February 2017, arsenal cinema

Thomas Mauch, Cameraman and filmmaker

DIE ACHSE, 1984

"Thomas Mauch, at least for Herzog, Kluge and me, is a cameraman to whom we owe part of our identity as filmmakers." (Helma Sanders-Brahms) Thomas Mauch’s camera work was significant in shaping the aesthetic appeal and success of New German Film. In the past 50 years, Mauch has worked with directors as varied and unusual as Werner Herzog, Werner Schroeter, Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz. He was also the cameraman for a generation of female filmmakers, such as Helma Sanders-Brahms and Ula Stöckl, who translated their novel and very singular perspective to film in the 1970s and 80s. Many of the films for which Thomas Mauch was the cameraman won prestigious international prizes. His camera work also won him many German film awards.

Alexander Kluge described his cameraman as a "collector of shades of gray"in reference to his obsession with capturing as many of the nuances between black and white as possible. His focus on gray, on the subtleties, is not limited to black and white films but should be perceived fundamentally. It characterizes many color films too: The cool nature of the winter light in STROSZEK (Werner Herzog, FRG 1977), the naturalist jungle in AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (Werner Herzog, FRG 1972), the gray of rundown West Berlin in DIE BERÜHRTE (Helma Sanders-Brahms, FRG 1981), the darkness of LOS ENEMIGOS DEL DOLOR (Arauco Hernández Holz, Uruguay/Brazil 2014). Even the films featuring strong and expressive color and light effects such as PALERMO ODER WOLFSBURG (Werner Schroeter, FRG/CH 1980) are never shot in a penetrating or purely aestheticizing manner. Thomas Mauch, a master of nuances, not only moves masterfully between fiction, documentary and experimental film, but also switches between documentary and fictional shooting techniques within a genre. So, tableaus arranged as if for the opera stand side by side with authentic images depicting the reality of guest workers and calm footage of landscapes in Werner Schroeter's PALERMO ODER WOLFSBURG. In the end, the historical film AGUIRRE, DER ZORN GOTTES acquires its intensity from the camera movements that allude to documentary and alternate with calm takes that reflect the ghostly atmosphere. Overall, the coherent atmosphere is the element that characterizes and links films as different as UNTER DEM PFLASTER IST DER STRAND (Helma Sanders-Brahms, FRG 1975), NICHT NICHTS OHNE DICH (Pia Frankenberg, FRG 1986) and Thomas Mauch's own directorial work TOD EINES VATERS (FRG 1978). 

Our program featuring two works directed by Thomas Mauch and 14 films on which he was the cameraman provides an insight into his broad oeuvre and gives audience members a chance to see a few milestones of post-war German film again. Thomas Mauch will be our guest at all the screenings.

GESCHWINDIGKEIT. KINO EINS (Edgar Reitz,FRG 1963, 2.2.)An experimental film about speed as the factor that defines life. Increasingly rapid takes alternate with slowed down impressions.

DIE ACHSE (Thomas Mauch,FRG 1984, 2.2.)This satirical short is a reflection about the significance of the camera axis and about camera work as a question of political perspective. The collage of archive footage and staged scenes highlights the absurdity of Goebbels' instruction that German troop movements should be filmed only from left to right.

TOD EINES VATERS (Thomas Mauch,FRG 1978, 2.2.) Directed by Thomas Mauch: An adult son returns to the parental home for Christmas. The recently deceased father is omnipresent; the mother (played by Marianne Hoppe) barely leaves her son space to breathe.

PALERMO ODER WOLFSBURG (Werner Schroeter,FRG/CH 1980, 3.2.)Nicola is 18 years old. Like many others, he leaves his home Sicily to go to work at VW in Wolfsburg, Germany. He finds it hard to come to terms with the cold, alien country and does not understand the locals' behavior. One day, he kills two youths in the course of a fight. At the trial, well-to-do German citizens voice their prejudices against the Italian guest workers. The court dealings, that Nicola lets go over his head as if he were not present, become increasingly surreal: grotesque scenes, scenes of recollection and allegorical visions merge and convey a general sense of what it means to lose one's home.

AGUIRRE, DER ZORN GOTTES (Werner Herzog, BRD 1972, 4.2.)Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), a 16th-century Spanish conquistador defects from the Spanish crown during an expedition to the Amazon and declares himself leader of a new state. More and more people fall victim to his megalomania - hallucinations and reality are blurred. An adventure film with documentary qualities about a monstrous leader, imperialism and madness.

STROSZEK (Werner Herzog, FRG 1977, 4.2.) The Berlin street singer Bruno S. becomes a symbol for outsider status in society. His attempt to find happiness in the US with his neighbor and his girlfriend the prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes) ends in a fiasco. The "land of unlimited possibilities" turns out to be an illusion, the three encounter constraints and dependencies.

HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK (Werner Herzog, FRG 1976, 4.2.)A documentary about the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship that is held in New Holland, Pennsylvania and features a fast chanting competition. The auctioneers' hectic, rhythmic language contrasts with the archaic dialect of an ethnic German sect. One of the auctioneers also plays a role in STROSZEK.

UNTER DEM PFLASTER IST DER STRAND (Helma Sanders-Brahms, FRG 1975, 5.2.) Part documentary, part autobiographical love story about two actors in Berlin who after the demise of the 1968 movement are searching for the meaning of life and work. Grischa becomes increasingly involved in the women's movement, interviewing female workers and formulating new demands. Heinrich withdraws frustrated and begins to drink. The pair's attempt to develop an equal relationship fails. Without a screenplay and partly improvised, the film is a sensitive and authentic portrait of a couple in crisis.

DIE BERÜHRTE (Helma Sanders-Brahms, FRG 1981, 5.2.)Using the diary entries of a young schizophrenic woman, Sanders-Brahms tells the tale of woe of Veronika Christoph, a daughter from an affluent background, who tries to overcome the cold in her family and society. In her search for Christ, she encounters males living on the edge of society, giving them her body and almost reaching the point of self-destruction. The director said this was an "attempt to film madness from within", using a camera that observed from a distance. At its premiere in Cannes, the film provoked uproar, mainly because of its bloody sex scenes, and it has remained very controversial. FRAU BLACKBURN, GEB. 5. JAN. 1872, WIRD GEFILMT (Alexander Kluge, FRG 1967, 6.2.)The director films his grandmother as she performs her daily chores in her apartment. By accident, this documentary portrait becomes a fictional farce with a shady former RAF pilot who pilfers a few heirlooms from Frau Blackburn.

BESITZBÜRGERIN, JAHRGANG 1908 (Alexander Kluge, FRG 1973, 6.2.) Inspired by the portrait of his grandmother, Alexander Kluge films his mother monitoring renovation work in her large apartment. Like FRAU BLACKBURN, GEB. 5. JAN. 1872 she entrusts a shady Herr Guhl with porcelain and other valuables so that she can travel with the proceeds. The portrait becomes a document about the rapid reconstruction work after the Nazi era and the amassing of goods during the "economic miracle" era.

GELEGENHEITSARBEIT EINER SKLAVIN (Alexander Kluge, FRG 1973, 6.2.)Seven years after "Abschied von gestern", the filmmaker invited his sister Alexandra to return in front of the camera, showing her in this exemplary, energetic struggle against societal contradictions. Roswitha Bronski feeds her family of five by conducting illegal abortions. After she is reported, her husband has to earn a living, while she becomes more politically involved. This story of the failure of emancipatory efforts is punctuated by inter-titles and film quotes, the - partly improvised - scenes are edited in a discontinuous way and the plot is at the same time commented and reflected upon.

In her documentary film HABEN SIE ABITUR? (Ula Stöckl, FRG 1967, 7.2.), made while she was at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Ula Stöckl portrays the evening class participants hoping to get their school-leaving certificate and examines their motives for wanting an education.

NICHT NICHTS OHNE DICH (Pia Frankenberg, FRG 1986, 7.2.)The focus is a young female filmmaker who seeks challenges in Germany's affluent society so as to address what she has diagnosed as her superficial way of life. Despite arguments with her Portuguese flatmate and her wrestling with the ambitious questions of a journalist, she does not manage to find an existential insight, nor does her relationship with Alfred develop. Pia Frankenberg's satirical description of a state of being won the award for best debut at the Max Ophüls Festival.

LOS ENEMIGOS DEL DOLOR (Arauco Hernández Holz, Uruguay/Brazil 2014, 8.2.) The absurd Odyssey of a German actor searching for his wife in Montevideo. He ends up in a kind of underground world, making friends with the depressed Pedro and the unshakeable Nelson. United by their suffering, the three make their way through a city that is void of people.

DAS EINZELNE BILD IST GAR NICHTS EIN PORTRÄT DES KAMERAMANNS THOMAS MAUCH (Anja Lupfer, Melanie Liebheit, G 2005, 8.2.)The portrait of the two graduates of the HFF gives an insight into Thomas Mauch's way of working. (ah)

arsenal cinema: Thomas Mauch, Cameraman and filmmaker

07:00 pm Cinema 1


Palermo oder Wolfsburg

*Palermo oder Wolfsburg Werner Schroeter FRG 1980
35 mm OV/GeS 180 min

 Thomas Mauch, Karl Heil in person
arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour
 – Bodies in film

08:00 pm Cinema 2


Djevuschka s korobkoj

*Devushka s KorobkoyMoscow That Weeps and Laughs
Boris Barnet With Anna Sten, Wladimir Fogel, Serafima Birman
USSR 1927
35 mm OV/GeS 86 min

On piano: Eunice Martins