“Throughout my cinematographic work I seek to explore the elementary forces of love, death and life with the help of various phantasmagorias and utopian visions.”
Werner Schroeter maintains a unique position in the international film landscape since the late sixties. His work is opulent and expressive and, along with his numerous theatre and opera productions, is considered a provocation within the New German Cinema. An outsider who dares and risks something and therefore fascinates us again and again.
Werner Schroeter died on April 12, 2010, his death came far too suddenly despite all the omens. A small consolation remains, thanks to Elfi Mikesch’s film portrait MONDO LUX there is at least a reunion on the big screen. We miss you, Werner!
Werner Schroeter was born in Georgenthal, Thuringia, in 1945. He started making films in the late 1960s, maintaining an intensely personal position which ensured him a singular reputation on the international scene. Werner Schroeter made his first experimental work on 8mm in 1967, presented at Knokke, where he met Rosa von Praunheim. They embarked on an intense, personal and creative relationship which triggered a breathless period of productivity, yielding a great number of experimental works on both 8mm and 16mm between 1968 and 1969. These early works are already characterised by Schroeter’s love of opera, and the voice of Maria Callas in particular. He wrote her obituary in 1977 for German Magazine Der Spiegel which can be read in terms of an artistic manifesto that has continued to guide his work: “Beauty is created through truth, not vice versa (..). Artistic expression driven to excess is an expression of nothing less than the desperate desire to arrest the passage of time. It means ignoring the fatality of man’s aspirations and endowing them with credibility, for an exceptional moment at least, and restoring them into positions of pride.” Like Maria Callas on the operatic stage Werner Schroeter seeks to articulate “the few truly compelling human sentiments such as vitality, love, joy, hate, jealousy, fear of death” on the cinematic screen in an exaggeratedly stylised manner, “in their totality and without psychological analysis.”
In 1969 Schroeter’s first feature EIKA KATAPPA receives the Sternberg Award at the Mannheim International Film Weeks festival to resounding international acclaim. It marks the beginning of a second phase in his output, departing from his early experimental approach towards an increasingly narrative one. A series of fascinatingly extravagant films of operatically theatrical scope emerges, usually with a regular entourage of actors such as Christine Kaufmann and the incomparable Magdalena Montezuma: SALOME (1971), DER TOD DER MARIA MALIBRAN (1971), WILLOW SPRINGS (1972-73), LES FLOCONS D‘OR (1973-76). These films assemble fragmentary “narrative flakes” (Sebastian Feldmann) into complex, allegorical collages of sound and image. Love, death, yearning and passion are the overriding themes of these dazzling works, gaining the admiration of French philosopher Michel Foucault amongst others.
Next to Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders, Schroeter emerges as one of the principal proponents of New German Cinema. During those years Schroeter works and travels restlessly in Mexico, France, Lebanon, Czechoslovakia, Austria, the United States and Italy. At the same time he begins to direct work for the stage and opera to wide international acclaim.After his unexpectedly realistic and epic 1978 film REGNO DI NAPOLI Schroeter had his biggest com-mercial success with the decidedly political triptych in 1980, PALERMO OR WOLFSBURG. The story of the passion of a Sicilian guest worker in Germany went on to win the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Other films follow, TAG DER IDIOTEN (1982), ROSENKÖNIG (1984-86) as well as documentaries. MALINA (1990), starring Isabelle Huppert, is premiered at Cannes, in an adaptation by literary Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek of an Ingeborg Bachmann novel, and receives numerous best film and best director awards.
Werner Schroeter goes on to concentrate on theatre and opera work for the nineteen nineties. He only produces a couple of documentary films (BY-PRODUCTS OF LOVE, 1996). In 2002, in a startling cinematic come back, he presents DEUX at Cannes. This fragmentary work marks the virtuoso condensation of Werner Schroeter’s stylistic and thematic universe. Here a dazzling Isabelle Huppert plays two twin sisters, separated at birth. After a six-year absence from the big screen Schroeter presents TONIGHT after Latin American novelist Juan Carlos Onetti’s Para Esta Noche. Probably his darkest film, it reiterates what Fassbinder once said about Werner Schroeter maintaining a position somewhere between Lautréamont, Novalis and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. This parable with an all-star cast represents the culmination of the Schroeter universe with added new nuances in its almost film noir like atmosphere. Presented at Venice in 2008, where Schroeter is awarded a Golden Lion in recognition of his life’s achievement. A year later Schroeter directs the open-air performance of ANTIGONE/ELEKTRA for Berlin’s Volksbühne-am-Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. In 2009 his hitherto unknown photographic work is also shown in Berlin in an exhibition AUTREFOIS ET TOUJOURS.
Werner Schroeter died on 12 April 2010 in Kassel. In 2018 the Academy of Arts honoured the artist friends Werner Schroeter, Elfi Mikesch and Rosa von Praunheim with the exhibition “Waste Products of Love”. The title of the exhibition corresponds to Schroeter’s film of the same name.