template is established, the camera doesn’t move much. You can still see zooms in and out in something like Darwin and the Tank (1990) and his interview with Pierre Boulez, The Law of Ruin Value in Music (c.1990), and Kluge appears in the frame more often, but static framing is established as the norm soon thereafter. The main exception to this, and it’s an interesting one, is that, whenever a translator is employed for a non-German speaking subject, Kluge will pointedly zoom out or pan at some point to reveal and identify (with a caption) the translator. You can see this in the interview with Japanese filmmaker Mika Ninagawa in Megastars of the Art of Love (2007) and in First Music, Then the Word (2003), where the translator is Proust scholar Ulrike Sprenger, herself the subject expert of other Kluge films (e.g. Desire that Rules the World (1998), Only God Witnesses It (2002), The Black Market of Love (2005)). In Clinton’s Chief Economist (2007), Joseph Stiglitz’s translator is sitting so close that much of the film unfolds in intimate two shot. Extended two-shots of expert and translator also figure in Spinoza and the Modes of God (2007), with Kluge sometimes lingering on the translator (Alexandra Geese) or panning back and forth to capture the subtleties of the interchange between her and Stefano Bonaga.

Kluge’s basic interview format can nevertheless deliver films of great power, and 1995’s Zoo Animals in War adapts the template to stunning effect. It’s an account of the fate of the animals from Dresden Zoo during the destruction of the city in WWII. In London, zoo animals were shot at the beginning of the Blitz, but in Dresden the zoo staff were unable to bring themselves to do this. The details are ghastly, and Kluge’s subject expert can hardly bring himself to discuss them, so Kluge has to take over, his prompts telling the story while the expert flinches and grimaces. Alternatively, Kluge reads the relevant accounts while footage of rampaging animals and flames plays behind him.

(Side note: Man’s mistreatment of animals was a theme that Kluge had been exploring way back in the 60s, in the elephant sequence of Artists Under the Big Top, and he returns to that material and the notorious Edison film in Execution of an Elephant (2000). This is not an interview film, but a collage one, and Kluge layers contemporary footage of elephant races, texts, African music and the Edison footage itself (at times extremely distorted).)

Much of the variation and stimulation in Kluge’s straight interview films comes from Kluge himself. Occasionally he effects a formal variation (or intervention), as with Zoo Animals in War, but sometimes he’ll simply attempt an unusual conversational tack. One such attempt doesn’t really come off in Blind Love (2001), when Godard (possibly miffed that his role as gnomic intellectual has been usurped) doesn’t exactly rise to the occasion, but Post-Heroic Management (1999) is much more successful. It’s an interview with Dirk Baecker about his theories on the intelligence of organisations, but about halfway through it’s revealed that Kluge’s line of questioning has been entirely determined by which passages of Baecker’s book had been underlined by his late friend Heiner Muller, who had at one point intended to appropriate aspects of the work for a theatre piece or poem.

Another guiding force for the interviews, and one of Kluge’s most admirable traits, is his enthusiasm and intellectual engagement with such a wide array of topics and people. Much of the time he’s engaging with world-leading subject experts, and he’s always well prepared and – much rarer – well aware of the specific challenge of getting such rarefied fields as military strategy, organisational theory, cosmological evolution or “the codification of intimacy” across to a general audience. Probably more remarkable is his ability to engage just as intently and enthusiastically with experts of a much humbler order. “50 Knuckles of Pork Is About Right” (2007) is a charming interview with Hary Balzke, the chef who works nights at the café attached to the Berliner Ensemble. Hary is huge and shy, and blushes and giggles nervously in front of the camera, but Kluge’s coaxing questioning is just as playful and respectful as it is for any common or garden Nobelist.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#19 Post by zedz » Mon Apr 20, 2009 9:34 pm

Facts & Fakes

Once you’ve undergone the deep process of immersion involved in working your way through the Filmmuseum set, Kluge’s approach to documentary comes to seem so reasonable as to be normal, and on the surface – for the most part they’re talking heads with illustrative inserts – they do mimic traditional forms of television documentary. Stepping back, however, you notice their idiosyncracies. Although Kluge himself is a strong presence in many of the interviews, he’s primarily concerned with facilitating the clear, accessible expression of his subjects’ (often esoteric) ideas. Although the content of the films is often political, or politicizable, the films themselves are not really political or polemic. Kluge is concerned with communicating rather than proselytizing, and he avoids presenting tidy ‘debates’ of the pro and con patball type favoured by many broadcasters (look no further than that Reformzirkus debacle enshrined on the Artists under the Big Top disc). He presents material that can become a part of wider debates in the culture rather than trying to synthesize and manipulate those debates within a commercial half hour. None of the films end with a tidy ‘summing up’, and in the majority the discussion continues beyond the end of the film, fading out or ending in media res. This approach is consistent with the collage approach of many of his features: juxtaposition without tendentiousness (though he made notable exceptions for his politically-driven collaborative features).

The superficially similar faux-interviews, with one of Kluge’s actors (initially Alfred Edel, but after Edel’s death in 1993 Peter Berling became the axiomatic Kluge foil) playing the role of a significant personage from the past, present or future, are a bit different. Obviously, Kluge is less concerned with facilitating some other expert’s opinion, though he can use this format to shed light on actual events or phenomena, and his role is distinctly different. There’s an ongoing mildly antagonistic dynamic between Kluge the interviewer and Berling’s characters, and this Kluge is often self-consciously obtuse and pedantic. These films can also be much more nakedly satirical, in the style of some of Kluge’s features, than much of his other television work. Man Is the Soft Target (2008) is a case in point, with prissy and pompous Lt Col. Sanftleben (“Gentle Life”) inadvertently exposing the darker impulses of the Wehrmacht in a chirpy, gossipy way.

These films, informally known as ‘Facts & Fakes’, are dotted throughout the sets, but concentrated in Volume 32, where we encounter drag queen Lilo Wanders as a pair of WWII femmes fatales (True Love on the Front (2001)), Berling as ‘Anti-Terror Expert’ John Jedd (The Safety of the President (2007)) and reformist orthographer Fritz Kleiber (Freedom for the Consonants! (2004)), and Helge Schneider as racing car (and bus) driver Egon Meier (The Car Is Your Second Skin (2007)) and ‘combat swimmer’ Hans-Erich Bugelsack assigned to patrol the coastal border of the G8 economic summit (The Deterrent (2007)). In each case, Kluge’s ingenuous interviewer attempts to egg his wildly improvising actors on to heights of ridiculousness or, perhaps, to force them to break character. The results can be pretty funny and even, when the two of them get launched into a spiral of outrageous vamping, awe-inspiring.

In The Safety of the President, sober speculation on the threat posed to George W Bush by the possibility of microsopic Planck-length aliens invading his body leads to the image of said aliens passing right through his brain at the atomic level “because it’s just an immense empty space to them.” The Deterrent starts out ridiculous (‘combat swimmers’ defending world leaders with their bare hands – underwater) and ends up near-sublime, with this throwaway, yet deadly serious exchange:
Kluge (earnest): Eight of you against a shoal of herring. Who will win?
Hans-Erich Bugelsack (even more earnest): The combat swimmer.

The Facts & Fakes installments featuring Schneider tend to head for the outer reaches of absurdity with greater alacrity than those with Berling, and what they lose in terms of exquisite slow-burn and internal logic they often make up for in immediate goofiness. The Bridge-Crosser (2007) features Schneider as unemployed Fred Peickert, who speaks in serious tones of the need for new occupations to replace obsolete ones. Before he even gets on to the need to issue licences – for a small fee – to people to allow them to cross bridges (or the existence of ‘practice bridges’ of up to 17km in length, located on flat ground), he’s described the new careers of broom-cloning, widow-making (a traffic-related job, apparently) and an elaborate scheme for counterfeiting trees.

But perhaps the ultimate example of ludicrous improv is Borderline Cases of Damage Control (2006), in which Berling plays Ralph-Igor Muller-Reitwein, an insurance agent specialising in insuring aeroplanes against the impact of space junk crashing to earth. Kluge’s dim but enthusiastic interviewer leads Berling through tortuous wormholes of speculation. Even though the chance of impact is infinitesimal, how many such incidents can we expect over the next 30 million years? How much more valuable would a planeload of Londoners be than a planeload of Bangladeshis? What about a planeload of billionaires? If I was an explorer and I got food poisoning from eating raw polar bear meat, would I be covered? The great pleasure of this film is watching Berling patiently swatting away each increasingly insane scenario. Unlike several of his ‘Facts & Fakes’ performances, he doesn’t allow his adopted persona to display any trace of exasperation.

Other Berling tours-de-forces can be found in I Was Hitler’s Bodyguard (1999 – as Manfred Pichota, tracked down in Cuba and gleefully fuelling many a conspiracy theory), The Flexible Entrepreneur (2001 – an Eastern European meat pusher decked out in a grotesque respirator to combat his apnoea, but still nodding off), The Officer as Philosopher (2005 – a WWI officer trying to reconcile his Nietzschean principles with hiding in a toilet during an incendiary debacle at Fort Douamont) and I Lived for My Art (2007), in which he plays baritone Edouard de Scaramberg (deep sea diver Edouard de Scaramberg from My Love Is Deeper than the Sea (1999) come up for air?) gleefully spilling the beans on the opera’s doping practices.

The Facts & Fakes series is probably the most significant strain of fiction filmmaking within Kluge’s television work, as it’s the only place he gets to work with actors portraying protagonists, even if it’s not in a conventionally narrative context. It’s interesting that these protagonists are overwhelmingly male, however, given that the protagonists in his feature films were overwhelmingly female. Even in True Love on the Front (2001), the female spies are played by a female impersonator, Lilo Wanders. Loyal stand-by Hannelore Hoger appears in The Kiss of Death (2001), something of a companion film, subtitled “Female Spies’ Greatest Moments,” but it’s as a kind of Kluge-substitute interlocutor.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#20 Post by zedz » Wed Apr 22, 2009 12:18 am

New Narratives

Although the vast majority of Kluge’s television work is documentary (or faux-documentary), and delivered through variations and elaborations on talking heads filmmaking, he hasn’t abandoned narrative entirely. His narrative filmmaking has, however, undergone a radical transformation away from filmic or theatrical modes of drama and towards text as the primary delivery mechanism.

Thus his latter-day narratives tend to be short and fragmentary (and this was already becoming the case with his post-Strongman Ferdinand features) and delivered through on-screen text punctuated with stills or found footage. Happy Easter (1998) is a good example. On-screen texts relate a series of brief vestigial narratives focussed on the Easter holiday weekend – a couple taking a hyper-organized trip to Italy, in constant battle with the holiday traffic; a massive autobahn pile-up; a stressful hotel stay. In these films, the on-screen texts involve florid, expressive typography – a notable indulgence considering that Kluge has doggedly maintained a standardised typography for all of his other television work over two decades. The texts (purely visual, not narrated) are interspersed with found footage – travelling shots, a car-crash scene from a 70s film played in reverse, extracts from Occasional Work of a Female Slave and In Danger and in Deep Distress – and accompanied by ironic music – selections from the Easy Rider soundtrack, spaghetti western music, Bach, krautrock and a rendition of ‘New York, New York’ performed on car horns.

What Is the Origin of ‘The Flag on High’? (1993) adopts a very similar form, its on-screen texts relating a series of gruesome tales from old German ballads, and the same approach can also be found in Engine-Cough (1996), An Experiment in Love (1998), and The Belshazzar Project (1999). The form is also applicable to documentary and non-narrative subjects. “Place and Time without Reason Is Violence” (1998) is a case of the latter, and Camp Money (1995) is a great example of the former, in which the phenomenon of banknotes printed and used in German concentration camps (now immensely valuable on the collector’s market, naturally) is explored through quoted texts, images of the banknotes, and extracts from Armand Gatti’s 1961 film L’Enclos. Darklings Sing Bass (2002) is a standard interview film with opera expert Jorg Friedrich, but it’s interrupted by an on-screen text story delivered in this format (relating the onstage death of a baritone).

Kluge goes a little further towards dramatised narratives in a handful of instances, all of them involving sex, and all involving the same couple (Mario Morleo and Annalisa Maggiani) having sex. The couple appear in erotic astronaut mode in Chack Chack Boing – Love in a Spacesuit (2001), as counterpoint to Berling’s ruminations about the challenges of weightless sex (the deep-sea diver version can be found in My Love Is Deeper Than the Sea (1999)), and partially reenact the text-driven narrative of wartime longing and porn in Snapshots for My Fiancé (1999). Their finest quarter hour (with ringleader Digne Meller-Marcovicz making a threesome) has to be Nietzsche’s Gay Science (1999), in which they enliven the snapshots, portraits and on-screen text with bizarre reenactments of the no less bizarre photograph of Nietzsche towing his lover Lou Andreas-Salomé on a wagon while she whips him and her lover Paul Rée coaxes them on from the sidelines. Morleo’s ridiculous Nietzsche moustache looks like it’s eating his face (only a slight exaggeration of the real thing), and the action looks as much like the reenactment of a lost Edward Gorey book as of the photograph in question. It’s all set to a spacy Klaus Schulze soundtrack.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#21 Post by zedz » Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:02 pm

Creating Programmes

The programming of the television works on the Filmmuseum DVDs at times creates the sort of coherence that Kluge used to be able to deliver with his feature films – which were in some respects just another kind of compilation.

One of the best examples can be found on the Headless Man disc. Headless Man (2008) is a grimly ironic two minute fragment (Kluge reading a story), one of several brief interstitial films created specifically for this programme (the others are The Time That Must Pass Before an Audience Takes the Initiative, Preying Angel, As Long as the Sheet Music Lasts and The Inseperable Nine), and this disc ties a range of films made over a fifteen year period into what could loosely be understood as ‘Alexander Kluge’s Murder Ballads’. The common thread is of morbid historical stories, many of them presented in ballad form. Some are read out by Kluge to camera as nightmare-inducing bedtime stories, some are narrated through illustrative intertitles (punctuated or not with period illustrations). What Is the Origin of the Song ‘The Flag on High’? (1993) is the earliest film in the programme, and it sets the tone for what was to follow. A faux-naïve enquiry about the origins of the Nazi anthem (also known as the Horst-Wessel song) takes us through two particularly gruesome ballads – one the tale of the Body Snatcher of the Herz Mountains, who feeds the bodies he steals to his pigs; the other a merry commemoration of a pogrom – before arriving at the comparatively anodyne antecedent of ‘Die Fahne hoch’, ‘The Unequal Brothers’, which, of course, would undergo a reverse transformation and take on the associations of the other two ballads. A simple, smart film that ends with Kluge’s ghostly whistling of the title song.

Revenge of the Betrayed Bride (also 1993) is presented as part of the same programme and it adopts a similar form: brief, brutal folk tales with illustrations – generally narrative paintings, but also the very early film (reputed to feature D.W. Griffith in an acting role) of ‘The Eagle’s Nest’. In this presentation, the film is digitally ‘projected’ onto a book form, and the accompanying soundtrack is by Marcel Duchamp.

Stop, Stranger and Read (1995) is another compilation of morbidity, taking a text on epitaphs as its starting point but incorporating a nifty array of bizarre and nasty death stories (an American child shot by his 3-year-old brother, a hunter shot by his dog, a mass shark attack on a lone swimmer). In Only God Witnesses It (2002), Kluge favourite Dr. Ulrike Sprenger reflects on the power of such legends, traditional and contemporary.

Other programmes in the Filmmuseum set focus on Facts and Fakes, Opera, Evolution, War, Love. Within the Opera disc are three compilations of various lengths that collate and fillet closely related films (e.g. the Wagner grouping of Richard Wagner and the Law of Ruin Value in Music) – miniature versions of the curatorial work evident in the Headless Man programme.

The second disc of The Power of Emotion set includes an actual theatrical programme of the television works, presented at the Serpentine Gallery in 2005. It actually has less thematic coherence than most of the DVD compilations, being much more concerned with offering a sampling of Kluge’s stuff. A couple of the films, Cold Death Interrupts Love (1995, another catalogue of tales of death and disaster) and He Who Hopes, Dies Singing (1999, miscellaneous gloomy news items accompanied by cheery Banda music), would actually fit snugly into the Headless Man programme. Cold Death Interrupts Love is even subtitled “Ballad Journal No. 9”. There’s also a couple of Berling faux-interviews (The Flexible Entrepreneur (2001) and The Officer as Philosopher (2005)) and an opera film (A Woman Like a Volcano (2003), documenting Werner Schroeter’s production of Norma). There are no straight interviews. All the films in this programme (there are also a batch of the 1998 Minute Films) are at the more formally ambitious end of Kluge’s TV work, and more in line with the collage approach of his late features.

The final set in the Filmmuseum Edition includes several oddities which don’t readily conform to the forms of the rest of the set. Alongside the very filmic miniatures of The Gentle Cosmetics of Light (2007) and the 2002 documentary on Kluge All Emotions Believe in a Happy Ending, there’s the collage work The Magic of the Darkened Soul (2007), which explores ideas about light (starting with 1 lux, a single candle, and expanding to calculate the amount of light in the entire galaxy) through bits and pieces culled from past films. It ranges widely, taking in extracts from straight interviews (e.g. the Stiglitz interview from Clinton’s Chief Economist (2007)), Facts and Fakes, on-screen texts, diagrams and animations and dramatic sections from the feature films (specifically The Blind Director and Miscellaneous News), but it seemed to me to have a similar shapelessness as Miscellaneous News, the work it most resembled. It’s actually credited as “a film by Alexander Kluge” at the top, and it screened at Venice, but it’s rather an oddball ‘return to the cinema’, if that’s even what it was.

The compilations included on the opera disc are much more straightforward, and tend to keep their component parts more integral, even down to the retention of original titles.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#22 Post by zedz » Sun Apr 26, 2009 10:03 pm

The Digital Palette

For the most part, Kluge’s television works are much more stylistically modest than his film work had been. Partly this is due to constraints of time, budget and technology; partly it’s due to the nature of the content (lots of interviews). He’s developed efficient, repeatable formats that allow him to generate programming at a rapid pace that attempts to keep up with his intellectual promiscuity. There remain, however, a handful of films which take those formats (specifically the found-footage collage) and create, with rather basic digital tools, something aesthetically singular out of them. One such example is My Love Is Deeper Than the Sea (1999). There’s a brief faux-interview at the centre of it (Peter Berling as Edouard de Scaramberg), but most of it consists of sumptuous superimpositions of ‘undersea’ footage (shipwrecks, Kluge’s recurring image of the sinking Titanic, shimmering shoals against sunlight), a couple having sex, Berling in an antique deep-sea diving suit, and looped extracts from Busby Berkeley’s sublime ‘Shadow Waltz’, all coordinated to a soundtrack that montages the ‘Shadow Waltz’, Ligeti and Bellini. It’s a gorgeous concoction.

True Love on the Front (2001) employs the same ‘Shadow Waltz’ footage (plus extracts from Berkeley’s ‘Forgotten Man’ number) as a backdrop to its tales of wartime intrigue, but this time it’s printed in negative and overlapped with extracts from a naggingly familiar German abstract film (almost certainly Hans Richter, given Kluge’s use of it in his Richter tribute film Multiple Images for 5 Projectors (2007)), so the dancing beauties are fighting for space with expanding and contracting boxes. Other visually inventive works from the same period include “Place and Time without Reason Is Violence” (1998, puzzling philosophical quotations accompanying gorgeous timelapse landscape and sky photography, and cryptic scientific diagrams – the observer in relation to a meteor swarm, for example), The Belshazzar Project (1999), Execution of an Elephant (2000) and above all High on Work (1999).

You can get to see a lot of Kluge’s visual experiments in concentrated form in the two batches of Minute Films he created in 1998 and 2006. Several of them act as introductions to the initial eight ‘film’ sets, and more can be found in the Serpentine Gallery Programme. Generally they’re extracts or extrapolations from interstitial parts of other films (found footage collages, basic animations etc.), in some cases with sketchy narratives indicated through titles. These fragments use lots of found footage, ‘magic lantern’ presentations (e.g. still images of swooning mammoths with Aurora borealis pulsating in the background), back projection (e.g. A Swedish Mozart (1998), with a young pianist playing the piano with thunder and lightning in the background, a shot that would be repeated in A Woman Like a Volcano (2003)), superimpositions and on-screen texts.

A third batch of minute films were made in 2007, under the title The Gentle Cosmetics of Light. They’re quite different from the earlier ones, indeed quite different from any of the television works, and are probably the most visually sumptuous films Kluge has made in the last twenty years. They’re shot on 65mm film by Michael Ballhaus, for one thing, and they’re studies in lighting that are at once extremely simple (often single shots) and wonderfully rich, with lighting changes called out and effected as the camera slowly tracks in on the subject of each film. First off is Reading News with Music, which sets the pattern. Hannelore Hoger sits in a chair in the studio as the lighting is arranged around her and the camera eases its way in. Each film has bold musical accompaniment. In this case it’s a dissonant score by Bernhard Lang. Next up is The Gentle Cosmetics of Light: the same thing with different music and no newspaper. The third variation, Toplight, Backlight, Keylight replaces Hoger with Berling, to the strains of Ligeti. These shorts are studies in colour and texture as much as in light, and Berling wears a brilliant scarlet shirt and panama hat and is smoking. Debut presents a third model, Sophie Kluge, while The Star with a Cold brings back a histrionically ailing Hoger, ending up with a close-up on her blocked head. The Living Monument features a posing Berling in military drag to the accompaniment of music from Zimmerman’s modern opera The Soldiers. Computer and Candle Light presents a succession of close-ups of the different models, starting with one lit by an iBook screen (a reference all the way back to the sequence from Miscellaneous News in which a family gathered round their computer screen for warmth – a sequence resurrected for the contemporaneous Magic of the Darkened Soul (2007)), progressing on to candlelit shots, with Berling blowing out the candles one by one at the end of the film. The final short is the most ambitious and dazzling, and might even deserve to be considered as one of Kluge’s science fiction works. It’s called The Studio Lights Dream of Their Real Life at Night and it consists primarily of a series of tracking shots looking up at the studio’s lighting grid, which is seething with movement. You get a brief glimpse of Hannelore Hoger in a wild foil costume, but mostly it’s just a manifestation of machine intelligence, arriving in the studio like an alien mothership.

It’s also important to remember that Kluge’s television (and film) work is just one aspect of his creativity, and his moving image work also extends to installations. There’s one example of a sort here, Multiple Images for 5 Projectors (2007). The film is both a representation of the installation elements (tiled mosaics of images projected on four walls and the ceiling of a gallery) and a record of the installation / performance, with footage of the installation in situ with Kluge seated within it reading out his texts. It’s dedicated to Hans Richter and begins with an account of a 1975 meeting with the great experimental director, and goes on to reflect on the simultaneity of film history and the nature of art (“the bond between epochs”). It’s a dimensional reduction of the original work / performance, but it’s still very effective.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#23 Post by zedz » Mon Apr 27, 2009 10:59 pm

Yes, I'm still going for the forum record for longest uninterrupted string of posts by a single person! Don't worry, I'm running out of films.

Filming Film

Unsurprisingly, Kluge seems to have made a number of films about film, though only a handful are represented in the Filmmuseum set.

The one that’s probably of the greatest interest to people here is Blind Love (2001), an interview with Jean-Luc Godard in the course of which Kluge runs rhetorical rings around his one-time hero. It’s an odd interview, which Kluge treats almost like one of his Facts and Fakes routines with Berling, throwing wild things at Godard (e.g. a subjunctive history of cinema – what films haven’t been made that should have? – or the leading question “If you were to be cut open, would a child step out?”) and having them mostly just bounce off him while he shyly grins in terror. It probably doesn’t help that the conversation takes place through an interpreter (good old Ulrike Sprenger). The occasion for the interview is the release of Eloge de l’Amour, but that film gets hardly a mention. Godard does offer a little insight on his earlier films, discussing his least favoured films as the ones that could stand to be cut down to shorts, and we get quite a nice appraisal of one of his favourite films, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero.

There are a few other one-on-one interviews with the directors or actors of current films. I Come Every Morning for Sex (1998) features Kimberley Flynn, the star of Matthew Harrison’s no-budget NY underground film Rhythm Thief; Megastars of the Art of Love (2007) uses the release of Mika Ninagawa’s Sakuran to discuss the world of the oiran depicted in the film. Occasionally, there’ll be some more in-depth film history, as in A Tear for Every Drop of Blood (2004), an interview with Rosemarie Tetze about pre-revolutionary Russian melodramas, particularly those starring the tragically short-lived Vera Kholodnaya: The Bridegroom, A Life for a Life, Tormented Souls. It’s an esoteric but fascinating subject, and it’s interesting to see Kluge reference pre-revolutionary Russian melodrama in a very different context a few years later (Love Makes You Perceptive! (2007), an interview with author Irene Dische).

“Surplus Value” and Its Images (2005) presents a discussion between Kluge and his longtime co-author Oskar Negt about Eisenstein’s unrealised project for filming Marx’s Das Kapital. It encompasses Eisenstein’s own plans, the challenges of actually filming the work, and the question of whether or not Dziga Vertov might have been the better man for the job. Apparently Vertov was quite vocal with Eisenstein about how the task should be tackled. Kluge would go much, much deeper into this terrain in 2008 with his mammoth News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx – Eisenstein – Das Kapital (available on Editions Suhrkamp). What’s particularly interesting about this film for me is how it breaks decisively with the long-established format of Kluge’s interview films. Here, Kluge and Negt share the frame, appearing in full body shots seated at a table in a library. No close-ups or talking heads, and in the window behind them Eisensteinian fragments of intensive montage (some from High on Work (1997)) flicker compusively. Because the rest of the image is simply two guys talking, your eye is continually drawn to the small frame of visual hyperactivity in the background centre.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#24 Post by zedz » Tue Apr 28, 2009 10:59 pm

Science Fiction; Science Fact

Engine Cough (1996) is a dramatic vignette that harks back to the speculative science fiction of The Big Mess, supposing the advent of a “technological flu” (a mould that causes rocket engines to miss or ‘cough’). Alfred Edel appears as one of the slapstick scientists charged with curing the cough and footage from The Power of Emotion (the fireman in the opera house) is also used. I’m not sure about the source of the Edel footage, as he died a few years earlier, and it doesn’t ring any bells from other Kluge films.

There’s a minor sci-fi strand apparent in the television work (that often goes hand-in-hand with techno soundtracks). The Day Is Nigh (When Earth Is Gone from the Sky) (1997) is a short ‘remix’ of imagery from The Big Mess and Willi Tobler, complete with electronica soundtrack. Chack Chack Boing: Love in a Spacesuit (2001) intercuts randy astronauts getting it on to the strains of Kraftwerk’s ‘Musik Non-Stop’ with faux-interview footage of a spacesuited Peter Berling (as Paul Newman, astronaut) discussing the practicalities of weightless sex (a somewhat mind-boggling prospect if you remember him as the doctor from Satantango!) Berling takes the role of a gloomy Soviet ex-astronaut in Spaceflight as an Internal Experience (1991).

The electronica is still there, but the science fiction darkens into science fact for An Experiment in Love (1998). It conveys, largely through onscreen text and manipulated archival footage the grim tale of sexual experimentation in a Nazi concentration camp (in order to confirm whether or not their sterilisation programme has worked, they need to encourage copulation).

Occupying a similar grey zone, but preserving the ‘feel’ of Kluge’s science-fiction, is the fantastic collage film High on Work (1999), which sets archival and documentary footage manipulated with Vertovian glee (superimpositions, pixillation, tiling, texts) to Spanish hardcore techno by Esplendor Geometrica. It’s positioned as an ode to the “first industrial revolution” (“when work was still abundant”), but the abstraction of the footage (some of it as old as cinema itself) and the witty industrial score creates a retro-futurist vibe. One of Kluge’s most formally inventive television works.

In 2006, Kluge made several films concerned with aspects of evolution (Primal Ocean and Snowball Earth, On Laughing and Walking Upright, Flexible Memory), and these are collected on the ‘Where We Come From, Where We Go To’ disc of set 31. Also included is First the Music, Then the Words (2003), a fascinating consideration of the evolution of language. The programme is mostly talk, with the exception of the animated cosmic timeline of The Sahara Became Swampland (2000), but it’s high quality stuff – recommended if you’re the least bit interested in the subject. Off to the side (and included on a different disc) is a fascinating consideration of love as a sociological phenomenon favoured by evolution, which was made at the same time – The Greatest Treasure of Evolution (2006). In 2008, he explored similar ideas at a more cosmic level in Evolution in the Universe, an interview with astrophysicist Gunther Gustav Hasinger.


War and Terror

In 2002 and 2003, there were several films haunted by the destruction of the Twin Towers. The most direct expression could be found in the fairly straightforward reportage of N.Y. Ground Zero (2002), but there were also barely veiled allusions: Berling as firefighter Alfons Pfortl, being quizzed about the difficulties of fighting fires in skyscrapers (Every Man for Himself (2003)); the compilation footage of American firefighters at work, juxtaposed with a surreal account of survival in a firestorm (the spectre of Dresden again?) in Only Cans Were Saved (2003).

Then there are the related considerations of mass disaster and random destruction in The Sinking of the Titanic (2003, a rather effective collage of old film footage and underwater shots shown through windows – a pervasive Kluge trope – diagrams, illustrations and brutal texts from songs by Hans Magnus Guzensberger offset by the syrupy movie soundtrack) and Amok, the End of Empathy (2002, a consideration of whether or not the rampages that are an intimate part of American gun culture are related to the Malayan phenomenon of the ‘amok’ (murderous rampage) first noted in the 16th / 17th centuries). What Is War? (2002) is an interview with Oskar Negt about the forms war might adopt in the 21st century.

Kluge’s interest in death and disaster is hardly limited to contemporary events, however. There’s the long-term fascination with Stalingrad and other war stories, of course, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Programmed along with these films on Disc 29 were “The Burning Giraffe” – Kluge’s 2007 celebration of a surrealist objet inadvertently embodied by the destruction of a Russian television tower – and Attention: Total Loss! (2001), a sober, voice-over-free enumeration of several decades of disasters with Russian nuclear submarines.

War rears its ugly head in multiple guises throughout the set of discs, and the first disc of Volume 31 presents an entire programme on the subject. The films selected represent a range of approaches. There’s the familiar Peter Berling ‘Facts & Fakes’ approach of As a Military Judge in November 1918 (2005) and the genuine interviews of Darwin and the Tank (1990) or What Is War? (2002). Straying slightly further off the beaten track, we find the short, excellent Women as Warriors (2005), in which Dr Watanabe-O’Kelley skewers the male obsession with female warriors, the grim Zoo Animals in War (1995), and the visually imaginative multiple superimpositions of August 1914 (2000). The most eccentric film included is Snapshots for My Fiance (1999), an abstracted narrative – there are characters, relationships and events, but they’re not presented in a conventional manner – describing the series of erotic auto-portraits a jealous woman sends to her fighting lover (while a leering Hitler looks on and Eva Braun visits Norway).

War Is the End of All Plans (2007), on the other hand, is about as straight as you can get – a half hour talking head interview with a military historian about the 1905 Schlieffen Plan for the invasion of France – and though I have no particular interest in military strategy, I found it fascinating, a good example of Kluge’s intellectual enthusiasm providing the entry point for an esoteric topic.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Alexander Kluge

#25 Post by zedz » Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:30 pm

Last installment!

Opera!

Kluge had dealt extensively with opera in The Power of Emotion, and it was an immediate touchstone when he moved into television (The African Woman (1988)). One of the Filmmuseum two-disc sets is dedicated to a selection of his opera films, but they pop up all over the place. Rigoletto gets the once-over in Death of Lucrezia (1988), a couple of Werner Schroeter opera productions provide the occasions for Love Pangs Like Mute Fish (2001 – Tristan und Isolde) and A Woman Like Volcano (2003 - Norma), we get a glimpse of Handel in The Belshazzar Project (1999), and one of the Minute Films condenses Five Hours of Parsifal in 60 Seconds (1998). Kluge will also often draw examples from opera or literature when discussing entirely unrelated subjects (e.g. seeking an official Kantian view of Fidelio from Beatrice Longuenesse in What Does “Good Will” Mean? (2007), or use opera as a soundtrack source (e.g. Zimmerman’s The Soldier in both “Rule a Great Country as You Would Fry a Small Fish” (1994) and The Gentle Cosmetics of Light (2007)). And this is not to mention the films in which Kluge is sniffing around the theatre (e.g. The Holding of Skulls Is Not My Thing (2001), “50 Knuckles of Pork Is About Right” (2007), Who Am “I”? (2008), or With All the Wealth of My Needs (1999), an interview with the extraordinary Hermes Phettberg).

Kluge’s opera material seems to be extensive, and the individual films, even when they’re notionally interviews, often lean very heavily on filmed records of stage performances (in this respect Who Am “I”? is a close relation), so there’s a wealth of performance in here. The isolated examples in this set tend to focus on relatively obscure operas: Auber’s The Mute Girl of Portici (1998), Keiser’s Masaniello Furioso (Dance on the Volcano, 2001) and Bizet’s Noah (The Deluge, 1999). Like a lot of Kluge’s opera films, the interview / supporting footage ratio is pretty much reversed, with these films being maybe 10% chat and 90% performance. In The Deluge, even the studio / green-screen material is filmed more conventionally, with changing camera angles of the pianist and singer and some camera movement.

There are also a couple of examples of the more familiar forms, such as the ‘fact and fake’ of Berling’s doping baritone in I Lived for My Art (2007) and the surprisingly compelling interview with Dr. Josef Schlomicher-Thier of the Salzburg Festival in The Opera Doctor (2007), which ranges over the history of opera, the physiology of singing, the evolution of language (in similar terms to First the Music, Then the Words (2003)) before ending up speculating on what he’d do to save various dying sopranos and the best way for Tosca to stab Scarpia (“As a doctor, how would you go about killing a police chief?”). Darklings Sing Bass (2002) is another interview film, on the physical and character ‘types’ of different male singers.

The opera set is unusual for the number of recent collations it contains: more than 2/3 of the disc’s running time is occupied with compilations of older works made in 2006 and 2007.

The compilation Richard Wagner and the Law of Ruin Value in Music ranges from Kluge’s earliest days in television (there’s even a glimpse of swiftly abandoned continuity announcer Sabine Trooger) through to 2007, and it incorporates The Anunciation of Death, a study of a key scene in The Valkyrie, The Law of Ruin Value in Music, an interview with Pierre Boulez, Senta with the Powder Keg, about an innovative Russian production of The Flying Dutchman, and Pleasure and the Horse, which documents a (possibly terrible) avant-garde production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. Soprano Versus Bass (1992-2006), on the second disc, does the same thing with Verdi.

“80,000 Operas!” is a shorter, but less internally coherent grab bag. It’s prefaced by a new Kluge spoken-word bits and starts off strongly with an early film (seemingly also called “80,000 Operas!”) about Robert Schulze, an opera impresario who has seen approximately 14,000 of the estimated 80,000 operas written and bemoans the fact that only about 70 of them form the international opera repertoire. It’s an unusual Kluge film, filmed much more like a conventional documentary and with Kluge’s old editing partner Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus handling the questions. This is followed by a collection of straight performance films, flip-flopping between the earliest (a couple of Monteverdis) and latest operas (Nono’s El gran sole carico d’amore and Lachenmann’s The Little Match Girl), with a couple of interview sections included.

The Phenomenon of Opera (1999-2007) is probably the most successful of the opera compilations, maybe because it’s the most fragmented. With fewer extended stretches of material to hold onto, it’s more impressionistic and lyrical. It encompasses various familiar tropes and passages: Berling’s deep-sea diver Edouard de Scaramberg from My Love Is Deeper Than the Sea (1999) (not to be confused with his baritone of the same name); the horny couple from various films (though this footage doesn’t seem familiar from any of the films included in the Filmmuseum set); the hissing prompters from The African Woman (1988); footage from a number of opera performances (including rather spectacular pixillated footage from a production of Otello involving a multistorey transparent structure on a revolving stage); filmmaking buddy Christoph Schlingenseif briefly discussing his Imaginary Opera Guide (actually a Kluge initiative from The African Woman), and plenty of multiple superimpositions involving found footage, including still more co-opted Busby Berkeley (the ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ number this time around).

_________________________________________________________________________

So that’s it. My journey through the ‘Complete Kluge’ turned out to be much less complete than I’d expected. It hadn’t occurred to me just how prolific his television period had been, and that the 100 or so films represented in this set were only the tip of the iceberg. I also, really, had no idea what to expect from the television work, and while it was generally quite different from the features, it quickly became addictive. I just wish I could always call on television programming as inellectually curious and intelligent.

More than ever, I understand Kluge’s place as the key figure of the New German Cinema, not just in terms of stylistic influence (and ‘getting there first’) but as an organizing personality who could bring together (if only momentarily, and only through himself) many of the divergent authorial personalities of the movement. That collaborative, engaged personality may be best revealed in the television work, and it’s easy to imagine the same person readily lending young Werner Herzog his camera so he could make his own films.

I’ll give Kluge the last word, in the form of a dialogue between Nobel prize-winner Professor Kandel and his unnamed interlocutor, from ‘The cinema in the head of the spectator.’ This piece expands on an intriguing idea featured in The Blind Director:

- For a forty-eighth of a second it is dark and for a forty-eighth of a second there is an image. This is an interesting kind of movement for the brain.
- What does the brain “see” of this? Does it see the black between the images, the transport phase? Does it react independently to the moment in the transport phase when it is dark in the cinema for a forty-eighth of a second, i.e. with signs that it creates itself and only understands itself?
- Similarly.
- Like in a dream?
- Or under the influence of drugs. It “sees” the black continuously, whereas the same brain sees the “image” as continuous, even if it is also “flickering.” A polyphonic impression.
- Unconscious?
- Non-conscious. I know, of course, that I am sitting in a cinema. Or rather doubly conscious. I see TWO FILMS, one made by the brain itself out of darkness, and one in light and colour, as reported by the eyes, also with a collective impression already created by our ancestors, as triggered by the content of the photographic images.
- The stimulant that causes the brain to dream is the rapid exchange?
- Which, however, in the case of a two hour film produces a whole hour of darkness (the brain works autonomously) and a whole hour of images (the brain responds to stimulation).
- And that is better than reality?
- Much better.

Post Reply