Wolfram Schütte

  • form follows lack of function.

    LONG BEFORE SYLVESTER STALLONE, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris, the movies had their muscle men. We remember some of them, like Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan; others are more obscure, including the various Hercules who came to cinematic life in Rome’s Cinecittà studios in the ’50s and ’60s, pursuing their sweaty chore of cleaning the Augean stables, which were set in the Italian version of the antique landscape. All these old movies, however, are somewhat more reticent than their contemporary manifestations. Bare chests are reserved for “half savages” such as Tarzan, and for the industry’s

  • The Art of Filming Painting: Derek Jarman and Caravaggio, Peter Greenaway and Jan Vermeer, Paul Leduc and Frida Kahlo.

    WHEN IT'S NOT EXPLORING the crude reality of daily life, film sometimes turns its eyes on art—on art history, on esthetic philosophy, on literature, on itself. A recent example was The Draughtsman’s Contract, 1982, by the Englishman Peter Greenaway, the contemporary master of bafflingly speculative, perfectly conceived (and designed) cinema. The movie tells the story of a 17th-century draughtsman and of the challenge his art poses to aristocratic British society. A whodunit in powdered wigs, it is a sort of allegorical marriage between Agatha Christie and the Marquis de Sade, but it is also,

  • German film’s archaeology of the present past.

    IF CINEMA IS TO REMAIN a living force, it must remain capable of exploring and digesting public issues, whether they are matters of everyday discussion or are repressed and taboo. Over the last few years Europe has produced a number of films on the Nazi period. Among these, masterworks such as Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah demonstrate that the medium has an intrinsic role in the difficult, painful effort to come to terms with that black hole in modern history. And several movies have also dealt with more recent, bitterly divisive conditions in German life: the desperate turn to terrorism, and the

  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder

    At some point films have to stop being films, have to stop being stories and begin to live, make you ask: what’s really going on with me and my life?

    —Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974

    BARELY FOUR YEARS HAVE PASSED since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s death, and already it seems as if a short eternity separates us from him. The New German Cinema, whose pulsing heart he was, has fallen apart, disintegrated, and the international success on whose threshold he was the first of his colleagues to stand has scattered those remaining—Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta, Wim Wenders, and

  • local technicolor.

    MOVIE CINEMAS AND THE FILMS they bring to life are offspring of the metropolis. Their late-19th-century ancestors were comic/subversive variety theaters, circus sideshows, and the panoramas and perspectival dioramas of city, country, and foreign lands that amazed our grandparents with their deceptive realism. The urban masses were inquisitive, sentimental, easily scared, and endowed with vivid imaginations; the movies offered them faraway places close up, brought the past to the present, and transformed the familiar, the city, into something strange, a murky jungle of crime and passion. Whether

  • Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah (Annihilation) and the ethics of reconstructing the Third Reich.

    WE SEE AN old man’s face, hear his rasping voice. The man is sitting in a chair in a harshly lit studio. The camera moves in closer and closer, right up to the pores of his wrinkled old skin. The close-up is obscene. The studio is a dungeon, the site of an interrogation, of an exercise in torture.

    The man who agreed to this sinister session, for money, is an old Nazi. The man interviewing him, whose questions we don’t hear, is Thomas Harlan, son of the well-known Nazi film director Veit Harlan, of Jud Süss (The Jew Süss, 1940) fame. The topic of the interrogation: what the former SS man experienced,

  • AN EDITING ROOM OF ONE'S OWN: The Films of Margarethe von Trotta

    THE NEW GERMAN CINEMA has produced many new names and faces, but by and large the faces have been men’s, and it is the work of men—of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders, Alexander Kluge, and others—that has given “the German film-boom,” to quote Newsweek, its international profile. Press coverage has created an image of a broad phalanx of highly individual male directors as the creative forces in the German “Filmwunder,” reporting the third nonmartial “wonder” in Germany since the war—following the “Fräulein-Wunder” (the “wonder girls,” German brides of

  • The celluloid cannot hold. Did you see who Alexis kissed last night?

    CRISIS IS “THE STATE OF THINGS” in European cinema, to quote the title of Wim Wenders’ obituary to his own Hollywood utopias. The crisis is no mere wandering ghost, it’s staring us straight in the face with the deadened eyes of shut-down movie theaters. European film, which is not alone in this crisis, can’t tell a story anymore. It has no energy, no spirit, no wit, no urgency.

    This sort of paralysis has plagued film periodically, but in the past it has cured itself with the new, for instance with Italian neorealism in the mid ’40s, the French “new wave” at the end of the ’50s, the “new German