1971-1980ArthouseClassicsGermanyHans-Jürgen Syberberg

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg – Karl May (1974)

In the last decades of the 19th century, Karl May (1842-1912) was the most successful author in Germany. For 30 years he turned out 40 pages a day, constructing a staggering body of kitsch adventure-fiction that may originally have owed a certain debt to James Fenimore Cooper but that, finally, created a mythology quintessentially German.
In his most popular stories, written in the first person, May recalled his adventures in the American West with his idealized white blood-brother, Old Shatterhand, and the equally idealized Indian warrior, Winnetou. Seeking a change of locale, May also wrote similar first-person tales about adventures in the Near and Far East.
As he entered his old age, May was beloved and rich. He was also ripe for attack by jealous publishers and all sorts of opportunists seeking to make their own reputations at the expense of his. Unfortunately for him, Karl May was exceedingly vulnerable.

As his fame had become virtually self-perpetuating, he’d allowed the public to believe that his tales were basically true, though he’d never set foot in America or any of the other exotic lands about which he wrote with such conviction. He manufactured fake degrees for himself and, most shocking to his fans, he’d somehow failed to mention that, as a young man, he’d been imprisoned for a total of more than seven years for various offenses, including thievery.
May spent most of the last decade of his life in and out of the courts, defending himself against a series of lawsuits that had as their goal the destruction of his reputation and formidable popularity.

It is this period of May’s extraordinary career that is the center of Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s lengthy cinema meditation “Karl May”. The film, which was made in 1974, is the second in Mr. Syberberg’s huge, impressionistic trilogy that opens with “Ludwig, Requiem for a Virgin King” (1972) and ends with the 7 1/2-hour “Our Hitler” (1977).

“Karl May,” which runs a bit over three hours, like “Ludwig” and “Hitler,” makes no concessions to those members of the great, unwashed audience who can’t make sense of references that would be immediately clear in Germany. Chronology and documented fact are beside the point.

The film is structured like a piece of music, with themes introduced, explored, dropped and then recalled in variations

The conflict, as in Ludwig, is between the romantic and the rational. May is seen as the last great mystic and the creator of legends that, beginning with Ludwig, reached their inevitable end in Hitler. Whether one believes this or not, Mr. Syberberg couldn’t care less. It’s what he’s telling us in each of the three films, concluding with what seems to be the principal point of Our Hitler. That film’s final question is not Where would we be without Hitler?, but Where would Hitler have been without us?

3.12GB | 3h 01m | 624×480 | avi



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button