VW (VeneKlasen/Werner) is pleased to present the first exhibition of Roger Fritz’s production photographs from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1982 film, Querelle.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is considered to be among the most important practitioners within the so-called New German Cinema. In March 1982, production began on what would become Fassbinder’s last film. With an international cast including Jeanne Moreau, Brad Davis and Franco Nero, Querelle debuted in Paris later the same year, only a few short months after Fassbinder’s tragic death. Based on Jean Genet’s 1947 novel, Querelle de Brest, with a screenplay co-written by Fassbinder and Burkhard Driest, the film tells the story of the handsome sailor Querelle, a thief and smuggler disoriented by a series of crimes, sexual encounters and depraved deals in the port town of Brest.

The film’s imaginative exploration of violence and sexuality were quite unlike anything that had come before it. Fassbinder’s willful ambiguity toward these difficult themes – at once dramatic and humorous – signify an openness toward the taboos and vivid realities of Genet’s story, something few cinematic artists of the time would even dare to approach. Stylistically, Querelle surpasses even Fassbinder’s most outlandish visuals, with unprecedented use of lurid color, lighting and a highly symbolic set design, as well as a striking use of sound and voiceover to complicate the film’s already labyrinthine plot. Querelle was widely misunderstood by critics of the time. Often pigeonholed as mere camp – a term Fassbinder bristled at and continually resisted – careful examination of the film proves it to be something much deeper and complex. The themes Fassbinder tackled in Querelle are larger than life and his extreme visualization of the story is the only suitable manifestation of it.

The images of Querelle on display at VeneKlasen/Werner were captured by Roger Fritz, a photographer, producer and performer who worked daily on Fassbinder’s set as an actor and production documentarian. Fritz’s photographs were previously known to exist only as Querelle – The Film Book. Published to coincide with the film’s release, the book reproduced Fritz’s 119 production photographs in sequence. Their presentation at VeneKlasen/Werner is the first time they have been exhibited anywhere. Unlike film stills, which are taken directly from filmed footage, production photographs are by nature reenactments of filmed sequences; the production shot must be staged for the still camera. Fritz’s photographs capture Fassbinder’s dynamic compositions, at times freezing the dramatic action, in other moments closing in on an actor’s face or odd prop. The resulting images evoke the surreal drama and atmosphere of the film. They are uncomfortably beautiful and somewhat puzzling: as instances of documentary photography, Fritz’s photographs are thoroughly pure, honest and “true”; yet the scenes they portray were highly artificial, as “false” as anything seen in modern film.

This exhibition is organized in collaboration with White Columns, New York, where it will be presented in the fall of 2012. Querelle opens Thursday 12 January with a reception from 18:00 to 21:00. A selection of film screenings will be presented at VW Cinema throughout the run of this exhibition.

Photos: © Roger Fritz

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