Thursday, September 9, 2010

Films from Germany

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s
German Trilogy
September 9-14, 2010
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Avenue

The reason Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s films are rarely seen is because he makes no concessions to his audience. The German director, now 75, made a handful of lengthy but illuminating films in the 1970s that radically critiqued his own country’s history and culture in ways no one else has ever dared, mainly through a revelatory multi-media mixture of biography, inquiry and avant-garde cinematic techniques.

And of those films, none is better known than Hitler: A Film from Germany, the centerpiece of Anthology Film Archives’ presentation of the director’s “German Trilogy.” Hitler: A Film from Germany—known as Our Hitler in the United States—is a seven-hour meditation on the Nazi leader’s mythic presence in Germany, even decades after his ignominious end (the film was made in 1977). The Third Reich’s origins and legacy have never been so hauntingly and unsettlingly visualized, as Syberberg daringly makes use of puppets, rear-screen projections, his own narration and—of course—Wagner music on the soundtrack to arrive at a ambitious analysis of Germany’s complicity in the making of Hitler.

The other films in the “German Trilogy” are less familiar to audiences but are equally important both as (shorter) run-throughs for Hitler: A Film from Germany and investigations into other areas of Germanic cultural history: 1972’s Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King comprises 28 chapters from the life of the 19th century Bavarian king, best known for bankrolling Wagner’s operas and going insane before dying at age 21; and 1974’s Karl May, a three-hour exploration of the popular German author who set many of his adventure tales in the mythic Wild West of the United States.

Syberberg further explored the unpleasant complexities of German art and culture in his five-hour interview film with Wagner’s unrepentant Hitler-admiring daughter-in-law, The Confessions of Winifred Wagner (1975), and his own dazzling cinematic interpretation of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal (1982). But the “German Trilogy” is an essential starting point to discover the artistry and ambition of one of Germany’s filmmaking visionaries.

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