Mar 23, 2011

Interview with Jörg Buttgereit

Illustration: Rainer Engel

Soiled Sinema is very pleased to bring you an interview with German auteur Jörg Buttgereit of Nekromantik fame. It is not an exaggeration for us at SS to say that Jörg Buttgereit is one of our favorite directors and without groundbreaking filmmakers like him, this website would not exist.

After a 16 year hiatus from feature-length filmmaking, Buttgereit released CAPTAIN BERLIN VS. HITLER.  Following in the tradition of German filmmakers like Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, CAPTAIN BERLIN VS. HITLER was shot on a stage-play.

set of Nekromantik (C) Jörg Buttgereit

SS: When I first discovered your work, I was amazed by your keen ability to successfully combine sex and death in an artistic manner whilst still maintaining a sense of humor. Personally, I think you're a modern auteur coming from a rich tradition of German cinema.  Believe it or not, your films (especially Nekromantik) remind of the great silent German expressionist masterpieces, in their ability to hypnotize and transport the viewer to a transcendent world of the macabre. When I watch a German film like Run Lola Run, it seems like the same film could have been made in Hollywood or France. Do you see yourself as a culturally German filmmaker (to any degree), influenced by your native land and culture? Was your own style of filmmaking influenced by German filmmakers of the past, whether it be the German expressionists or German New Wave or any other German film movement/genre?

JB: Its hard to judge your own influence. I think it is quite normal to check out your own limits when you are young. That is why Horror-movies are so appealing to younger people. But NEKROMANTIK was also a protest against the strict censorship movement in Germany. During the 80s all Horror films where cut or banned in Germany and we where fighting for our right to get those movies uncensored in our country. Adults should decide on their own what they want to see and what not. Censorship can´t prevent people from seeing what they want anyway. It´s an old fashioned concept that does not work anymore. I was not so much influenced by other movies. Real live Horror was always more disturbing to me. I think it is important for my films that they are shot on actual film stock. The grainy 16mm and Super 8 film stock definitely works for the atmosphere of the films. We did a lot of screen-tests with the prop of the corpse before choosing the right film stock for NEKROMANTIK. It was very important to me to have a believable atmosphere for my story.

(C) Jörg Buttgereit

SS: In an interview featured in the book Sex, Murder, Art: The Films of Joerg Buttgereit, you mentioned that German audiences are not too fond of German films/filmmakers unless the directors are dead (like Fassbinder) or the films are praised by international critics. Why do you think Germans react this way to films created by their fellow countrymen? Over the years, has your popularity and status as a filmmaker increased in Germany? Do you have a strong and loyal German fan base?

JB: I do have a fan base in Germany that follows my work in Radio Plays, acting and all the books and film reviews I do. That part of my work that is invisible to my fans outside of Germany ´cause its all in German language. Over here I am more known as a maker of Stage-plays and radio-plays.

SS: I know that you traveled to Japan to write an extensive book on Japanese Monster films. Do you have plans for writing more books in the future, whether it be on film or otherwise?

JB: I am more involved in new projects for the stage which is very exciting to me.

(C) Jörg Buttgereit

SS: You originally introduced Captain Berlin in a short of the same name in 1982. In 2009, you released CAPTAIN BERLIN VS. HITLER. How did the creative process come about for CAPTAIN BERLIN VS. HITLER? Were you always planning to do a feature-length film about the adventures of Captain Berlin? Do you have plans for any new Captain Berlin films in the future?

JB: I think the fun of CAPTAIN BERLIN VERSUS HITLER is the fact that it is a stage-play that was filmed for a DVD release. The plot goes like this: Adolf Hitler’s brain has survived. The crazy Nazi-doctor Ilse von Blitzen hires the master of life and death: Dracula himself. He is supposed to resuscitate Teutonic human material with his bite. The reward that has been chosen is the virgin Maria – Captain Berlin’s daughter. Superhero Captain Berlin now has to confront these two monsters. Since the 1940s he wants to eliminate Hitler, but now he first has to save his daughter from the vampire. I documented the play on video and made a film out of it. Its a mix between film and stage-play and it is available on DVD with English subtitles from the German distributor "media target". Extras include my old Super 8 shorts “Captain Berlin” + “Captain Berlin vs Hyxar”, a backstage report, a film about the world premiere, a photo gallery and a comic based on the film. The DVD is region-free. The films looks a little bit like one of those crazy Mexican wrestler movies. I really can`t think of getting money for a real feature film with Captain Berlin. But who knows...

SS: Was there any controversy in Germany when you released CAPTAIN BERLIN VS. HITLER regarding Adolf Hitler (despite obviously being negatively portrayed)? Additionally, did anyone in Germany criticize the Nazi-exploitation parody in Der Todesking, the Hitler Youth outfit worn by Monika in Schramm, or your early short BLOODY EXCESS IN THE LEADERS BUNKER?

JB: There was no real controversy about me dealing with Hitler. If you do something on stage in Germany it is labeled as art and you are free to express yourself. Regarding my films, the depiction of violence was more difficult to deal with.

SS: I have read past interviews where you spoke about the possibility of a third Nekromantik film? Will there be a Nekromantik trilogy? Also, do you have any other film projects planned for the future that we can anticipate?

JB: You have to keep in mind that because of censorship restrictions my films are still only legally available in a handful of countries. I don´t see how to get my money back for an independent film like NEKROMANTIK nowadays. If I would do a part 3 it would be all over the internet the day after a DVD release. Bootlegs and illegal downloads have made it impossible for me to do independent films like I did in the 1980s.

(C) Jörg Buttgereit

Nekromantik II: Return of the Loving Dead (C) Jörg Buttgereit


Phantom of Pulp said...

Revealing interview.

In his final comment about why it may be "impossible" for him to do another NEKROMANTIK, Buttgereit underlines how piracy has killed many independent filmmakers like himself. HIs "fans" may love his work, but they aren't supporting him if they're paying nothing for his work. Even a barber is paid to perform a small service such as cutting your fringe. Why not someone doing far more intellectually and viscerally?

Super-8 was an ideal medium for Buttgereit's world view. The grain structure suits the macabre, transient nature of the images, and captures the feel.

Music plays a huge role in Buttgereit's work, and I find the NEKROMANTIC soundtrack to be one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. Its oppressive, heavy, exacting nature sings "Germany" to me. I listen to it often in my car while driving. Probably good for hunting Pretty Polly, too.

Buttgereit was a truly unique filmmaker whose work touched a certain kind of person at a certain time.

I'm sure we're all thankful for that.

I hope he does make another NEKRO movie, and I hope it is supported.

Soiled Sinema said...

Phantom of Pulp: I totally agree!

If Buttgereit never makes another film that is actually shot on film, it will be a tragedy. A auteur with such talent should be able to create art whenever he wants. Buttgereit is one of the very few real artists in the horror world.

I also agree that his films are distinctly German, hence one of the reasons I love them so much. I see him as following in the footsteps of the German expressionists. And as you mentioned, his soundtracks are brilliant. I also listen to the Nekromantik soundtracks whilst driving in my car.

I hope that in the future, there will be a Nekromantik trilogy.

-Ty E