THE BUTTGEREIT BACKGROUND


Born in 1963, the year following the Oberhausen Manifesto’s demands for a “new German feature film” predicated upon “new freedoms,” liberated from “the influence of commercial partners” and “the control of special interest groups,” Buttgereit received his first Super-8 camera as a First Holy Communion present.

He made his first film in 1977, as West Germany veered to the political right and various left wing, feminist, anti-establishment and terrorist groups such as the Red Army Faction and the Baader-Meinhoff group came to the cultural and political fore. In the face of ideological divisions at the heart of West German society, and the evolution of Alexander Kluge’s Young German Cinema into the distinctively historically engaged New German Cinema, it is notable that whilst Buttgereit’s early film career ranged across genres (from parodic monster and super-hero shorts to mock-rockumentaries set in the West Berlin punk scene) it is still possible to trace a culturally engaged thematic continuity across these early works that is of great relevance to German cinema of the period in general, and the NEKROMANTIK movies in particular.

In 1981, Buttgereit covertly shot the seven minute short MEIN PAPI, a slice of cinema verité displaying for ridicule Buttgereit’s elderly, overweight and vest-clad father. The film was screened in clubs, with Buttgereit being paid for his art in vodka. The real payment, however, as the director remarked in interview with David Kerekes, was the satisfaction of having “whole audiences laughing at his father behind his back.”

The New German Cinema’s location, in Thomas Elsaesser’s words, of “history in the home and Fascism in the family unit” was here transmuted into a punkish mockery of the father as legitimate familial embodiment of totalitarian authority and law. It was a mockery echoed the following year, in BLOODY EXCESSES IN THE LEADERS BUNKER , a six minute Super-8 short set in the final days of the Reich, with Hitler played by a performer better known for his obscene parodies of the much-loved folk musician Heino and Buttgereit playing his assistant. Whilst the Heino impersonator went down very well with contemporary audiences, it is nonetheless notable that Buttgereit’s onetime inclusion of genuine concentration camp footage in the film, proved too strong even for the punk denizens of the Berlin music scene.

It underscored, however, Buttgereit’s own decidedly inventive take on his nation’s past, and the connection of that past to the politically divided and culturally confused present – a concern that would, most certainly, feed into the NEKROMANTIK films.

In 1985 came HOT LOVE, a self-consciously absurd tale of sexual infidelity, rape, suicide and the slaughter of the transgressive mother by a murderously mutant newborn: the present born of parental sin, the past avenged, the body bloodied and broken, dark humour inescapable. Finally, with the Buttgereit-directed crucifixion sequence in Michael Brynntup’s JESUS – THE FILM (1985-6) in which Christ (in vampire teeth) is simultaneously nailed to the cross and staked through the heart, the director’s thematic machinery, and collection of collaborators was complete.

Buttgereit, like Syberberg, evidently recognised that strand of Romantic irrationalism that had lain at the heart of German culture long before the originary unification of the nation in the 1870s – an irrationalism that had manifested itself in Goethe’s rendering of the Faust legend, Hoffman’s tales of the unheimlich in prose and later still the horror tales of Weimar cinema – such as Wiene’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) or Murneau’s NOSFERATU (1922).

Like Syberberg before him, I would argue, Buttgereit also recognised “the emotional deadness of German society” engendered by the Nazi appropriation of that Romantic tradition and focused in his films on Germany’s subsequent repression both of the memory of the Nazi past and the irrationalism that underscored it, leaving Germany “spiritually disinherited and dispossessed … a country without a homeland, without ‘Heimat.”” For if Syberberg, had had the quintessentially irrational Germanic unconscious rise from the grave in the guise of the Führer in HITLER – A FILM FROM GERMANY (1977) then in the NEKROMANTIK movies Buttgereit would undertake a considerably more visceral, but no less politically serious, act of resurrection.

Linnie Blake