Werner Schroeter  

An avant-garde director in the wave of modern German cinema. Schroeter started with short experimental films, then episodic longer creations that are basically an artistic collage of tableaux, stagy impressions and dramatic music, and then more complex and difficult full-length films that heavily use artsy themes and symbols. In between, he also directed hybrid movies that feature snippets of a story or a social theme, with actors and actresses acting-out dramatic moments or singing operatic songs. The reviews here focus primarily on the latter movies that feature more abstract and symbolic scenes. Schroeter often explored fragments or episodes of a drama or a person's life, ignoring linear narratives and presenting a series of tableaux, poetic images and symbols, important fragments, and scattered impressions instead. He has a strong interest in opera and many of his movies deal with this world of divas or singers, or feature operatic soundtracks and melodrama. Often just presents actors in heavy make-up chewing the scenery, acting-out a sequence of dramatic scenes, like a histrionic actor's highlight reel. This faux-structure and approach in his movies will obviously not appeal to a large audience. This, combined with his penchant for inserting pretentiously poetic, enigmatic and nonsensical dialogue or monologues result in extremely self-indulgent movies that are more pointless montages than rewarding or challenging films, with obscure art references solely for the art-house crowd. Died in 2010.


Council of Love, The  
Based on a notoriously blasphemous satirical play with a long history of being banned and getting its authors and editors in prison, this adaptation by Schroeter adds to this history with its own distribution problems. It's an attack on the hypocrisy of the church and religion on the topic of sex and hell, but Schroeter adapts it as another of his stagy, artificial, crude and extremely silly hyper-styled productions. No doubt, the barbs of the original satire were lost with this approach. There's a decadent pope, his children and various royalty persons in his court who anger the heavens. A bumbling senile god, a sickly Jesus who still suckles at his mother, a flirty Mary who hits on the devil, and some angels all panic and rant, then call on Lucifer and come up with a plan to punish the humans without wiping them out: By inventing syphilis. The devil soliloquizes about his mission, and together with other denizens of hell, Helena and Salome, come up with a woman that will unleash this hellish punishment on the humans. The actors wear heavy black and white make-up (creatures from hell are the only healthy ones) and chew the scenery, which is very artificial and stagy, and they are not beyond slapstick and clowning around. You'd be hard pressed to understand what the fuss was all about based on this movie.

Day of the Idiots  
The insane as a metaphor for people too afraid of their own needs and eccentricities to live life in the real world dominated by standards and impersonal institutions. That's one possible interpretation, but Schroeter seems more interested in staging theatrical and poetic scenes of madness rather than cohesive thoughts. A highly neurotic woman feels she isn't getting what she wants from her boyfriend so she turns herself in as a terrorist so that they'll put her away in an asylum. The rest of the movie meanders between endless pretentious soliloquies and verbal exchanges, poetic rants, histrionic theatrics like characters out of a Zulawski movie, symbolic props and dancers, the mad talking about things like the sun and stabbing husbands while urinating on each other, the nurses discussing methods of caring for these unique individuals without really caring, their job consisting of converting the 'insane' to normal social creatures, etc. A terribly self-indulgent pretentious movie that thinks it's some kind of opera, offering no insights and no reward.

Death of Maria Malibran, The  
A typical early film by Schroeter that strings together a series of tableaux to explore a subject. This one depicts the life of the famous drama-queen opera singer through strange episodes, from endless footage of people in heavy makeup and various sets, singing and acting melodramatically, to a scene of a woman melodramatically following and begging a man in the street as he walks away, to a strange expressionistic meeting between a white-faced man (death?) and a woman in a snowy forest, various other artsy performances and odds and ends, to a scene of death that made me think of Monty Python's sketch on 'deaths of famous people' and that this is what they were making fun of.

Based on an introspective feminist book by Ingeborg Bachmann which I haven't read but is described as a difficult fragmented work that exposes emotional reactions and stream-of-consciousness meditations on her identity vs. three men in her life, two lovers who try to control her or take over her identity, her obsessive love, and her scary father. The author, Bachmann, died in hospital after a fire in her house. Schroeter takes these real-life and written elements and applies his own treatment to the whole mess, showing scattered fragments of her life mixed with many and endless emotional breakdowns, fire and mirrors used as artsy symbols, a writer's block, existential explorations on identity, some references to her interests in Wittgenstein, and various surreal imagery involving violinists, her father in a Nazi uniform, and lots of flames, all together in one jumbled emotional mess, like the inside of a schizophrenic woman's mind. Unrewarding art-house piece.

Rose King, The  
Werner Schroeter uses his typically pointless method of cutting up a story and presenting it in random fragments spliced together, mixed with laughable, unbearably pretentious monologues and visual allegories, such as a boy who tells a fire to 'make light in my heart', or 'when children kiss and cannot speak, one of them must die', or unsubtle Christ and Mary visuals. The little story there is involves a mother and her son who move to a mansion to grow roses, and a rose king who has a strange, care-giving but sacrificial homo-erotic relationship with the practically comatose son in some heavy-handed metaphors. This provides an excuse for endless painful poetic reveries and artful imagery, including blood on roses, an insane mother plagued by cats and mice, heavy-handed religious symbolism, a crucified cat, and rose-grafting as a twisted metaphor for forced romantic idealism.

Two (Deux)  
Absolutely berserk and incomprehensible art-house movie. The many bizarre characters and scenes are obviously either meant to be poetic or symbolic, but it is all a poetic metaphor for what exactly? Allegedly an autobiography for Schroeter, but given the impenetrable nature of this fragmented movie, the result is a masturbatory experiment unfit for audiences. The only element possible to extract from this creation is a character-study on an insane, lonely, drug-addict of a mother who is probably hallucinating half of the scenes in this movie involving lots of men fawning over her, and her twin daughters who are mostly unaware of each other but sometimes meet under strange or violent circumstances, probably a metaphor for someone with a double life and split interests or identities. The rest of the movie consists of sliced up fragments: A lesbian first love in school, an endless stream of men, many of them in uniform, all come to flirt or fawn over the women, a transvestite cabaret, a pet fox, rotten dolls growing on a tree, two naked white mimes, a serial killer, manic behaviour, an incomprehensible poetic narration, sailors, a suicide, a murder, lots of bad singing, a sprinkling of gore, a mass of dead bodies, and a dead body as a puppet.

Willow Springs  
Another torturous movie to sit through by Schroeter despite its short length. It tells the drawn-out story of a cult of three radical feminists that live in a run-down gas station in California, that kill any man that passes by. Magdalena is the despot of the group, using others as her slave. One women soliloquizes dramatically about her past, they partake in strange rituals, and listen to lots of music. When a seductive young man comes visiting, he disrupts the group, infuriating Magdalena. This is told in a barely coherent, fragmented way, with long drawn-out scenes where nothing happens, incoherent or painfully banal dialogue, and the actors all look heavily medicated, reciting their lines flatly and artificially pausing frequently for 'dramatic' effect.

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