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Christoph Schlingensief

Though he spent the last few years of his life openly battling the lung cancer he knew would kill him, the loss of Christoph Schlingensief back in August came as a shock nonetheless. He was, as Hugh Rorrison wrote in the Guardian, "a talented, energetic maverick, often working on several projects at the same time: films, theater, opera, blogs, interviews, prose, art actions, videos. By the end of his life he was considered one of the most influential figures in the German theater and something of a national treasure." And though he was only 50, he had created "a new genre that defies all classification," as Elfriede Jelinek wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "There will be nobody like him."

Partnering with Filmgalerie 451, we present a retrospective celebrating Schlingensief's work in cinema. If you're completely unfamiliar with his work, one way in might be the documentary Christoph Schlingensief and His Films (2005), in which clips are interspersed throughout Frieder Schlaich's in-depth interview. We're making this one viewable to everyone for free.

Or you might simply start at the beginning and watch your way through. He shot My 1. Movie (1968) when he was all of seven. It's short, of course, a mere eleven minutes. Mensch Mami, wir drehn 'nen Film (Hey, Mum, Let's Shoot a Movie, 1977) is, naturally, a comedy by the then-17-year-old. Also short, but Für Elise (1982) is even shorter: two minutes. Schlingensief's first 16mm work, What Happened to Magdelena Jung? (1983, 13 min), is one film of a trilogy made in part as a response to the New German Cinema of the 70s and early 80s.

Die Schlacht der Idioten (Idiots' Battle, 1986) is a black and white silent film featuring Udo Kier as a vampire. Schlingensief: "I love all things kitsch, like opera, and I feel inspired by music. I was interested in silent film but not a great deal." The feature-length Menu Total (1985/86) bears an aesthetic kinship, though its considerably more rambunctious. 100 Years of Adolph Hitler (1989), shot in a single night, is downright ferocious, a sort of anti-Downfall in which Hitler (Kier), Göring (Alfred Edel) and Goebbels (Dietrich Kuhlbrodt) play "Death in the Fuhrer's Bunker." Freakstars 3000 brings us to 2004 and one of Schlingensief's multimedia projects for the Volksbühne in Berlin. The film's a documentation, albeit not a straightforward one by any means. Imagine a German version of American Idol, a casting show in which the goal is to find the superfreak of the nation.

The poster up there, by the way, is for a retrospective, co-sponsored by Filmgalerie 451, running at the Babylon in Berlin through January 16.

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