Werner Schroeter - Director

Nationality: German. Born: Georgenthal, Thuringia, 7 April 1945. Education: Educated in Bielefeld and Heidelberg, and Naples; studied psychology at Mannheim; left Munich Television and Film Academy after a few weeks. Career: Worked as journalist, then

Werner Schroeter with Rosa von Praunheim
Werner Schroeter with Rosa von Praunheim
began making 8mm films, 1967; director for TV, from 1970; release of first film to theatres, The Kingdom of Naples , 1978; also director for opera and theatre, and actor in several films. Awards: Golden Bear, Berlin Festival, for Palermo or Wolfsburg , 1980.

Films as Director:


Verona ( Zwei Katzen ) (short)


Callas Walking Lucia (short); Callas text mit doppel-beleuchtung (short); Maria Callas porträt (short); Mona Lisa (short); Maria Callas singt 1957 Rezitativ und Arie der Elvira aus Ernani 1844 von Giuseppe Verdi (short); La morte d'Isotta ; Himmel Hoch (short); Paula—"je reviens" ; Grotesk—Burlesk—Pittoresk (co-d with Rosa von Praunheim); Faces (short); Aggressionen (short); Neurasia ; Argila ; Virginia's Death (short)


Eika Katappa ; Nicaragua


Der Bomber-pilot (for TV); Anglia


Salome (for TV); Macbeth (for TV); Funkausstellung 1971— Hitparade (for TV)


Der Tod der Maria Malibran ( The Death of Maria Malibran ) (for TV)


Willow Springs (for TV)


Der Schwarze Engel ( The Black Angel ) (for TV)


Johannas Traum (short)


Flocons d'or ( Goldflocken ; Goldflakes )


Regno di Napoli ( Neapolitanische Geschwister ; Kingdom of Naples )


Palermo oder Wolfsburg ( Palermo or Wolfsburg ); Weisse Reisse ( White Journey ); Die Generalprobe ( La Répétition générale ; The Dress Rehearsal )


Der Tag der Idioten ( Day of Idiots ); Das Liebeskonzil ( Lovers' Council )


Der lachende Stern ( The Smiling Star )


De l'Argentine ( About Argentina ); Der Rosenkönig ( Rose King ); A la recherche du soleil (for TV)




Poussières d'amour ( Love's Debris ) (+ co-sc)


Die Königin



Liebeskonzil. Filmbuch , with Oskjar Panizza and Antonio Salines, Munich, 1982.

By SCHROETER: articles—

Interview with Gérard Courant and Jean-Claude Moireau, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1980.

Interview with Alain Carbonnier and Noël Simsolo, in Cinéma (Paris), March 1984.

Interview with A. Wilink, in EPD Film , January 1991.

Interview, in Kino; Film der Bundesrepublik Deutschland , no. 2, 1991.

Interview with P. Kremski, in Filmbulletin (Winterthur), no. 5, 1996.

On SCHROETER: books—

Schmid, Eva, and Frank Scurla, editors, Werner Schroeter. Filme 1968–70 , Bochum, 1971.

Jansen, Peter W., and Wolfram SchĂĽtte, editors, Werner Schroeter , Munich, 1980.

Courant, GĂ©rard, editor, Werner Schroeter , Paris, 1982.

Elsaesser, Thomas, New German Cinema: A History , London, 1989.

On SCHROETER: articles—

Wenders, Wim, "Filme von Werner Schroeter," in Filmkritik (Munich), May 1969; reprinted in Emotion Pictures: Reflections on the Cinema , London, 1990.

Grafe, Frieda, "Schauplatz fĂĽr Sprache: Neurasia," in Filmkritik (Munich), no. 3, 1970.

Greenberg, Alan, "Notes on Some European Directors," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), vol. 3, no. 1, 1977.

Corrigan, Timothy, "Werner Schroeter's Operatic Cinema," in Discourse (Berkeley), Spring 1981.

Indiana, Gary, "Scattered Pictures: The Movies of Werner Schroeter," in Art Forum (New York), March 1982.

Kuhlbrodt, Dietrich, "Werner Schroeter," in CineGraph. Lexikon zum deutschsprachigen film , edited by Hans-Michael Bock, Munich, 1984.

Bassan, R., and M. Martin, "Werner Schroeter," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), February 1984.

Corrigan, Timothy, "On the Edge of History: The Radiant Spectacle of Werner Schroeter," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1984.

Kunze, Barbara, "Focusing on the Abstract," in World Press Review , April 1991.

Danton, A., "Le desert et les roses," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1991.

Bernink, M., "De ruimte van het operateske," in Skrien , February/March 1992.

Kino (Warsaw), no. 1, 1997.

* * *

Werner Schroeter's hyper-melodramatic films tend to provoke either intense admiration or outraged hostility. 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.

Schroeter's concept of cinema relies on intense stylization, deploying manneristic prolonged gestures. The characters are framed in sumptuous tableaux compositions, and the visuals are underscored by a highly manipulated soundtrack. Images, music, and sound are nonsynchronized in Schroeter's early films: the performers mime exaggeratedly to the lyrics or spoken words on the soundtrack. The songs, arias, and literary citations (mostly from Lautréamont) give rise to stories which repeat distilled moments of desire, loss, and death.

Schroeter is not interested in reproducing an illusion of reality with psychologically motivated actions; instead, he seeks to create visions for a psychic reality. He wants to break with conventional viewing habits, hence his predilection for fragmentation, non-synchronization, extended duration, and deliberately over-the-top acting. At its best, this approach to cinema simultaneously involves the spectator through the music, whilst distancing through anti-naturalist conventions (which should not be confused with Brechtian distanciation techniques). Schroeter's cinema of excess and artifice occupies a transitional space between the avant-garde and art cinema, neither quite abstract nor quite narrative.

Music, which is central in all of Schroeter's films, is more important for its content than the mood it conveys: the music comments, but also contradicts at times. Juxtaposing classical with popular music is a major characteristic of Schroeter's cinema. For example, he puts Maria Callas, the opera diva, side by side with Caterina Valente, the German popular singer. This blurs the hierarchical distinction between "high" and "low" culture, between art and kitsch. Yet Schroeter has been accused of elitism—of making films for "culture vultures"—since his complex system of citing from pop, opera, and literature sources demands a high degree of cultural literacy from the spectator. Moreover, with Schroeter one can never be quite certain whether he parodies or celebrates.

Over the years, and thanks to major retrospectives in London, Paris, and New York, Schroeter has gained an international cult following. Though his cinema is marginal in terms of general audience appeal, Schroeter has been a seminal presence in the New German Cinema of the 1970s. Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders have acknowledged him as a decisive influence on their work. His impact on Syberberg is so apparent that Fassbinder has even leveled charges of plagiarism.

Eika Katappa , a radical appropriation of famous nineteenth-century opera scenes, won the Josef von Sternberg prize (as "the most idiosyncratic film") in 1969 at the Mannheim Film Festival and provided Schroeter with a major breakthrough. As a consequence he entered the world of television, and during the 1970s his films were produced almost exclusively by a small experimental television department. It is rather ironic that Schroeter's "total cinema" (owing more to the spectacle than to the narrative arts) found a home in television.

Der Tod der Maria Malibran , sublime and bizarre, is considered by many (including Michel Foucault and Schroeter himself) to be one of his best films, but it is also the most difficult. The historical figure of the singer Maria Malibran provides merely a starting point for a dense network of references and allusions encompassing Goethe, Lautréamont, Elvis Presley, and Janis Joplin. With Regno di Napoli Schroeter shifted towards art cinema, and it became his first commercial release. It was received with an unusual consensus of critical acclaim. Many who had regarded Schroeter as a filmmaker of fantastic fables were surprised subsequently at his politically hard-hitting documentaries. The Laughing Star is an extraordinary collage documentary on Marcos's corrupt regime, while Zum Beispiel Argentinien denounces Galtieri's dictatorship.

Schroeter's gay sensibility is expressed as an aesthetic approach that could be described as "high camp." His conception has frequently been compared to and contrasted with (not always favourably) Rosa von Praunheim's much more militant stance. Schroeter insists on the romantic version of homosexuality. In most of his films we get the gay historical subtext, rather than thematic treatment. Der Rosenkönig , an excessive and entrancing hallucinatory fable of oedipal and homosexual passion, is his most explicit gay film. It also marked the beginning of a six-year gap in fiction filmmaking for the director. Only in 1990 did he begin shooting his new film, Malina. During the 1980s Schroeter became much more widely known as a theatre and opera director, staging a range of productions in Germany and in other countries. Some of these works are highly acclaimed, but all are controversial; indeed, his theatre and opera efforts proved even more controversial than his films.

—Ulrike Sieglohr

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