Sunday, April 18, 2010


The death of Werner Schroeter saddens me and my friends very much, so I think posting this interview might be useful for Schroeter's fans. The interview below is copied from the free magazine Kulturchronik (6-1998):


At an early stage he summarized his love of film and opera in a 1968 CALLAS PORTRAIT. That was followed by such experimental films as EIKA KATAPPA, THE DEATH OF MARIA MALIBRAN, REGNO DI NAPOLI, PALERMO OR WOLFSBURG, DAYS OF THE IDIOTS, and MALINA after Ingeborg Bachmann. In the eighties and nineties Werner Schroeter devoted more attention to theatre and opera. Heinz-Norbert Jocks talked to him on behalf of the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Frankfurter Rundschau: You like the philosophy of Michael Foucault, don't you?

Werner Schroeter: Yes, I find him highly intelligent, and one could devote a life just to his work. Around 1973 when two of my films were shown in France, THE DEATH OF MARIA MALIBRAN and WILLOW SPRING, about which Foucault wrote an article in a film magazine, I came across his books for the first time and his definition of the vital differences between love and suffering particularly pleased me. I read him and was impressed by how close he came to my feelings on the philosophical level.

FR: What role does France play for you?

WS: After initial difficulties I find interesting the contrast between life and art and the way in which the French live.

FR: You also love Italy and Mexico City.

WS: Yes, I was always attracted by the harsh contrast, here the North and there the South. I yearned for Italy because it was there that I first really fell in love. Then came the passion for opera. Verdi's BALLO IN MASCHERA constitutes an opposite to Wagner's TRISTAN which consists of an abundance of subtleties and superimpositions. The one is as beautiful as the other, but during my youth I felt much more attracted to this linear Latin music.

FR: And Mexico City?

WS: There I felt very much at ease. Such wellbeing is important for my creativity since I'm not a masochist in that respect. It was the people there who filled me with life. I once said on Mexican television that I feel myself to be a European. From Mexico City Paris is just around a corner but Los Angeles is a whole world away. I think Mexicans wonderful with their clear-cut passion and sensuous lives, coupled with Prussian discipline.

FR: You make no secret of your homosexuality. Do you comprehend your gayness as a chance to make less conventional art?

WS: Certainly that is one advantage, provided that one has the necessary personal constitution and has the wish and the will for such expression. The unconventional way is certainly more fruitful than what is already laid down. Baudelaire already asked, why do something in a straight line if you can do it crookedly. More happens. That's obvious since one must be ready for much more resistance. One also operates out of much greater internal friction. That's certainly the case with all outsiders. However for someone who cannot really express themselves or has no chance of putting it to creative use, that can certainly be a great problem because he allows himself to be intimidated. But I certainly don't feel myself to be an outsider since I'm always integrated in more extended social contexts.

FR: Did you experience something like a coming out?

WS: Homosexuality was never a concern in my family, and there was a time when I alternated girl and boy friends, whereby the erotic ties with the boys were greater than with the girls – and I also slept with them. My father, who liked most of my friends both male and female, was convinced by the human rather than the sexual qualities. That was quite normal. I turned up with a boy friend and that was that. On this level I couldn't be forbidden anything. I was calm and gentle and quiet but had a certain strength involving a kind of non-violent authority. In addition my mother was a loveable and loving woman, full of faults like everyone else. She struggled greatly for her children's love. My father was an exceptionally liberal man whose tolerance seemed almost indifference when I was a child. Only years later did I discover that this was his form of social acceptance. As far as influence and behaviour are concerned, I believe that we are much more influenced by the family than by whether we are gay or not.

FR: You had a special relationship with your grandmother, didn’t you?

WS: My Polish grandmother was a dynamo of imagination who shared her fantastic world. In 1951, shortly after the war when I was five, we lived in a rapidly developed workers settlement outside Bielefeld. Everything I could see outside was so alien to my sensibility that my grandmother and her dreams became my world. She, who had neither experienced repression nor practiced it, translated everything into fantasy. I still remember very well how she once suddenly transformed the rails used by Bielefeld’s trams into an Indian trail. A chair became a palace and a flower pot a jungle. This freedom in dealing with things captivated me, and there was a place for us in strange daydream reality. I remember a highly comical story. My grandmother, at sixty an astonishingly beautiful and slender woman, had lost everything in the East during the first and second world wars except for her beautiful silk dresses from the twenties and thirties. These she wore in 1950 in the Bielefeld workers settlement, walking around in stately fashion with her shopping basket, and on top of that with bleached hair. What she wore looked really good on her body, so whistling boys followed her while I held her hand. She smiled at me and said: “Now watch this”. She suddenly turned around and declared: “ Well boys, a girl’s school from the back and a museum from the front”.

For her a sense of reality was completely present in a vital irony. With her fantastic dreamworld she prepared us for a life of resistance. After all imagination is resistance and the only thing that can turn upside down the unbearability of reality. Without it there would be no revolution, which involves not only mass dynamics but also the development of fantasy regarding something so as to surmount it. With her kind of flight from the world my grandmother created a new reality which could take place everywhere. That is certainly the source of my freedom vis-à-vis what people nowadays call realistic depiction or naturalism. For me it goes without saying that with determination and imagination mountains –imaginary ones of course—can be moved.

FR: What themes initially attracted you as a maker of films and theatre?

WS: Initially the mystery of woman in society and my great closeness to women on the level of friendship. During my short marriage I also sussed out the identificatory aspect. I am interested in women in art as sensitive beings, even a membrane, since women have a great talent for self-mastery. Then something shifted and a larger context was established. But my first theatre productions are linked with women's names: EMILIA GALOTTI, SALOME, MISS JULIE, KÄTCHEN VON HEILBRONN, and MISS SARA SAMPSON. I only broke that sequence with Wagner's LOHENGRIN. Alongside my wish to present more love stories between men, I would like to put on a play about paederasty although I am not a paederast. A theme that is wrongly hackneyed.

FR: Your productions seem wonderfully connected with your vital force and that of the actors involved. They work on the basis of improvisation, demanding that the actor relies on him or herself.

WS: That's impossible without the intuition. Theatre is community work where I am the originator and director of the performance. The actor must provide at least as much creativity as me. In order to get things moving I come with a very strict concept even though I know from experience that it will be thrown overboard after some days of rehearsal. So I gradually give up this concept because what is involved in the encounter with the actors leads it to pale into insignificance. But things don't work completely without a concept. You must allow yourself the freedom to abandon what you thought up. Only then does there come into being something that is more vital than the preconceived idea. Basically I offer my ideas as motivation. However at the end of this process the original basic idea is redeemed in a more beautiful, advanced, and essential form than it would have been in working according to routine. I must accept the play I have chosen with all its weaknesses and other characteristics. What matters is to find a way of doing justice to it.

FR: Underlying what you do is curiosity about something completely other.

WS: Yes, since I know anyway what I want. If I were only to force my will onto another person and press him into my form, allowing everything to cool down, it would be completely dead. Only a few forms of theatre really touch me. For instance the theatre made by Tadeusz Kantor, who unfortunately died some years ago. This man, who worked on productions for two years, certainly utilized a similar work process. Only he went much farther than me. He worked until an organic experience had occurred between the actors.


As for an interview with Werner Schroeter by Daniel Schmid, you can read it in Thai here:


celinejulie said...

This is a link to another interview of Werner Schroeter in German. Thanks to Mario Pfeiffer for telling us about it.

celinejulie said...

I also want to add that BODILY FLUID IS SO REVOLUTIONARY (2009, Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke, Thailand), which is one of my most favorite films last year, is partly inspired by Werner Schroeter. Ratchapoom is a die-hard Schroeter fan. Werner Schroeter is gone, but I'm sure his influences on younger generation, at least on one Thai filmmaker, will live on.

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