Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Independent German Films at the Ross

Films made outside the dominant mode of (film) production, or how films looks when exploitation isn't just exploitation of others (mostly friends) but also massive self-exploitation: a labor of love :)

I'd love to see you at one or both of the screenings. Please help me spread the word. Thanks.

WHEN: Saturday 4/12, 715p & Sunday 4/13, 305p. The filmmaker will be in attendance at both events. He will give brief introductions to his short films throughout the program and will be available for a Q&A afterwards.
WHERE: Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center

In the fall of 2011, the Ross first introduced Nebraska to a group of German filmmakers that are collectively known as the Cologne Group when it screened the “Westend” film cycle by Markus Mischkowski and Kai Maria Steinkühler. Bernhard Marsch is another key filmmaker of this group—indeed, he’s a Cologne Group filmmaker of the first hour, with his earliest filmmaking efforts hearkening back to the mid-1980s.

The Cologne Group
The Cologne Group had its beginnings in the mid-1980s, when Marsch and Reiner Knepperges first met at the University of Cologne. Having discovered their common cinematic preferences, these two autodidacts decided in 1987 to make Marsch and Knepperges Present, which was Marsch’s second foray into (short) filmmaking. The film’s DIY, cinephilic attitude pointed the way for many Cologne Group films to come, not least for Marsch’s own. For as simple as this documentary effort is in terms of its production values, structure, and content, it constitutes an early example of the desire of the group in general, and Marsch in particular, to engage their own city and its many interesting yet under-represented locales, such as its relaxed bar scene (Café Contact) and bustling student food joints (8 Meals No.3), its outdoor swimming pool culture (Young Dogs and Hallelujah), or its quarry ponds and the temptation to skinny dip on a rare warm and sunny summer’s day (Naked at the Lake). This documentary specificity differentiates these films from the majority of post-wall German film productions, which predominantly eradicate their geographical, and thus socio-cultural, specificity. Yet, Marsch’s films are precisely not “topic-of-the-day,” message-driven films; instead, they seek to realize cinema at its most light-hearted, which has led one critic to write that they exude a “lightness” of being and constitute “invitations[s] to flit.” Indeed, when watching these films it’s hard to escape the feeling that they’re on some basic level all about flirting, indeed, about being in love, including, crucially, with their chosen medium of expression itself (Cologne Movements). It’s not coincidental that Marsch doesn’t display any desire to make anything other than cinema. For his autodidactic exuberance with which he approaches the cinema recalls the early films of the French New Wave and, in Germany, of the New Munich Group around Klaus Lemke, Rudolf Thome, May Spils and Werner Enke, Marran Gosov, and Roger Fritz. Like his heroes from the 1960s, Marsch can be said to embrace the famous concluding sentiment of the Oberhausen manifesto (1962)—that Daddy’s cinema is dead—only to counter it with an attitude of “Long live Daddy’s cinema!” That is, Marsch, like his friends and colleagues of the Cologne Group, eschews avant-garde attitudes and aesthetics and instead desires to entertain, to make films that appeal to an audience through their narratives and characters—characters, it must be said, whose charm frequently results from their desire to do not much of anything at all, their lack of careerist ambitions, their simple wish, that is, to just hang out and talk and have another Kölsch—and, perhaps, dream the dream of Hollywood as nothing but a dream (Café Contact). (Marco Abel, excerpted and modified from his essay, “Underground Film Germany in the Age of Control Societies: The ‘Cologne Group’,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 27.2 [2010])

Bernhard Marsch
“The rhizomatic oeuvre of Bernhard Marsch, a total filmmaker par excellence, constitutes a special cinema-micro cosmos unto its own. Simply put: his cinema miniatures open a viewer’s heart. Perhaps this is due to the mix of nostalgia and a spirit of optimism or departure that characterizes his films; it is certainly due to the poetry and drive that permeates his work. Added to this is his precise and loving gaze at the seemingly trivial. With his short films, Marsch in a sense writes a minor history of Germany from the margins: a trash-history, a Ramsch-history (“Ramsch” [junk or trash] is the name of his film production company). One only has to watch a music video clip such as Mauerblümchen, a mini-melodrama about former East Germany and larger-than-life longing at the Baltic Sea, in order to be enchanted by spotted images, by landscapes and stories. Marsch is without a doubt an impressionist of German sensitivities, an ethnographer of the by-products of love and life. His first filmic effort dates from 1986: Kölner Bewegungen is something like a Cologne mini-version of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. What lingers is especially the neon sign “Köln – 4711,” which flashes through the night and turns the film into a Cologne noir. Marsch and his colleagues have a sensibility for the aura of signs. In Marsch and Knepperges Zeigen from 1987, one can frequently see the marquee of the Cologne cinema Filmpalette. Written on it: “Nonstop film program.” This comes across as poetically rebellious in the context of a film that documents the Filmpalette’s last screening: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour runs as last picture show. The young viewers, among them Marsch and Knepperges, drink beer, talk, and ask questions of the cinema’s old owner. Everything’s a lived B-picture; everything’s detour.
Some of Marsch’s films are ensemble films, boys-films in the tradition of the Munich school of the 1960s (Lemke, Thome, Gosov). In 8 Essen III from 1996, perpetual students converse in the University of Cologne’s central refectory about women, the relationship between East and West Germany, and the course of time. In 1992’s Junge Hunde or the love-thriller Nackt am See from 2010, Marsch indulges his fondness for public outdoor swimming pools and lakes that for him represent everyday oases like cinemas or Mischkowski’s kiosks, where everything and nothing can happen. Halleluja from 1995 is a tremendously comical road movie set in the early 1980s on the streets between Cologne and Hennef. A stoned Bhagwan couple hitch a ride in a VW beetle driven by a guy who is played by Marsch himself. The two hippies have their eyes set on the old VW, figuring the driver to be a greenhorn. In reality, however, he is a savvy desperado. At one time in the film, we see him driving through Marsch’s hometown, Hennef. A local cinema is screening Summer Night Fever, a trash film by Sigi Götz, a pseudonym for Sigi Rothemund, which he used for his countless sex- and disco films. Ever since Halleluja used this reference, a small cult developed between Cologne and Munich around Sigi Götz and all the psychedelic moments scattered throughout the history of German cinema.

Marsch’s [most personal film] to date is Wohnhaft from 2004 (the title has to be understood as a double-entendre: the guys from Cologne love word play). Inspired by Ulrich Schamonie’s Chapeau Claque, Marsch guides us through his own small apartment in Cologne-Ehrenfeld that is filled to the brim with records, books, newspapers, and all kinds of memorabilia. The apartment resembles a grandiose art installation and presents an act of rebellion against any kind of “beautiful living” marketing discourse. While the camera searchingly glides through the collector’s labyrinth with an ethnographic attitude, we hear Marsch talking with his idol Werner Enke from the off about rooms and cleaning up—a wonderful dialogue about cinema and life, history and stories.” (Excerpt from Hans Schifferle, “Something New by the “Cologne Group: Cine-desperados from the Rhine—The Cologne Group and Their Lived Cinema,” translated by Marco Abel)

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