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Werner Schroeter, 1945 - 2010

The Auteurs Daily

Werner Schroeter

German film and theater director Werner Schroeter, having turned 65 just last week, died last night in a clinic in Kassel. The cause was cancer, according to several European reports, e.g., Die Welt (German), Público (Portuguese) and La Matin (French).

"Werner Schroeter's hyper-melodramatic films tend to provoke either intense admiration or outraged hostility," writes Ulrike Sieglohr for Film Reference. "He is one of the most controversial filmmakers associated with the New German Cinema. His emotionally charged, performance-inspired cinema draws on and radically reinterprets nineteenth-century Italian bel canto opera and the music of German Romanticism. Schroeter's central figure is always the outsider — the homosexual, the mad person, the foreigner — and his major theme is the yearning for self-realization through passionate love and artistic creativity."

"In 1979," notes Michelle Langford in her profile for Senses of Cinema, "Schroeter's friend and colleague, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, speculated upon the place Schroeter and his films might some day hold for the history of cinema:

"'Werner Schroeter will one day have a place in the history of film that I would describe in literature as somewhere between Novalis, Lautréamont, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline; he was an 'underground' director for ten years, and they didn't want to let him slip out of this role. Werner Schroeter's grand cinematic scheme of the world was confined, repressed, and at the same time ruthlessly exploited. His films were given the convenient label of 'underground', which transforms them in a flash into beautiful but exotic plants that bloomed so unusually and so far away that basically one couldn't be bothered with them, and therefore wasn't supposed to bother with them. And that's precisely as wrong as it is stupid. For Werner Schroeter's films are not far away; they're beautiful but not exotic. On the contrary.'"

Updates: Viewing (3'11"). Cargo co-editor Ekkehard Knörer posts a clip from Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972).

Spiegel Online publishes a moving farewell, a love letter, from Rosa von Praunheim. In German.

Update, 4/22: "Schroeter lived by Oscar Wilde's dictum: 'Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.'" Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: "His mixture of flamboyant, gender-bending minimalism and stylised melodrama, inspired by 19th-century Italian bel canto opera and the music of German romanticism, often juxtaposed with popular song, blurred the distinction between art and kitsch. His eschewal of conventional narrative made him a marginal figure, but towards the end of his life, with several retropectives at festivals and cinematheques, he gained a wider audience of cinephiles."

Update, 5/2: "[H]ow could this figure be so important and yet so little known, so little seen or discussed?" asks Adrian Martin in Filmkrant. "Indeed, Schroeter found a place in a certain Pantheon of Invisibles taking shape in my brain at the time [ca. 1987]: other dark stars to whom I felt mysteriously attracted included Philippe Garrel and Carmelo Bene.... Schroeter's work, like Bene's and Garrel's, resists commodification. It givesout a healthy, often disconcerting dose of unpleasure. It is never beautifully well-formed — even when it is ecstatically rapturous by moments. His films embodied all the lessons that film theory in the 1970s taught — the lesson of heteroegeneity, of films as baroque allegory, narrative and meaning in ruins, devastating desire and sublime aesthetic excess, queer cinema as outlaw provocation, the scandalous but perfectly natural connection between avant-gardism and Z-grade pop — all those ideas that theorists quickly abandoned as they slid up to smoother, higher grounds of 'indie' cinema, and away from true experimentation. Schroeter was an unselfconscious, relentless experimentalist."

Image: Werner Schroeter on the set of Diese Nacht (This Night, 2008).

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Terrible news :(
Thanks for posting this David, and especially for that cool pic of WS with bullhorn! This is a very sad loss. WS was a visionary whose work is still scandalously little-known. Please keep us posted when and if more of Schroeter’s work starts to become available on DVD in Germany (or elsewhere.)
Thanks for the link, Montescu. I’m actually hoping more from the early end of WS’s career starts to become available in high quality formats: THE DEATH OF MARIA MALIBRAN, for example, or my fave of his features, WILLOW SPRINGS.—-Der-Tod-der-Maria-Malibran.html
YAY! Thanks!
A chapter of my book “Film: The Front Line — 1984” (Arden Press) is devoted to Werner Schroeter. He was not only the greatest of all post-WWII German filmmakers he was arguably the greatest of all post WWII Italian filmmakers as well. Fassbinder said that Syberberg’s entire career was a rip-off of Werner Schroeter — and he was absolutely correct.

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