Wallau/Lahn (now Biedenkopf) on 14.11.1939; took final school examinations
at a Christian boarding school in Gaienhofen near Lake Constance in 1960.
Took up studies in German language and literature, philosophy and history in Munich and
in Bonn in 1960. Following a trip to Paris, he began writing his first film
reviews for the newspaper Bonner Generalanzeiger in 1962. Moved to Munich,
where he began writing articles for the periodicals Filmkritik and Film
as well as for the Süddeutscher Zeitung. In 1964 he collaborated with
Max Zihlmann and Klaus Lemke on his first short film and became managing
director of the Munich Film Critics Club in 1965. Worked as a loans consultant for the building society Neue Heimstatt and
broke off his dissertation on Albert Paris Güterslohs novel
Sonne und Mond to make his first full-length feature film; moved to Berlin
in 1973 where he wrote film reviews for the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel
and the magazine, Hobo. Also worked for the Freunde der deutschen Kinemathek.
Founded his own production company, Moana Film, in 1977. In 1981 he received
the Guild Award in the category second best German film for Berlin -
Chamissoplatz and in 1989 he received the International Film Critics Award
in Montreal for Best Film for The Philosopher. Founded his own distribution
company, Prometheus, in 1991.
|Sort of Autobiographie (1980)|
After having written several film reviews for the Bonn daily newspaper, Der Generalanzeiger, in February 1962, I wrote the journal Filmkritik and asked if I could write reviews for them too. They sent me a friendly answer and said "yes." On the envelope of this response was a green sticker with the text: "Papa's Cinema is dead." I was impressed because I had just read the manifesto of the Oberhausen rebels in the newspaper (give us five million and we'll make ten films) and my wife and I (we had just gotten married) moved from Bonn to Munich.
Several months later someone at the university stuck a leaflet in my hand. It was an invitation to a free screening of short films by the same directors who had signed the Oberhausen Manifesto. There were films by Kluge, Reitz, Peter Schamoni, Senft, Houwer, and Strobel-Tichawsky. I was curious and went that afternoon to the Arri-Kino. Most of the films had been shot beautifully and that impressed me already at the time no small bit.
Then, six months later, I met Eckhart Schmidt. I had just bought an 8mm camera in order to film my wife and my son Harald, who had just been born. I spoke with Schmidt about the kind of short films one should be making right now at this moment. We looked for stories that could express our present feeling. We agreed that they would have to be very simple, everyday stories. We both wrote reviews for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and for the periodical Film, which had been established early in 1963, and through the films of Godard and Cahiers du Cinéma, we discovered American cinema. We shocked our colleagues when we gave films like Preminger's The Cardinal four stars. Max Zihlmann, also a critic for Film, joined up with us. And in the summer of '64 we then started shooting the short film Die Versöhnung (The Reconciliation) in 8mm, based on my screenplay.
All in all the shooting for the film lasted four months. I had disagreements with Eckhart Schmidt. We had a falling out. Klaus Lemke, who had worked as an assistant director in the theater and in fact already made a short film (Zihlmann and I had seen it, a sort of fairy tale about a girl who runs through the city with a crown), filled Schmidt's place. He suggested that we redo the entire film. In 16mm. I grabbed my heart and sacrificed all of the money left over from what I had inherited from my mother: 5,000 marks. We completely rewrote the screenplay several times, recast the leading roles and finally just about completed the film so that it would be ready for Oberhausen in the winter.
Before Oberhausen, Michel Delahaye from the Cahiers du Cinéma, whom we had sought out in a screening of a short film by Roland Klick, and Jean-Marie Straub saw our film. We were terriby anxious about Delahaye's reaction. But he didn't say anything after the screening. But Straub did: "C'est un film trés bon. " At the time we didn't realize what a compliment that was. But from then on Straub was our friend and advisor for every critical situation that would come along. The film was turned down by the Oberhausen selection jury and even Atlas-Film, which had wanted to buy the film, suddenly said that it would only buy it if we redubbed it. We (supported by Straub) said no. For all that Atlas ultimately paid to have the film blown up to 35mm.
In Oberhausen a friend of Straub's, [Peter] Nestler, joined us and so that our film might at least get a midnight showing, we formulated a joint leaflet, a sort of new Oberhausen Manifesto. This of course was directed against the established Oberhausen signatories, against their demand for a socially relevant film, which for us was just a trendy rehash of the old German problem films of the fifties. We wanted a cinema that looked like the films of Hawks and Godard. A cinema that was fun. A cinema that was simple and radical. We finally got our screening and also the judgment of the Oberhausen critics. In their eyes our films were nothing more than dilettantish and banal. Enno Patalas of Filmkritik was the only one who started to like them.
Lemke, Zihlmann, and I established in 1965 a small film production company, which, because Max Zihlmann was in love with Alexandra Steward, we called "Alexandra-Film." We made the first short film by Max Zihlmann, Friihstiick in Rom (Breakfast in Rome) (Zihlmann got the money from his parents), and we looked for a producer to do the first short film by Klaus Lemke, Kleine Front (Small Front). We found Franz Seitz. We were so involved with these short films, with living and going to the movies, that we didn't know anything about the bundles of money which our colleagues in the meanwhile had gained access to.
In 1966, Franz Seitz financed my second short film, Stella, as a reward for my having sold Lemke's Small Front to Atlas. A very free version of Goethe's Stella. Seitz wanted to redub it after I had finished the film. But Straub, also present at the final screening, told Seitz that precisely what he didn't like (the original sound) was in fact good. The FSK actually wanted to ban the film. Only through the intercession of a university professor was I able to release the film. The FSK claimed that the film was a challenge to civilized society. Straub said he had tears in his eyes when he first saw the film.
I broke off my studies and worked in a bank as a credit manager. Early in 1967 I had convinced Rob Houwer to finance my next short film, Galaxis. He wanted the men in this film (which was set in the year 2000) to wear miniskirts. That was in at the time. I told him that if he insisted on this, I wouldn't make the film. Fortunately Houwer didn't insist. The film did not receive a predicate from the FBW, which meant that no one would buy it. Volker Schlöndorff liked it so much (?) that he wanted to use it as a short before screenings of his Mord und Totschlag (A Degree of Murder). But nothing came of it. For all that, Klaus Lemke; who played one of the male leads in the film, at least got to know Dieter Geissler and Monika Zinnenberg in the process. This was the basis of the team for Lemke's first feature film, 48 Stunden bis Acapulco (48 Hours to Acapulco). Lemke wanted me to be production manager and I was eager to use this chance to go to Acapulco and I said yes. I came up with a shooting schedule and a budget. But three days before shooting started, Lemke decided that I was much too interested in Christiane Kriiger (with whom I had chatted perhaps a bit too long about the shooting of Howard Hawks's Hatari!) and he fired me. Nonetheless I had learned how easy it is to make a real feature film and, without a break, I starting working on one. Together with Max Zihlmann I wrote the script of Supergirl. I found a distributor right away (the same one Lemke had) and this distributor had already rented the film to about two hundred cinemas before the script was finished. That's the way things were at the time. Unfortunately the distributor didn't like the final script. They thought the story was much too normal. If only Supergirl, the girl from another planet, at least had had fins between her toes or something weird like that!
I bought a very used Ford 17 M-Cabriolet and became an assistant director for Elfi Petramer's Fensterl zum Hof (Little Window onto the Courtyard). In my free time, I wrote a new script for a short film, Jane erschiesst John, weil er sie mit Ann betriigt (Jane Shoots John, Because He's Having an Affair with Ann). A woman wanted to give me 3,000 marks to help finance the film. But at the point she was supposed to give me the money (or a part of it), she told me that her small daughter had fallen down and cracked her front teeth and that she needed all the money now to repair her daughter's teeth. I was pretty desperate because I had already put together a crew. I heard that Lemke would be arriving back from Nice (in the meanwhile he had finished shooting his second feature film Negresco there) and I decided to pick him up at the airport. This made Lemke happy and I asked him whether he could give me the unused leftover negatives from Acapulco for my short film. I drove home with Lemke and took the film rolls with me. Later Straub gave me the remainders from his Bach film. At least I now had enough negative material. I made the short film finally in December'67, without a single penny, in cinemascope. The money you see in the film was lent to me each time by Max Zihlmann. The money I really had to spend, e.g., for gas, I had to borrow, five marks at a time, from friends.
After shooting was over, Arri suddenly said that they would not hand over the master copy until I paid them. I signed two promissory notes and got the master copy. Together with Danielle Huillet (she is a wonderful editor) I was able to cut the film. By mid-January 1968, the film was finished and at the same time the first note was due. Straub gave me the thousand marks Truffaut had given to him and I was able to pay the note. At the same time there was a private screening of his Bach film in the Theatinerkino. Straub really wanted to show my short film before his own. I told him that the two films - just listen to their different music - would not work well together. Straub said both films had something in common (at least they had in part the same negative material) and I agreed. All three distributors present at the screening wanted afterward to buy the short film. I needed money right away and sold it to Constantin-Film.
Two months later I received the predicate "particularly noteworthy" which meant an automatic 30,000 marks from the FFA. All of my friends expected me to make my first feature film soon.
Enno Patalas, Marquard Bohm, and I traveled by car to Oberhausen. Enno Patalas told me during the trip about Petra Nettelbeck who had just inherited money from her father and financed a short film by Hellmuth Costard. In Oberhausen I met Petra Nettelbeck and asked her whether she could give me 30,000 marks for a feature film. With that much money in hand I would be able to bring off an inexpensive, small film in black and white. She believed me. I sent her the exposé Max Zihlmann had written and three weeks later I drove to Luhmühlen and signed a contract with her. I promised to start making the film on 7 June 1968 and Max Zihlmann began to write the screenplay. I found a team and a crew and on the seventh of June we got started. I soon realized that the money would not come close to covering costs and I looked all over the place for additional sources of money, not wanting to make Petra Nettelbeck even poorer. On the day that the first check I had given to Kodak bounced, and I knew I could carry on for at best one or two days, I called up Carol Hellman, a real old-school producer, and asked him for an appointment. Hellman, speaking through Franz Seitz, had earlier offered to assume financing if I agreed to start over and remake the film in color and change its title to The Go-Go-Girl from Blowup. Hellman had a contract with Columbia to make a film like this. I had declined. Nonetheless he was still friendly enough to sit down and talk. I explained my situation to him, exactly how things were. He told me that he liked my candor and that he probably could help me. He asked for twenty-four hours to think things over. just as the Pope has his advisors, so too did he have his. I was excited. And twenty-four hours later, during a lunch break from shooting, I learned from his production manager that I could stop by and pick up the first check. That's how I had always imagined working in Hollywood would be.
When I finished shooting Detektive (Detectives), I promised Hellman that I would complete the initial editing in two weeks. I hired two cutters, rented two editing rooms, and did two people's work. After two weeks the first cut was finished and the film was about 150 minutes long. Hellman saw it and thought that the film was a catastrophe. He demanded that I agree (I had a clause in the contract granting me the sole right to make artistic decisions) to postdubbing (it had been made with original sound), that it be shortened to ninety minutes, and that I add three sex scenes at points in the film where this was possible. For two months we didn't speak and finally when I realized that the film would not be released unless I gave in, I said I would accept point one and point two of his conditions. So that the postdubbing would not be a catastrophe, Hellman hired Alfred Weidenmann to assist me. I must confess to the credit of Alfred Weidenmann that he behaved very honorably in this complex situation and really did help me as well.
Later, after the film had received a predicate from the FBW, Carol Hellman watched Detektive all alone in his private screening room. He must have been very moved by it. Because, as his projectionist later told me, after the film was over, he sat in the room for a long while. No wonder, the film is about two young men (Ulli Lommel, Marquard Bohm) who try to steal money from an old man (Walter Rilla).
On an extremely beautiful Pentecost weekend, Detektive finally opened in Munich, in the Lehnbachkino, where most of the Young German films played. Several girls and I distributed leaflets to the sunbathers lying on the shores of the Isar, and so it happened that the evening performances were not as poorly attended as I had feared. One person who attended was another film producer, Heinz Angermeyer. He liked the film so much that he was willing to finance my next film, Rote Sonne (Red Sun). Not with money from the FFA or from the Ministry of the Interior, but plain and simple out of his own pocket! That was ten years ago! To be sure, he did so under the condition that Marquard Bohm and Uschi Obermeier star in the film. After Detektive I never wanted to work with Marquard again, and Uschi lived with [the student activist] Rainer Langhans in Commune 1 in Berlin. Engaging her turned out to be extraordinarily difficult, because Rainer Langhans was afraid he would lose her if she made the film. At the Berlin Film Festival in '69, Uschi ultimately signed the extremely complex contract which granted her three days off after every four days of shooting (during this period she and Langhans flew back to Berlin and the flight came out of the production budget) and the (for the time) substantial salary of 20,000 marks.
After the film was completed, it went on 14 November 1969 - on my thirtieth birthday (I was certain this was going to be my lucky day) to the FSK and the FBW. The Chair of the FSK came to me after the screening and congratulated me on my "work" and told me that the film reminded him of a Greek tragedy and gave me considerable reason to believe that the predicate "particularly noteworthy" was in the offing. Because I was not allowed to attend the meeting of the FBW, I left in a good mood to go have something to eat and drink. When I inquired as to the outcome two hours later, Dr. Hebeisen told me that, unfortunately, I had not received a predicate. I didn't understand the world anymore, took my print, and rode the train back to Munich, because on the way to Wiesbaden, shortly before Nuremberg, the engine of my beautiful Porsche Carrera had broken down.
The seventies didn't start well for me. Although the January issue of Filmkritik contained three positive articles about Red Sun: by Wim Wenders, Klaus Bädekerl, and Enno Patalas. I was hatching plans to make a film about a large commune in an uninhabited gigantic out-of-the way building - behind the house with the apartment where the girls in Red Sun dwell. The film would have been about drugs (hash, LSD), mysticism, and astrology. My producer, Heinz Angermeyer, was interested, because he was almost one-hundred-percent certain that Red Sun would receive a Federal Film subsidy bonus of 200,000 marks. We didn't receive it. He was so bitter about this that he stopped making films completely for several years. Later he learned that the jury hadn't even looked at the film. That meant an end to the commune project.
During this period I met Karin Brandner. She asked me to check over her initial budget for Uwe Brandner's Ich liebe dich, ich tbte dich (I Love You, I Kill You). Watching Red Sun at a private screening, she had tears in her eyes when the film was over. We fell in love. In the midst of location shooting for Uwe Brandner's film in a small village north of Ingolstadt, I suddenly got a telephone call from WDR. They were interested in making a film with me. If possible based on a script by Zihlmann. Under the condition that the film had to be finished by 31 December 1970. Another project had fallen through and they absolutely had to spend the money by the end of the year. Supergirl came to mind. A week after I went to [the WDR offices in] Cologne I had the go-ahead from the Administrative Council (Verwaltungsrat) for the project. But I now came to the sorry realization that I would only get money if it was secured by a bank. And because a bank won't secure anything unless one has money (or a house or bonds or gold or something like that), I was in a jam. Distressed, I sought out Fassbinder, who just had received the Federal Film Prize in Gold and 650,000 marks for his second feature film, Katzelmacher. I asked everyone I knew. Finally Karin found a rich private source in Hamburg who was willing to lend us part of the money (125,000 marks). We went on to make Supergirl with this money. The production was a technical tour de force. But on the day before Christmas Eve Karin and I sat in the train to Cologne with the copy that would be shown on TV. The final version was accepted and I'm not exaggerating when I say that the TV editors were excited. The film was aired in March and I received numerous crank calls from people who threatened all kinds of things. They thought I was putting them on. They thought that I wasn't serious about the story of Supergirl, this girl from another planet.
When Erich Miiller of Columbia saw Supergirl, he told me that it was high time that Columbia made a film with me. Together with Siegfried Schober, I came up with the story of two friends who take off for Venezuela one day to hunt in the jungle for diamonds. That was right at the time when Herzog was making Aguirre and Antonioni was working on a film about the half-overgrown Amazon city, Manaos, which around 1900 had had one of the largest opera houses in the world. Unfortunately only Werner finished his film. I never forgave him for not showing the jungle as I imagined life in the jungle. The script was finished by the summer of 1971, but the Columbia people in London in the end said "No." I still owed 50,000 marks from Supergirl and had also already stuck a bunch of money into the pre-production of "Rio Guaniamo" and thought that the only way to get out of this situation was to make a black-and-white film, a real B movie, as quickly and cheaply as possible. I ran all over Germany while Zihlmann wrote the script and got cinemas to agree that they would play the film - its title was Fremde Stadt (Strange City) - once it was finished. I was certain this would work. Even Arri believed it would, because they were willing to loan me 50,000 marks.
But it didn't work. The advertising costs for each play date were almost always more than the box-office take. I was completely broke and constantly occupied with fending off my creditors. I submitted "Rio Guaniamo" to the Ministry of the Interior in hopes of receiving a script subsidy. I wrote a new screenplay - this time without Zihlmann, who didn't want to work with me anymore: "Die Geschichte der Billie" ("The Story of Billie"), the tragic story of a junkie, and also submitted this script to the BMI. Unsuccessfully.
I started writing film reviews for the Siiddeutsche Zeitung again, and in the summer of 1973, 1 finally left Munich and moved to Berlin.
The Straub film mentioned is, of course, Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach). - Petra Nettelbeck coproduced Costard's infamous Besonders wertvoll (Particularly Noteworthy).-Alfred Weidenmann is a director clearly identified with the old guard, a filmmaker who got his start in the Third Reich and worked steadily and frequently throughout the next decades in a number of popular veins. - Thome continued his account in a second installment which appeared in Filme, no. 2 (1980): 44-47.
from: West German Filmmakers on Film: Visions and Voices edited by Eric Rentschler,1988
Rudolf Thome while shooting "Into the Blue" 2011