It’s odd that a filmmaker of fierce artistic individuality who influenced a generation of filmmakers like Fassbinder, Sybeberg, Herzog, Wenders and Kluge is virtually unknown outside Europe. Werner Schroeter, one of the leading figures in New German Cinema, saw the world as a giant operatic entity filled with stories about giant emotions. His work is cold and hot, intimate and universal and always grand. Considered avant garde and yet classically operatic his films are deeply challenging; once seen not forgotten. And no one’s biting. Until now.
Schroeter, who died of cancer in 2010, is the subject of a retrospective / celebration screening series at TIFF Cinematheque until December 9th. The highlight takes place Sunday Nov 25, when Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Toronto introduces Schroeter’s The Death of Maria Malibran. He will discuss the filmmaker’s fascination with the operatic structures in the film and in Schroeter’s body of work.
Isabelle Huppert, one of Schroeter’s muses who worked with him often describes their working relationship in Mondo Lux. She appreciated his artistic vision and was happy to be part of it, but he seems utterly obsessed with her face and body, shooting them so as to appear sometimes causal or deflated or at times, the definition of classical beauty and spirit. Various male and female actors received the same kind of breathless ardour, but Huppert was his most consistent ideal. He obsessed over Maria Callas as a teenager and made three films about her. Callas’ death was traumatic for him, as upsetting as his beloved mother’s death. When another muse and regular star, Magdalena Montezuma died the shock was so great he retired briefly from filmmaking.
Schroeter was heavily influenced by art and architecture, history, the church and opera but he was also enchanted by the work of American underground artists like Andy Warhol, then Elvis Presley, the Doobie Brothers, and Percy Sledge.
Schroeter was a student of German history and used Nazi Germany as a setting for a couple of his films and modern Germany for others, in which he explored the question of immigration and national character.Idiosyncratic
Schroeter’s body of work is an intelligent, deeply felt amalgam of his cultural interests. He made the films he wanted the way he wanted, driven by obsessive emotion and fanaticism. Schroeter soaked up European and American culture and set his personal themes in idiosyncratic frames. There’s nothing he did that doesn’t demand attention and yet he is ignored.
It’s hard to understand why his work has been unceremoniously rejected in North America. He’s been on show in film festivals and retrospectives but he hasn’t clicked. TIFF Cinematheque hopes to correct that and pay tribute the late artist in the retrospective. His bracing, challenging and extraordinary legacy is one of a kind, the product of a man of obsession and fixation, the world made grand through his prism.
Schroeter’s films screening as part of Magnificent Obsession: The Films of Werner Schroeter are The Rose King, Malina, Eika Katappa, Palermo or Wolfsburg, Dress Rehearsal, Deux, The Kingdom of Naples, The Death of Maria Malibran, Day of the Idiots, Salome w/ Neurasia, Der Bomberpilot w/ Winter Journey, Flocons d'or, Willow Springs w/ Argila, The Laughing Star and The Queen as well as the documentary on Schroeter Mondo Lux by his longtime cinematographer Elfi Mikesch.