Klaus Wyborny – Studien zum Untergang des Abendlands AKA Studies for the Decay of the West (Song of the Earth, Appendix) (1979–2010)

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In Wyborny’s ‘musical film’, every new sound triggers a new image: 6,299 shots, all directly edited within his Super-8 camera. An intoxicating, stroboscopic trip to industrial, natural and urban landscapes in East Africa, New York, the Ruhr district and Rimini.

This experimental music film refers to Oswald Spengler’s world-famous philosophical work Der Untergang des Abendslandes (The Decay of the West, 1918). Culture pessimist Spengler argues that progress is an illusion and that the modern era brings little good. People are no longer able to understand the rationality of the world. Wyborny did not set out to make a film version of Spengler’s theories, but rather a visual reflection on the modern age; a stroboscopic journey in five parts to industrial, natural and urban landscapes. He uses 6,299 shots, edited directly in a Super8 camera. Each piano note and violin vibrato evokes a new image: demolished buildings, rubble, destruction and nature, all shot between 1979 and 2010 in locations such as New York, the Ruhr, Hamburg, East Africa and Rimini. This film forms a counterpart to Wyborny’s previous films series Eine andere Welt. Lieder der Erde II (2004/2005). Continue reading

Rainer Werner Fassbinder – Fontane Effi Briest (1974)

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It’s a non-traditional black and white film based on the 1894 novel by Theodor Fontane. It’s for an audience that is more aware and welcomes something addressed to the intellect, rather than the way the average casual moviegoer sees a film expecting a story handed to him on a silver platter with a beginning, a middle and an end (usually a happy ending). This is not a film for the casual moviegoer or the critic chasing down blockbusters. Director-writer Rainer Werner Fassbinder has said “It’s a film that really only works in the German language.” What makes the film so difficult for an outsider, is that much of Fontane is nuanced only for the German and therefore someone unfamiliar with the finer cultural points or historical facts will have a tough time of it. Fassbinder based the film on the parts of the novel by Theodor Fontane he agreed with (discarding the parts of the book he disagreed with) and did not make it into a topic about a woman as the title would suggest (a debate grew between the film’s star Hanna Schygulla, who wanted to play it as a story about the titular character; thankfully she couldn’t budge Fassbinder off his intended aim to keep it as a societal moral play and as a result we have a film that is full of conviction and as faithful to a book as you can possibly be). Continue reading

Henry Koster – Das häßliche Mädchen AKA The Ugly Girl (1933)

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“Das hässliche Mädchen” (The ugly girl) of the title is young Lotte (Dolly Haas), who is hired as a secretary by an insurance company precisely for her supposed ugliness, as the director (Otto Wallburg) hopes to avoid amorous affairs in his company this way. But as these things go, not only does one of his employees, Fritz (Max Hansen), fall for her, but unsurprisngly the ugly duckling soon transforms into a lovely lady. Fritz realises a little too late that he’s in love with Lotte, however, and meanwhile establishes an affair with the company director’s girlfriend. And obviously, this leads to all sorts of problems and funny situations… Continue reading

Angela Schanelec – Orly (2010)

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Amidst the impersonal hubbub of Paris’ Orly Airport, strangers meet, secrets are revealed, and sudden intimacies develop in this beautifully observed mosaic of lives in transit.

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Loosely-linked scenes in the hall of Paris’ Orly airport. A man and a woman, both French but living abroad, meet each other by chance. He has just decided to move back to Paris and she longs to return there. A mother and her almost adult son are going to the funeral of her ex-husband, his father. A young couple is embarking on its first big trip. And a woman reads a letter from the man she has recently left. They are all waiting for their flight. Continue reading

Klaus Wyborny – Bilder vom verlorenen Wort AKA Pictures of the Lost World (1971–1975)

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For 50 minutes or so Pictures presents a series of static, or gently swaying images which are sometimes bucolic landscapes but more often industrial ones (sludgy harbours, power lines, abandoned railway stations or deserted factories). The interplay between the two sets of imagery is not simple. Wyborny photographs his modern ruins at their most ravishing – at dawn or sunset, partially reflected in the water or glimpsed through the trees. Shots recur throughout, optically printed into brilliant colours or else, given the washed out quality of fifth generation Xeroxes. As there are few people shown, one’s impression is of a planet that is populated mainly by cows, barges and hydraulic drills. Continue reading

Klaus Wyborny – Die Geburt der Nation AKA The Birth of a Nation (1973)

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Authentically ‘New’ German Cinema, and, simultaneously, an archaeology of narrative film itself, Wyborny’s avant-garde landmark defines cinema as a ‘nation’ that has perversely acquired rulers, laws and hierarchies before it has even been physically mapped out. At first appearing to spin an elementary yarn of social organisation (the predictably fraught establishment of a rudimentary commune in the Moroccan desert of 1911) in the ‘authoritative’ film language of DW Griffith, Wyborny proceeds to break down that language to its constituent elements and produce fragmentary hints of alternatives. Structural film-making of a rare wit and accessibility results, with flashes of appropriate absurdity highlighting the redundancy of closed systems, whether social or cinematic. Continue reading

Robert Reinert – Nerven aka Nerves (1919)

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In Nerven, writer-director-producer Robert Reinert tried to capture the “nervous epidemic” caused by war and misery which “drives people mad”. This unique portrait of the life in 1919 Germany, filmed on location in Munich, describes the cases of different people from all levels of society: Factory owner Roloff who looses his mind in view of catastrophies and social disturbances, teacher John who is the hero of the masses and Marja who turns into a radical revolutionary. Using different fragments the Munich Film Museum could reconstruct this forgotten German classic which is a historic document and anticipates already elements of the Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. Continue reading