Christoph Schlingensief • Director
by Peter W. Jansen – German Film Quarterly
Christoph Schlingensief is a film and theatre director, radio drama author and performance artist. At seven years old, he shot his first film with a narrow-gauge film camera. As a director’s assistant and camera assistant, he has worked with Franz Seitz, Georg Tressler, and Werner Nekes. A selection of his films includes Menu Total (1985/1986); Egomania – Insel ohne Hoffnung (1986); 100 Jahre Adolf Hitler – Die letzte Stunde im Führerbunker (1988); United Trash (1995/1996); and Die 120 Tage von Bottrop – Der letzte Neue Deutsche Film (1997), to name but a few.
Whoever has seen him at work, surrounded by a dozen able-bodied helpers and ephebic assistants, has also seen the definition of charisma. He must have already possessed it as a seven year-old, perhaps as an altar boy at his Catholic church, but certainly as the boy with the camera who knew how to animate others to participate. The first encouragement came from his parents, "who filmed a lot on double 8, children’s films, in the forest, in the mountains, in the bathtub, at the Zugspitze. My father filmed, my mother edited, an ideal apportionment."
He transformed horror and splatter films into vitality. He got to know the Americans Brakhage, Warhol and Kenneth Anger through Werner Nekes. As he edited his film Menu Total, he saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead. "I was flabbergasted. I had actually filmed a German, concretely chaotic, fascistic Eraserhead, but sensed that Lynch was doing something else. I always looked through the camera; I had a thousand scenes in my head, but not a complete film. It was a score in the 12-tone technique, although I only heard Schoenberg later."
All of his films follow this "score". They consist of a thousand scenes and labour to be a complete film. They are fragmented like the land they came from, which also labours to be complete. There are no films from Germany that are as authentically German as the skewed, kaput, screeching, tasteless ones in Schlingensief’s Deutscher Trilogie100: Jahre Adolf Hitler, far ahead of Der Untergang and the psychogram of the fascist bourgeoisie gone wild; Das Deutsche Kettensaegemassaker, with the slaughter of the people from the GDR after the borders have fallen, the prophecy of the sell-out and spoilage of an entire society; and Terror 2000, the hostage drama of Germany, sensational and xenophobic.
From the first film of the seven-year-old to his African excursions, theatre works, installations and performances, one of his most prominent talents remains the ability to move others to participate – well, to inspire them. Opera singers as well as state actors, old as well as young, white and black, professionals and amateurs. Whoever wants to remain tenacious. That was always convenient for him. They simply show what actors in their roles impel: eternal childhood.
Each new film is also a different film. Because new landscapes put a spell on his imagination again and again, because the torrent of his associations is the powerful Niagara, or because another exaggeration antagonizes him or another injustice or another political corruption sends him into a rage.
The afterbirth of Dada and Surrealism is occasionally based on Luis Buñuel and he could also name Artaud and Jarry. Or Oskar Panizza and Otto Muehl. His anarchy is organized, his organization is anarchy. He is a character like Dali and worlds away from his vanity. Nobody can give better information about him than he himself. He is the most competent regarding himself. And he is someone who controls himself like no one else. As wild, eccentric, and crazy as he – and what he produces – may appear to be, he acts consciously. His irrationality is rational, his rationality irrational. Ever since a life-threatening burst appendix, he thinks on a gut level and feels with his head. That is the only way he could stay what he remains today: the boy with the camera.
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