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By-products of love

BY-PRODUCTS OF LOVE (Abfallprodukte der Liebe) Werner Schroeter, D/F 1996, 125 min

Watching the art of singing come into existence

Where does the expressivity of a grand voice come from? What is it that gives us goosebumps? To answer these questions, Werner Schroeter invited the female and male singers he admires most to a french abbey from the 13th century, together with their friends, lovers and kids. There they were asked to bring an aria to life - just as if they told the story of their own life.

For BY-PRODUCTS OF LOVE Filmgalerie 451 holds only the DVD-rights for german-speaking territories. German version only.

Of course it didn't turn into a conventional documentary film, but an extraordinary and experimental portrait of contemporary singers. The audience can witness the art of singing in the making.

Werner Schroeter was one of the most important directors in the Neue Deutsche Film movement in the 1970's alongside Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders. The esteemed theater, opera and film director was awarded the "Leopard of Honor" for his life achievements at the International Film Festival in Locarno in 1996. Two years later, Schroeter received the Golden Lion for his complete works at the Venice International Film Festival.

Claire Alby in the press book prior to Abfallprodukte der Liebe's theatrical release on 11/7/96:

"What is it that sings inside me while I listen to the song with my body? Everything reverberating inside, everything that scares me or awakens my desires?"

In one of the movie's first shots, Werner Schroeter quotes the French philosopher Roland Barthes who asked the question that became the movie's leitmotif: "How, and why, do singers find emotions in their voices?"

Werner Schroeter was lucky enough to work with the singers he appreciated most in order to explore the answer to the question. In addition to the singers that had worked with him regularly, Schroeter was able to draw in three more endlessly talented artists: Martha Mödl, Rita Gorr and Anita Cerquetti. For 30 years, Schroeter had hoped that he would one day meet these women. Two of the three, Martha Mödl and Rita Gorr, already knew some of the director's work.

Three women, three different destinies; Allusions to Maria Callas, who had accompanied Schroeter spiritually since his adolescent days and strongly influenced his theater, film and lyrical oevre and especially his personal life.

On the one hand, there was no set script for the film – and there wasn't supposed to be – on the other hand, it worked with very specific requirements: The shooting locations at the Abbey of Royaumont and around Düsseldorf and the selected performers. These were the groundrules for everyone involved.

Every singer was at one of the shooting locations for two days and rehearsed one of the arias that Schroeter had selected.

Werner Schroeter invited the following performers:

Anita Cerquetti            Soprano
Martha Mödl                Dramatic Soprano
Rita Gorr                      Mezzo-Soprano
Kristine Ciesinski        Soprano
Katherine Ciesinski     Mezzo-Soprano
Laurence Dale             Tenor
Jenny Drivala               Soprano
Gail Gilmore                Soprano
Sergei Larin                 Tenor
Trudeliese Schmidt      Mezzo-Soprano

Schroeter also invited Elisabeth Cooper, who turned all opera and orchestra scores into piano or organ music as part of a "One-woman-orchestra". She was present for the production's entire duration including the principal film shoots where she helped out the artists day and night.

The director and his crew followed his guests along their daily routines, suggested they wear their costumes and familiarize themselves with the Abbey, the grotto, the lobby, the musical library, the garden, etc.

In cooperation with costume designer Alberte Barsacq, Schroter changed sets and working spaces. He worked with camerawoman Elfi Mikesch to create the right lighting for the respective working artists' atmospheres.

The makers tried out different versions to gain insight into the singers' daily routines. Each singer was not only assigned their own aria but also personal props like a hat, a dress, special make-up or an individual curtain.

"I shortly explained to the singers that they would not have to sing an entire opera for this film, just an aria that would bring them to life, as if they were telling the story of their own personal lives," says Werner Schroeter about the project.

"My actual aim exceeded the development and interpretation of the characters. I wanted to try to remove masks and facades to get to the heart of the music. That's all I want to work with.

I invited my friends, actresses Caroline Bouquet and Isabelle Huppert to converse with Anita Cerquetti and Martha Mödl. Carole Bouquet asked Anita Cerquetti in Italian why she stopped singing at the height of her career. Isabelle Huppert asked Martha Mödle how she sang the aria from Fidelio that they were listening to together and if she gave voice lessons.

The film doesn't just tell a story about music and the opera. The voice, the mystery of "human beings" and everything that surrounds them are my tools and my resources for creating the characters and screenplay."

The movie is based on an exceptional exchange between the artist and his talent that allows him to express intense emotions and lets the audience long to pick up every nuance of these feelings.

I was trying to evoke the adventure of singing, to explore how it expresses feelings that are deep inside of us. Most importantly, I wanted to share my personal passion for singers and their art with the audience. The movie is simply the return to a source; a short, affectionate view on the singers' private lives.

All of our feelings and passions were brought together in the final scene and personified by Anita Cerquetti's loneliness. She looks at the sky and we listen to a "Casta Diva" recording of hers from the 1960's. That's the last image of the film, then the lights go out."

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