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The Airstrip – Decampment of Modernism, Part III

THE AIRSTRIP – DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM, PART III (The Airstrip – Aufbruch der Moderne, Teil III) Heinz Emigholz, D 2014, 108 min

Photography and beyond – Part 21 / Decampment of Modernism – Part III. After PARABETON and PERRET IN FRANCE AND ALGERIA the third part of the series.

Copyright Berlinale, Forum 2014

About the film
Imagine an airspace into which a bomb has been dropped. The bomb has not reached the site of its detonation, but there is no way to stop its speedy approach. The time between the bomb’s release and its explosion is neither the future (for the ineluctable destruction has not yet happened) nor the past (which is unavoidably about to be extinguished). The flight time of the bomb thus describes absolute nothingness, the zero hour, consisting of all the possibilities that in just a moment will no longer exist. Thus, this story will end before it has begun; here it is told in defiance: an architectural journey from Berlin through Arromanches, Rome, Wrocław, Görlitz, Paris, Bologna, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Atlántida, Montevideo, Mexico City, Brasilia, Tokyo, Saipan, Tinian, Tokyo, San Francisco, Dallas, Binz and Mexico City back to Berlin – into the abyss.

Buildings and sculptures
The film The Airstrip was shot from March 2011 to June 2012 in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, the Northern Mariana Islands and Japan. It shows the following buildings and sculptures:

Prometheus Bound (1899) by Reinhold Begas in Berlin, Germany
Mulberry Harbour (1944) by Winston S. Churchill in Arromanches, France
Pantheon (2nd century AD) in Rome, Italy
Hala Ludowa (1913) by Max Berg in Wrocław, Poland
Department Store (1913) by Carl Schmanns in Görlitz, Germany
La Vache Noir Shopping Centre (2000s) in Arceuil, France
Gustave Eiffel Monument (1928) by Auguste Perret in Paris, France
Market Hall (1953) by Renato Bernadi in Bologna, Italy
Madrid Airport
Mercado de Abasto
Shopping Centre (1934) by Viktor Sulčič in Buenos Aires, Argentina
La Bombonera Stadium (1940) by Viktor Sulčič and José Luis Delpini in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Three Mausoleums (1930s and ’40s) by Viktor Sulčič on the Recoletta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Parochial Church (1960) by Eladio Dieste in Atlántida, Uruguay
Warehouse (1979) by Eladio Dieste in Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo Airport
Las Arboledas
(1958-63) by Luis Barragán in Mexico City, Mexico
Double House (1937) by Luis Barragán in Mexico City, Mexico
Towers on the Queretaro Highway (1958) by Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz in Mexico City, Mexico
The End of a Highway (2012) in Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City Airport
Italian Embassy
(1959) by Pier Luigi and Antonio Nervi in Brasilia, Brazil
Brasilia Airport
Tokyo Airport
Japanese Prison
(1930s) in Garapan on Saipan, Northern Marianas
La Fiesta Shopping Centre (1990s) on Saipan, Northern Marianas
Monument on the Banzai Suicide Cliffs (1953) on Saipan, Northern Marianas
Saipan Airport
Northfield Memorial
(1985) on Tinian, Northern Marianas
Tokyo Airport
Saint Mary’s Cathedral
(1971) by Pier Luigi Nervi in San Francisco, California
Dallas Airport
Bus Stop
(1967) by Ulrich Müther in Binz, Germany
Cathedral (1573-1813) in Mexico City, Mexico
Neptune Fountain (1891) by Reinhold Begas in Berlin, Germany

Musikvideos SUN, ROTE WÜSTE und MOTH RACE by Heinz Emigholz for KREIDLER
Premiere of the music video MOTH RACE at
"MuVi-Preis für das beste deutsche Musikvideo" for MOTH RACE at the Film Festival Oberhausen 2013


Don’t ask about sunshine.
A saying of my father Heinrich Emigholz

A Journey to Saipan

I can name the exact moment. It was the afternoon of 23 October 2010 when, after all those years, I resolved to fly to the Northern Mariana Islands, to Saipan, from there to cross over to Tinian. Those who not only have heard of Pearl Harbor, but also wince at the names of Midway, Wake, Marcus, Marshall, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Gilbert, Truk, Iwo Jima, Attu, Kiska, the Salomons, Bougainville, Rabaul, Ulithi, Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, Guam, Palau, Mindanao, Luzon, Tarawa and Okinawa, will understand this decision. I confess that I owe my life to the first two atom bombs and, as a German, to the Japanese fanaticism that led to their being dropped on Japan. But now I wanted to be where it all culminated, in the western Pacific. I felt like a turtle that swims back thousands of miles to the place of its birth to bury its eggs in the sand – on the beach where many soldiers had to die, soldiers to whom I owed my life and a childhood sheltered by the balance of terror.
Life, if it lasts long enough, is easier to narrate as a frame tale. This literary form was conceived to propagate meaning, even if, as solace, it consists solely of distant echoes. In the 1950s, the two cinemas in our small town – the Corso and the Odeon – were full of American B movies about the war in the Pacific. Alternating with films with Fuzzy, these black-and-white films could be seen there almost every Sunday. My first confrontation with Anatahan, by Josef von Sternberg, later my favourite film and favourite director, also came at this time. The first face of an actor that lastingly inscribed itself in my consciousness, along with that of Al St. John as ‘Fuzzy’, was Lee Marvin’s, who appeared in many of these films as the sturdy rock in the midst of battle. While shooting our film in Saipan, I learned that Marvin, a US Marine, had been awarded a Purple Heart for being severely wounded in the assault on Mount Tapochau on Saipan in June 1944. There is something about this island.
While researching for the film Parabeton, I had run across the book The Roman Pantheon: the Triumph of Concrete by the American civil engineer David Moore. In it, he describes the recipe for Roman cement and the construction art of the Roman construction legionnaires. Moore’s website has two other topics: the prostate cancer of war veterans and The Battle of Saipan, in which Moore took part as a ‘Seabee’ in June 1944 – as one of the pioneers of the US Navy Construction Battalions that built the airfields on Saipan.
On 20 July 2009, William Styron’s autobiographical story Rat Beach appeared in The New Yorker. I read it because Styron had saved my life in 1990 with his elucidations on the ‘Black Dog’ – a term Churchill found for his depressions – in his book Darkness Visible. Reading Rat Beach was staggering und crucial for my decision of 23 October. In Spring 1945, as a 20-year-old officer, Styron had to train his unit to land on Japan’s home islands. His text describes his mortal fear in the face of a fanatic, desperate enemy who would stop at nothing. He describes the roar of the motors of the B-29s taking off day after day from Tinian, the neighbouring island to the south, to bombard Japanese cities. Among them were the two B-29 Superfortresses, the Enola Gay and the Bockscar, with the atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on board; dropping them saved not only his life.
On my return flight from Saipan to Tokyo, I glimpsed a rainbow over the volcano, active again since 2003, on the neighbouring island to the north, Anatahan. I decided to shoot the film Anatahan II as a sequel to The Airstrip. The only architectures on it are huts, caves and those of the plants. Unless the people who occasionally visit the island, uninhabited since 1990, count as buildings.

Heinz Emigholz

Photography and Beyond – State in 2013

After the premiere of The Holy Bunch at the Forum of the Berlinale on 17 February 1991, I was in a precarious situation. Along with a few intelligent commentators, the film’s comfortable robustness and cool narrative elegance had driven Germany’s film-journalisting widow chasers up the wall. The Sputnik film distribution company did its best for the film, but in the end I, the film’s sole producer, was more bankrupt than ever before. Munich’s film-funding oligarchs, who dominated the scene at that time, stopped cold the successor project initiated by Manfred Salzgeber, a film version of Hans Henny Jahnn’s novel Fluß ohne Ufer, for which Klaus Behnken, Ueli Etter and I had worked up a production-ready script. After ‘discovering’ me in 1991 at the Cannes Film Festival (in turn after I had ‘discovered’ his wife, the wonderful Dana Vavrova, for one of the roles in Fluß ohne Ufer), Joseph Vilsmaier cast me in a few lucrative supporting roles, rescuing me from financial ruin. My alienation from film in general, however, was never greater than at that time, and I swore to myself I would quit – or start over from the beginning.

My new beginning came in 1993 with the project Photography and beyond, which Wilfried Reichart, a producer at WDR TV-station and a fan of The Holy Bunch, let me make. Reinhard Wulf, also from WDR, and various film subsidies sustained this collaboration with Filmgalerie 451 and Amour Fou Vienna. But at the time I had no idea how long this project would keep me busy. Here is an excerpt from the project description of the time: ‘Photography and beyond is a film project about writing, drawing, sculpture and architecture. The film’s theme is the active work of design and projection – imaginings that have become real. A process of reversed seeing, so to speak, is analysed: seeing as expression, rather than impression. The eye as interface between brain and external world, the gaze as a composing force that turns the inside out and presents it in reality in a mirror image.’
Photography and beyond was initially supposed to be a film essay of about 100 minutes in which I wanted to explore the facts of a designed world and its appearance on cinematographically designed depiction surfaces. Architectures, sculptures, photographs, drawings, paintings, writings, cinematography, collages, prints and urban landscapes were on the list of motifs. The story would not be told by means of language or dialogue, but through the depicted things and situations themselves. Not exactly a project for the BBC or the History Channel and their soft-boiled kind of documenting; I began calling the resulting films ‘hard-core documentations’. Because it didn’t stop with a single film. After a footage-shooting phase that lasted years and then an editing block – and an interlude to establish an Institute for Time-Based Media at the University of the Arts in Berlin – finally in 2001, initially three short films were released under the overarching title Photography and beyond. Constant cell division on the list of motifs and the new collaboration with Artimage in Graz then led to many more short and long films. Now, twenty years after the beginning of this enterprise, ten long and seventy-four short films are on the project’s back catalogue list. These films are characterised and were made possible by rigorously eliminating any inflated production apparatus and concentrating all means on the desired and ultimately crucial visual and acoustic cinema experience. A list of the films with accompanying descriptions and commentaries can be viewed at and I presented the further epistemological implications of the series in the footnotes to the text The End in Disko 22 at
Most of the films in the series so far have been concerned with architecture, giving the project a certain unintended imbalance. In point of fact, the architectonic studies and field researches are finished with the new films Two Museums and The Airstrip – apart from three long-term projects that will keep me busy for some years more. At first, catalogues of the works of my favourite Classical Modernist construction engineers and architects (Sullivan, Maillart, Loos, Schindler, Perret, Goff, Nervi) stood in the foreground of my interest; but triumphing in the end was the cinematographer’s interest in anonymous architectonic situations that can no longer be attributed to a known designer.
It would be the fulfilment of a utopia if I were given an annual budget with no earmarks; I would return the favour with at least two architecture films shot around the world: a comedy and a tragedy. I am sure that everything people can narrate can be found in architecture: their love for one another, their fears of one another, their desire for protection and outfitting, their embedding in the circle of nature. Not least, an uproarious comic aspect inherent in architecture is underestimated all over the world. Unfortunately this utopia cannot be fulfilled, because the advance financing of films feels committed to the word and not the image.

Heinz Emigholz

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Press Coverage

"The Airstrip" is Emigholz's latest investigation of modernity via architectural form - and the third chapter in his "Decampment of Modernism" series. The film presents a global panorama of structures including stadia, shopping centers, airports and prisons, through which to quietly mediate upon war, capitalism, ideology and national identity. With music from Kreidler. (Barbican London, 2014)

In his new film Heinz Emigholz traces links that reach from Modernism’s concrete cult to the ‘concrete culture of war’, as the film-maker says. The last outstanding image analyst of German Cinema was never more sparkling. (epd film, 2014)

Wakeling gives us some indication how to interpret his findings in an early reference to 'mosaic theory,' defined thusly: 'disparate items of information which individually have no utility to their possessor can take on added significance when combined with other items of information.' A more compelling expression of this idea—likewise concerned with the presence of the past within the present—can be found in The Airstrip—Decampment of Modernism, Part III by Heinz Emigholz, who has been making films since the early 1970s. (In the company of the artists presenting new work here, this makes him downright venerable—Abrantes was born in 1984, and Wakeling is only a few years older.) Beginning with sculptor Reinhold Begas’s 1901 Prometheus, read as an allegory for the self-image of Germany under Wilhelm II, then shuttling to Rome’s Pantheon, Emigholz traces the interleaving histories of modernist architecture and twentieth-century political catastrophe, photographing buildings by Viktor Sulčič, Eladio Dieste, and Luis Barragán, while pursuing a wending route from Normandy to South America to Saipan, where Fat Man and Little Boy were loaded for delivery to the Empire of Japan. All the while, Emigholz elaborates and frustrates the elusive connection between what one US veteran, quoted in on-screen text, describes as “that indescribable cleanliness which one feels with bombs away” and a new cleanliness of design. (Artforum, 2014)

'Saipan, Tinian landmarks star in German film out in spring' A German filmmaker travelled to the Northern Marianas last year to shoot scenes for a movie that is scheduled for release this spring. Heinz Emigholz, who founded the production company Pym Films in 1978, was on Saipan and Tinian from April 5 to 12, 2012, with colleague and fellow artist Ueli Etter to work on the film The Airstrip-Decampment of Modernism. The two-hour film is the last installment of a series of films about modern architecture that have been shown worldwide in cinemas, film festivals and were especially acclaimed in the United States, said Emigholz. “It will contain several scenes with concrete ruins of Japanese military buildings on Saipan, and “Northfield” on Tinian with its concrete loading pits for the atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Man,” he told Saipan Tribune, adding that the principal photography for the movie was done all over the world in 62 days. Emigholz, 64, said that his reasons to come to Saipan were manifold. He has studied and written about the Pacific War for decades, and loved the film Anatahan by Josef von Sternberg since childhood. Rat Beach, a story about 1945 Saipan written by William Styron, also piqued the interest of the professor for Experimental film at Berlin University of the Arts. What finally convinced him, however, was the book The Roman Pantheon: The Triumph of Concrete by the late American war veteran David Moore and published by the University of Guam, which he came across when he did a film about the historical and one of the best-preserved structures. “He was a civil engineer and his book is the best about the Pantheon I ever read,” Emigholz told Saipan Tribune, saying that Moore's book also led to his discovery of Moore's website, “I definitely will come back to Saipan and stay some time to work on a book.” When Emigholz returned to Germany following his brief stay in the Northern Marianas, members of the German group Kreidler approached him and asked him to do a video for a track in their new album Den released last Oct. 5. Founded in 1994, Kreidler combines electronic and analog instruments and is categorized by critics, depending on the publication, as electronic music, pop, avant-garde, post rock, ambient, neoclassical, krautrock or electronica. “I listened to their material, liked it and decided to do clips for all seven tracks,” said Emigholz, adding that he used materials shot in the CNMI for the videos of two tracks. He used the shot during the ride to the loading pits on Tinian for the video for Rote Wüste (Red Desert), which was released a month before Kreidler's album came out “and became very popular.” Meanwhile, Emigholz used shots of La Fiesta, the site of the Japanese Banzai attack on July 5, 1945, for the video of Sun. The Rote Wüste video, which has 5,804 views as of press time, can be seen at while the Sun video, which has 2,128 views, can be accessed at (Saipan Tribune, 9.1.2013, Clarissa V. David)

Awards and Festivals