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Werner Schroeter: Magnificent Obsessions

January 19, 2013 - April 7, 2013


“One must regain a sense of wonder.”—Werner Schroeter

Werner Schroeter has been described as “one of the truly revolutionary artists of our age” by filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. His heady mix of experimental aesthetics and operatic excess, whether in film, theater, or opera, has “provoke(d) either intense admiration or outraged hostility” (author Ulrike Sieglohr). In 1967 Schroeter first encountered the films of the New York underground; his early fragmented, stylized melodramas with their magnificent “stars” (notably his muse Magdalena Montezuma), sumptuous color, and intoxicating use of music (from Elvis Presley to Maria Callas) suggest the impact of Gregory Markopoulos, Andy Warhol, and Kenneth Anger. Schroeter’s films, in turn, influenced fellow Germans Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Wim Wenders.

Schroeter’s marvelous nonfiction films are free-ranging explorations of philosophy and culture, while later films moved toward art cinema, weaving more complex, dark narratives (some remain enigmatic), while continuing to draw on idiosyncratic sources from high and low culture. He eschewed a naturalistic style in favor of “treat(ing) cinema as a declaration of personal obsession” (James Quandt). Schroeter wrote, “all my films bear witness to my quest for a form that communicates vitality, the pleasure of creativity and beauty,” but ultimately, as Wenders noted, “death is the important topic in Werner’s films.” Schroeter’s own, from cancer, came too soon; he died in 2010 at the age of sixty-five. From January through March, we remember him with a selection of his visionary films.

Kathy Geritz, Film Curator

Saturday, January 19, 2013
6:30 p.m. The Death of Maria Malibran
Werner Schroeter (Germany, 1972) Archival print! Magdalena Montezuma, Ingrid Caven, and Warhol superstar Candy Darling head a cast of women and cross-dressers who perform still-life duets in a series of theatrical, painterly tableaux in this tribute to Maria Callas, Maria Malibran, and other divas. (104 mins)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
7:00 p.m. Willow Springs
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1973). Actor Ila von Hasperg in person. Introduced by Tom Luddy. Three women turn an abandoned shack in the Mojave Desert into a kind of Charles Manson commune in Schroeter’s “meditation on the new feminism in America,” compared to Fassbinder and Robert Altman. With Schroeter’s split-screen short Argila (1969). (112 mins)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
7:00 p.m. Willow Springs

Saturday, January 26, 2013
6:00 p.m. Mondo Lux
Elfi Mikesh (Germany, 2011). Some of the key figures of the German avant-garde—among them Rosa von Praunheim, Ingrid Caven, and Wim Wenders—gather to pay tribute to legendary iconoclast Werner Schroeter in this moving documentary, made by one of Schroeter’s closest friends and colleagues. (97 mins)

Saturday, February 9, 2013
6:00 p.m. Dress Rehearsal
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1981). Schoeter’s hymn to the place of art in life, and the wonder of a life of art, filmed during the 1980 Experimental Theater Festival of Nancy, France. “Less straight documentary than a personal, weirdly sweet vision of the human comedy” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice). (90 mins)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Smiling Star
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1983). Schroeter’s trip to the notorious Manila International Film Festival (dominated by Imelda Marcos) resulted in this “kaleidescope of a ravaged country.” “A work beyond categorization, more a weave or flow of different beauties that lie therein” (Cinema Scope). (108 mins)

Sunday, February 17, 2013
5:30 p.m. Eika Katappa
Werner Schroeter (Germany, 1969). Archival print! Schroeter’s dizzying first feature is a series of vignettes and songs assembled into a nine-part musical/camp format, by turns operatic, balletic, melodramatic, hilarious, and haunting. “This two-and-a-half hour funkfest is some kind of great movie” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice).

Saturday, February 23, 2013
6:00 p.m. The Kingdom of Naples
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1978). This postwar chronicle of Naples is played out through one family’s sufferings, successes, and madness in Schroeter’s paean to that city’s great beauty, and great ruins. Schroeter’s most straightforward (almost) film is opera filtered through neorealism, both hallucinatory and socially profound. (132 mins)

Saturday, March 2, 2013
8:30 p.m. The Bomber Pilot
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1970). Three high-stepping women pass through the cabarets, dance halls, and pastry shops of wartime and postwar Germany in Schroeter’s irreverently grotesque pastiche of the legacy of Nazism. With Winter Journey (1980), a loose adaptation of Jean Genet’s Querelle. (120 mins)

Saturday, March 2, 2013
8:30 p.m. The Bomber Pilot

Sunday, March 3, 2013
7:15 p.m. Malina
Werner Schroeter (Germany/Austria, 1991). "In one of the rare truly visual films about writers, Werner Schroeter generates extravagant images to match the insights of the nameless writer he films—played with ferocious precision by Huppert" (New Yorker). Written by Elfriede Jelinek from Ingeborg Bachmann's novel. (125 mins)

Thursday, March 7, 2013
7:00 p.m. Palermo or Wolfsburg
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1980). A Sicilian immigrant in Wolfsburg descends into madness and murder in Schroeter’s Pasolini-by-way-of-Fassbinder drama. “Schroeter at his artistically most complex, all-embracing, and all-encompassing” (Cinema Scope). (175 mins)

Saturday, March 9, 2013
8:30 p.m. Deux
Werner Schroeter (France/Germany/Portugal, 2002). Isabelle Huppert delivers two of her greatest performances as a pair of twin sisters in Schroeter’s “gorgeously composed, utterly berserk, and immensely moving work stuffed to overflowing with sailors, drag queens, suicides, cemeteries, cabaret singers, and more, all awash in opera arias” (TIFF Cinematheque). (117 mins)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
7:00 p.m. Salome
Werner Schroeter (West Germany, 1971). Schroeter sets Oscar Wilde’s notorious play about the female temptress amid ancient Roman ruins in Lebanon, complete with eye-catchingly bizarre costumes and a music track culled from Arabic folk songs, Verdi, and Wagner. Pasolini combined with high opera and paganism: “sublimely severe” (Chuck Stephens, Film Comment). With early theatrical featurette Neurasia (1969). (122 mins)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
7:00 p.m. Salome

Saturday, March 30, 2013
8:00 p.m. Lecture by Stefan Drössler: Schroeter's Beginnings as a Filmmaker
In this special presentation, director of the Munich Filmmuseum Stefan Drössler illuminates the beginnings of Schroeter’s film career through photos, documents, and tantalizing rare clips of Schroeter’s first 8mm films and home movies, digitally preserved by the Munich Filmmuseum. (90 mins)

Sunday, March 31, 2013
5:00 p.m. Johannas Traum and Rare Early Work
Introduced by Stefan Drössler. This presentation of Schroeter rarities, digitally preserved by the Munich Filmmuseum, features examples of his early experimental work, including his first 16mm film, Aggression, and Johannas Traum, which draws on unused footage of Candy Darling and Ingrid Caven in Schroeter's film The Death of Maria Malibran. (95 mins)

Saturday, April 6, 2013
8:20 p.m. The Rose King
Werner Schroeter (West Germany/Portugal, 1986). Magdalena Montezuma (in her last film) stars as the regal mother of a “rose king” in love with a muscular youth, in this florid tribute to silent-film melodrama, by way of Jack Smith, Jean Genet, and Maria Callas. “One of the high points of eighties world cinema” (Film Comment). (106 mins)

Sunday, April 7, 2013
5:00 p.m. Flocons d’or
Werner Schroeter (France/West Germany, 1976). Magdalena Montezuma, Bulle Ogier, and Udo Kier headline Schroeter’s four-part narrative that swings from 1949 Cuba to modern France, “parodying along the way everything from kitschy Mexican telenovelas to French art films of the twenties” (TIFF Cinematheque). (170 mins)

Tour organized by the Goethe-Institut and Stefan Drößler, Munich Filmmuseum. The BAM/PFA presentation is cosponsored by Goethe-Institut San Francisco and Frameline. Our series is abridged from the retrospective at MoMA, and our title is borrowed from TIFF Cinematheque. We are grateful to the following: Joshua Siegel, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Monika Keppler; Marleen Labjit, Eye Film Institute Netherlands; Frieder Schlaich, Filmgalerie 451; James Quandt, TIFF Cinematheque; David Pendleton, Harvard Film Archive; Karin Oehlenschläger, Goethe-Institut Boston.