Opening: Friday, March 2, 2018, 7 p.m.
Günter Peter Straschek (1942–2009) was a filmmaker, historian, and probably the most knowledgeable person about the film emigration from Nazi Germany, the subject of his five-hour television series from 1975, which lay dormant in the WDR archives for four decades. Now the Museum Ludwig is making this series the focus of the first exhibition on Straschek’s film work. His rigorous early work will also be on view, including for the first time his A Western for the SDS, which is legendary for having been confiscated in 1968 and never shown. This work and the 1970 film On the Concept of “Critical Communism” in Antonio Labriola (1843–1904) were believed to have been lost. Both films were found during the preparations for the exhibition.
The Austrian Günter Peter Straschek as well as Hartmut Bitomsky, Harun Farocki, and Helke Sander were part of the first class to begin studying at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie (German Film and Television Academy, DFFB) in West Berlin in 1966. The film students associated with the New Left and documented social problems, recorded demonstrations, and supported campaigns. Straschek’s first film, Hooray for Mrs. E. (1966), is a sober portrait of a mother who supplements her welfare income with prostitution. His Western for the SDS (1967–68) portrays the development of the left as a learning process among women who sharpen their awareness in the movement but continue to have no say. The controversy surrounding the film is shown in the DFFB weekly newsreel Requiem for a Company (1969). The Western was confiscated by the administration, and eighteen students who sided with Straschek were expelled from the academy. The “revolutionary film work” to which they devoted themselves in these months (Straschek and Meins made films with students from Frankfurt) soon came to a standstill. Straschek’s On the Concept of “Critical Communism” in Antonio Labriola points to the chasm between workers and intellectuals and describes the “difficulties of the revolution” (Labriola) with a sharp sense of humor.
In the early 1970s, Straschek turned to film history. While working on his Handbook against Cinema (1975), he came across the topic that would occupy him until his death: the exile of filmmakers from Nazi Germany. Over 2000 people working in the film industry were forced to flee the Nazis, from celebrities such as Billy Wilder and Lotte H. Eisner to the countless now forgotten actors, editors, and writers. Straschek was usually the first and often the only one to take an interest in their lives. The television series broadcast by WDR features interviews with fifty of them. The cinematography is mostly static and unusually strict in composition. Straschek’s eye is as precise as it is sensitive: a persistent gaze that sheds light on the denied past.
He also trained his eye in cinema—for example, the uncompromising work of filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, with whom he maintained a friendship beginning in the mid-1960s. The exhibition features Straub and Huillet’s Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” (1972). In it, Straschek reads letters from the 1920s in which Schoenberg sharply rejects Wassily Kandinsky’s anti-Semitic remarks.
The exhibition was designed by the Berlin-based artist Eran Schaerf.
Günter Peter Straschek: Emigration – Film – Politics is the fourth exhibition in the project series HERE AND NOW at Museum Ludwig. This is an experimental format in which the practice of exhibitions is renegotiated and opened up to positions that do not necessarily have to come from the visual arts. The exhibition was produced in cooperation with WDR Köln. It is supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. Additional support comes from the HERE AND NOW group of members of the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst am Museum Ludwig e. V. and the Storch Foundation.