Congratulations to Jean-Marie Straub

Legendary tracking shot through Landsberger Strasse was a gift to RWF

Born January 8, 1933, Jean-Marie Straub initially grew up speaking French but was forced to learn German in the course of the German occupation. Following the end of the war he attended the Saint-Clément Jesuit school and, after completing his schooling there, spent one year at a state lycée. In 1951 he began to study literature in Strasbourg, continuing his studies from 1952 to 1954 in Nancy. During this time he also ran a film club in Metz. On moving to Paris in 1954, he met his future wife Danièle Huillet at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (I.D.H.E.C.), and from this time on the two worked closely together. He began working with film as a director’s assistant on Jacques Rivette’s short film LE COUP DE BERGER (1956) and continued to learn about filmmaking as a trainee with Abel Gance, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson and Alexandre Astruc.

In 1958 Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet moved to Germany and in 1962 first made their presence felt with their short film MACHORKA-MUFF, a critique of the remilitarization of West Germany. The film met with incomprehension from the public and critics and was rejected by the selection committee for the fourth Oberhausen Short Film Festival. In 1964/65, they made the feature film NICHT VERSÖHNT… based on Heinrich Böll’s novel Billards at Half-past Nine, which created a scandal when it was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965. Over the following years, the couple’s stark, politically charged works found little favor with the public and they frequently came into conflict with commissioning and funding bodies as well as with film rating organizations. For example, funding was denied for their next film CHRONIK DER ANNA MAGDALENA BACH, which they nevertheless managed to complete in 1967. This film was the first to feature the complex musical dramaturgy that was also characteristic of later works. Although again finding little favor with the public, the film was named best film of the year at the London International Film Festival. At the end of the 1960s the couple moved to Italy, where they made their first film in color, OTHON (1969), based in the drama by Corneille.

In the following years, Straub and Huillet continued to use literary material as the basis for their films, such as GESCHICHTSUNTERRICHT (1972), which was based on a novel fragment by Brecht, and KLASSENVERHÄLTNISSE (Class Relations, 1983), which was based on Kafka’s “America Fragment” and made while the couple was working under a grant in Hamburg. In 1993, they made VON HEUTE AUF MORGEN, based on opera by Schönberg. They continued working and living in Paris, Rome and Hamburg. Danièle Huillet died on October 9, 2006.

Christian Petzold (director and writer for the film journal REVOLVER): “Then I saw LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH, which features that amazing tracking shot at night along Landsberger Strasse in Munich, past the prostitutes waiting for cars. The camera is elevated above eye-level; no customers are to be seen; the light grazes the prostitutes and illuminates them for an extended moment. Fassbinder got this tracking shot from Jean-Marie Straub. It comes from the film THE BRIDEGROOM, THE COMEDIENNE AND THE PIMP. Straub had directed the play by Ferdinand Bruckner—which is part of the film—for Fassbinder’s antiteater and Fassbinder plays the pimp in the film. In Straub’s film the shot is accompanied by music by Bach. The women of the night fall back into the darkness after being grazed by the camera and the light. In Fassbinder’s case I don’t think there was any music, no exaggeration. You got the impression that there was something out there, beyond the city gates, another world, another side, a ghostly side that was going to haunt us. (Der Tagesspiegel, July 6, 2012)

Fotos: © Carine Roth / Cinémathqèue suisse