Archiv der Kategorie ‘Production‘

 
 

Women in Film and TV productions V – Female Characters and Gender Construction in ‚TOP OF THE LAKE‘

by Kerstin Stutterheim

Gertrud Stein once wrote that it takes hundred years, three generations, to change habits and narratives. Is Generation One still in charge? And, can the American Way of Life (and thinking) and thus film productions using following the “American Dramaturgy” (cf. Frenz 1962, Stutterheim 2015, pp153) give us a model for living today and the future?

Fatherhood, motherhood, and the biological family are core elements of the “American Narrative” (cf. Fiedler 2017 , Gelfert 2006). And that specific form of designing the narrative, and much more importantly the implicit dramaturgy, mirrors the culture and feeds back into the understanding of gender, hierarchies and more into the Anglo-American film industry, thus the global world as well.

An unwritten rule of designing a successful movie or series for US-American or British audiences involves the narrative referring to conservative Jewish-Christian believes, which are mingled with historical experiences thus priming the Cultural Memory (cf. Assmann 2010, Assmann 2002, 2004, Gelfert 2006) of these nations. And, apparently, one can find here traditions, topics, and themes from the American Novel transformed into elements of “American Dramaturgy”. The novel emerged as the new mass medium. (Fiedler 2017 44) It’s core elements are a result out of the shift from Catholicism (or other religions respecting female Goddesses) towards the father-cantered Protestantism, which was the religion of the new mass of that time in the developing United States of America. (Fiedler 2017 44)

Other elements of “American Dramaturgy” reflect the influence of ‘the Code’ and its moral stakes for representational spaces towards Hollywood (Maras 2016, pp1) and film productions elsewhere.

The series Top of the Lake is an American-British co-production for Sundance TV and BBC One. Jane Campion and Gerard Lee wrote the series. Season one is directed by Campion and Garth Davis.

Although the main character – at least for season one – is a young female character, Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss), the overall narration again follows the ‘American dramaturgy’ – a version of that old story. The first season is about sexual abuse and paedophilia intertwined with questions of fatherhood, relationships and family. Young Robin, who usually lives in Sydney, is visiting her dying mother Grishina (Skye Wansey) in New Zealand. The mother-daughter-relationship is overshadowed by an event from their past, fitting the model of an analytical drama as well as a crime story. Robin remembers her father as the better parent. Soon after her arrival Robin becomes involved in a case of sexual abuse of a very young girl, Tui (Jaqueline Joe). Tui is the 12-year-old daughter of a bad macho and drug dealer, Matt (Peter Mullan) and an Asian woman who no longer lives with Matt’s patchwork family. Since Robin’s character is introduced as a specialist in cases involving children, this is in the beginning reasonable enough to make us believe she could be asked to join this department; besides which, the story is situated on the South Island, where the capital is located and thus very likely there may exist a specialist too.

Robin is set up as a detective who tries her best to solve the case. In the beginning, her character acts professionally in as much as she has to keep voyeuristic policemen at a distance and to be the only one Tui is communicating with. The promising start, reminding one of such series as The Killing (here I refer to the original Danish production, not the US adaptation), is soon interfered by Robin’s backstory and diminishing the gestus of professionalism, inviting the audience to fall back into or a typical critical-incredulous look at her.

Thus, the narration is split into different levels – central is the case, secondary the private story of Robin. In dramatic tradition usually telling a story this way – divided into a ‘collective’ or more general level and one private thread – would indicate an ‘open form’. But within this model of narration one doesn’t need a backstory and definitely not a Happy Ending. The way the narrative is set up for Top of the Lake mixes traditions of narration but focussing more on drama traditions derived from the hero driven tragedy in combination with ‘the journey of the hero’. The latter brings us clearly back to patriarchal Christian-puritanical worldviews (cf. Campbell 1949). As one can see, these are dominant against the modern approach of using an open form.

In the backstory, in the private thread, it is told that Robin was raped as a 16-year-old girl and got pregnant as result of it. Her Catholic mother did not allow an abortion. Thus Robin became a mother but gave her baby away for adoption the very next day after giving birth.

There is also an additional storyline of a group of women who set up a community close by in a place called ‘paradise’. These women have different stories to tell and to overcome, all related to relationships with men. At some point as well Tui and Robin have to ask for shelter there. Paradise is situated at the end of a dead-end street close to the end of the world surrounded by a most beautiful landscape. Is this a place to be compared with monasteries from Middle Ages, which accommodated women having physical, psychological or monetary stigmas from a male point of view, labelled as ‘unfuckable’?

While Robin is working on the case, she has to encounter not only voyeuristic colleagues but as well an increasingly abusive boss and one of her rapists. With a closer look, it becomes evident that the action of season one is designed in such a way that the enthusiasm Robin is investing in solving the case appears more and more like displacement behaviour to processing her own traumata and not so much the action of a professional detective. This approach by the authors/directors of telling her story supports two other old stereotypes within Anglo-American narratives. The first one is that working women are acting more emotionally than logically and that they are working intensely and passionately (only) to overcome trauma, disappointment or misbehaviour excluding them from their social group – as becoming a single mother no matter the circumstances. One influential novel in this regard is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Hawthorne and Murfin 2006), which shines through the pattern of the construction of Robin’s story as well. For example, when Robin finds out that everyone in the police department knows she has been raped as a young girl and Elisabeth Moss as Robin is directed as sitting there stunned and tears forming in her eyes or stunned and tearful.

By surviving all this she is not only proving her ability to solving the case, rescuing the girl and the baby, but as a reward, the prospect of sentimental love lies ahead for her. The happy ending as establishing a man-woman-relationship in love is another traditional element of American Narratives, grown out of the American Novel representing the worldviews of the protestant/puritan bourgeoisie (Fiedler 2017 pp 44) transformed for the movies by the founder generation of Hollywood (Gabler 1989).

Season two was broadcasted recently, again written by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion; directed by her and Ariel Kleiman. China Girl tells the story of Robin coming back to Sydney, after years of having a not-much-defined break from the police work. The authors trigger a presumption seeing her having been at home with her beloved Jonno. An intense emotional private disappointment spurred her to return to the police force she left years ago, but no one other than her boss seems to know her from these earlier times.

With the very first episode, the character becomes damaged. Firstly, when Robin is inappropriate reacting to a provocation in a common situation, in front of the whole department and some superior men observing the event. Secondly, she is presented drinking beer regularly after duty. By doing so, she is endangering her brother who managed to overcome his drinking habits. Soon she gets her new case – a murdered China Girl. She is supposed to solve this case together with her colleague Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie) and all other staff of the department, one of them attracted to Robin from the very first meeting at the corpse. He is trying every possible way to start any kind of relationship with her.

The murder case leads Robin and her team into a milieu of prostitution and surrogacy. Correspondingly, the theme of season two mirrors and potentiates themes of season one – now it is biological motherhood, prostitution, abuse, and men seeing themselves as superior to women.

From a dramaturgical point of view interestingly, Robin is no longer the main character. As a very dominant antagonist to Robin, a pimp called ‘Puss’ (David Dencik) is established, and besides the actor speaking with an East-European accent, he is also called ‘the German’. Pervasive is the character not only as lousy character dominating and exploiting a group of women, terrifying people around him but more importantly as a character who is designed to be controlling the progress of the action. Actions this character got from the author-directors bolstering him driving the story, not the detective. She is designed as a much more reacting character than in season one.

This pimp has a similar hairstyle to Matt in season one, and he appears as an incarnation of the “Eternal Wanderer of Misogynism”. That Puss is designed and directed as a character, who lives in and from the conviction that it would be man’s destiny to enslave women. He has a stream of dialogues written, and the character can present this thinking in a variety of argumentations. Accordingly, he can declare prostitution as a profession and portray himself as a feminist who is supporting women to earn money to be able to support their families. This character is situated as the antagonist to Robin on both levels – the murder case and the private level of the narration. Sure, a bad persona has to say and do terrible things fitting the designed character; this is not the point I want to question here. There are decisions to be made within the process of how to use dramaturgy to balance the dynamic between characters. Interestingly, dialogues and actions between the pimp and the detective are following the traditional “Western”-model more – the male outlaw being the more exciting persona, having the potential to become the one who is acting out the morally better one. By invoking that model in a combination of giving that persona this ample opportunity to make the point of the misogynist, he gets more influence on the action, thus he is a main character. Consequently, this persona ‘Puss’ is not only challenging the character of Robin, he is a dramatic opponent too but as well – from a dramaturgical point of view – diminishing the importance of the persona Robin within the structure and hence the effect of that character. From a dramaturgical point of view, the character of Puss is designed as the potentially morally good outlaw, in which he is allowed to see himself, hence the one questioning the Sherriff. One could write all this that way and contrast it with the directorial approach and the representation of that character, but that isn’t happening here. On the contrary, Puss is shown as the active and smart persona, while Robin is deliberately designed as a most vulnerable Female.

The main task given to the character of Robin by the creators Campion and Lee is to understand herself as a mother. She has to get to know her daughter Mary – incorporated by Jane Campion’s daughter Alice Englert. Campion and Lee designed Robin’s character as being haunted by her past and working to forget her pain. Her salvation is to understand and accept her motherhood and to get a new perspective on herself. (Bonus Material, Making Robin. Campion and Kleiman 2017) Thus, she has to meet her daughter Mary and her new parents. Through her actions, and since she is designed as another most vulnerable and at the same time exceptionally stupidly-behaving young woman, Robin is brought into challenging situations – in the private as well as the crime level of the narration. Throughout this action, her character is again and increasingly taken into circumstances in which she is challenged to react on her emotions or to act professionally.

In addition to the conflict between the detective and the pimp/murderer, Robin is set into a conflict with her subordinate colleague Miranda. Another stereotype is employed with setting up this conflict – women can’t work together. The persona of Miranda is outlined as a bit naïve, not well-educated, but longing for love and being loved. Since this character was deliberately designed for Gwendoline Christie (Bonus Material, Making Miranda. Campion & Kleiman, 2017), her problem is apparent – she is taller than everyone else, hence misperceived as a female monster. Her character also gets no chance to become a role model. Her character has been set up as being in a new relationship with her married boss, lying to Robin and others. And much worse – after the boss declared his relationship with Miranda as true to Robin, Miranda seems to be flirting with Robin’s brother Liam (Kirin J. Callinam). Consequently, following the rules of the American Dramaturgy, Miranda has to be in real danger when she is wearing Liam’s shirt. Cheating against the new relationship and wearing a visible sign of it, like a ‘scarlet letter’, makes her dramatically vulnerable and punishment – for her sin – is inevitable.

A similar traditional layer of traditional, as well as conservative American Dramaturgy pattern, is recognisable for the development written for Robin within the action. In addition to aspects mentioned earlier, two other issues can be emphasised here as well. Firstly, the promise of a sentimental love-relationship is used as reward for Robin, of a man who appears as a mixture of her father and Jonno (Thomas M. Wright) as we remember both from season one. Interestingly, the dynamics of the relationship between Robin and Mary’s father Pyke (Ewan Leslie) according to her motherhood success. When Robin is shown as understanding herself as the mother of Mary and acting accordingly, the dynamics between her and Pyke are good. In situations, Robin is working as the detective, and given the construct of the crime story acting against the interests of Mary, Pyke has to backtrack from her. And, since this relationship is against standards of morality, the situation when they are having sex has to be interrupted by a call of high importance.

The other weird issue, dramaturgically speaking, is the situation of the encounter of Robin and her former senior Al Parker (David Wenham) for a hearing. The overall story gives the impression that some years lay between the end of season one – Robin shooting Al – and beginning of season two. Robin had three miscarriages, and as we can see, Al has a new family and two children. The boy must be about five or at least four years old, to estimate from the appearance and dialogue. What made them wait so long to set up the hearing about the events happening at end of season one? What took the authorities four to five years to arrange that? That situation – of meeting again for the hearing – enables the authors and the director to display a violent attack against Robin. Although it may have been planned as a situation showing Robin’s strengths and cleverness, it shows first of all that the man in his wheelchair still is stronger than her, and very much determined to abuse her – and all of this is demonstrated much in detail and length supporting a voyeuristic view.

After Robin’s character suffered this much, accepted her motherhood and was able to solve the case, she is rewarded with being trusted by her boss to deputise for him for some time. Mary manages to free herself from her relationship with Puss and goes back to her adoptive mother; who herself has returned to her marriage and gets rewarded for doing so by getting Mary back.

Just the Thai-women are still in the hands of Puss, and all those couples that were about to buy themselves the service of substitutes were penalised as well.

Thus, the dramaturgical analysis disappointingly reveals a white-male supremacy worldview dominating the layout and construct, the motivation and design of the narration and characters; as well the aesthetic representation.

Both seasons of Top of the Lake were perceived as exceptional productions making a difference in presenting female characters within TV productions. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to watch excellent actresses in exciting, challenging and rewarding roles; the implicit message is still questioning women in their rights and their economic, social as well as mental independence.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Assmann, Aleida. 2010. Memory in a global age: discourses, practices and trajectories. 1. publ. ed, Palgrave Macmillan memory studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Assmann, Jan. 2002. Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen. 4. Aufl. dieser Ausg. ed, Beck’sche Reihe. München: Beck.

Assmann, Jan. 2004. Religion und kulturelles Gedächtnis: zehn Studien. Orig.-Ausg., 2. Aufl. ed, Beck’sche Reihe. München: Beck.

Campbell, Joseph. 1949. The hero with a thousand faces. New York: Pantheon books.

Campion, Jane, and A. Kleiman. 2017. Top of the Lake – China Girl. In Top of the Lake. UK/USA: BBC.

Fiedler, Leslie A. 2017 Love and death in the American novel. 3rd printing Dalkey Archive ed. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press.

Frenz, Horst, ed. 1962. Amerikanische Dramaturgie. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag.

Gabler, Neal. 1989. An empire of their own: How the Jews invented Hollywood. New York: Doubleday.

Gelfert, Hans-Dieter. 2006. Typisch amerikanisch: Wie die Amerikaner wurden, was sie sind. 3., aktualisierte und um ein Nachwort Amerika 2006 erg. Aufl., Originalausg. ed. München: Beck.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Ross C. Murfin. 2006. The scarlet letter: complete, authoritative text with biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, critical history, and essays from contemporary critical perspectives. 2. ed, Case studies in contemporary criticism. Boston u.a.: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Maras, Steven (Ed). 2016. „Ethics in Screenwriting – New Perspectives.“ In Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting, ed Steven Maras. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-54493-3.

Stutterheim, Kerstin. 2015. Handbuch angewandter Dramaturgie. Vom Geheimnis des filmischen Erzählens, Babelsberger Schriften zu Mediendramaturgie und Ästhetik /. Frankfurt am Main u.a.: Peter Lang Verlag.

 

many thanks to Sue Warren for proof reading

Interview zu Staffel 7: «Game of Thrones»: «Family first, America first» in der NZZ

Claudia Schwartz :

Seit sieben Jahren verfolgen Zuschauer weltweit gebannt «Game of Thrones». Die Filmwissenschafterin Kerstin Stutterheim über das Phänomen dieser TV-Serie und die Gründe eines solchen Erfolgs.

 

Die Möglichkeiten des Genres visuell ausloten

von Kerstin Stutterheim

 

Der Dokumentarfilm, wie er tradiert ist, lebt von visuellem Erzählen, von gut gefilmten Beobachtungen, genauen Blicken, von den Bildern, von der Montage, dem Rhythmus.

Das Genre Dokumentarfilm entstand im Umfeld künstlerischer Experimente und Welterkundungen. Die Filmemacher der 1920er Jahre waren inspiriert von den Werken der Malerei der Neuen Sachlichkeit und der Fotographie im Stil des Neuen Sehens. Ästhetik und Filmsprache dokumentarischer Filme haben ihre Wurzeln in der Avantgarde, frühe Dokumentarfilme gelten bis heute als Meisterwerke des Avantgarde-Films. Dementsprechend ist das visuelle Element, die visuelle Poesie, das besondere Merkmal des Genres seit Beginn an.

„It was these films which offered the first sustained alternative grammar of construction of what had become, in Nöel Bruch’s phrase, the institutional mode of representation: instead of the economy of narrative fiction, an alternative principle of montage, what Guynn calls ‘photogenic continuity’, which from this moment on provides an aesthetic logic for the particular photogénie of the documentary.”[1]

Den Künstlern der Avantgarde entsprechend wollten und wollen die Dokumentarfilmer auf künstlerische Weise die Zuständen der Welt zeigen, von Umbrüchen, neuen Entwicklungen, dem Leben erzählen; von Menschen, Gesellschaften, der uns umgebenden Natur. Dies gilt bis heute. Auch und insbesondere der deutsche Dokumentarfilm steht in dieser Tradition – und pflegt diese, trotz der zunehmenden Einflussnahme durch die Entscheider_innen der Fernsehanstalten, die in den letzten Jahrzehnten stärker wortgeleitet und entsprechend neoliberaler Überformung der Gesellschaft[2] in Formatvorlagen operieren, die Bildebenen entweder ignorieren oder ebenfalls standardisieren. Dies erinnert an die Unterscheidung, die Rudolf Arnheim bereits in seinem 1932 erschienenen Buch Film als Kunst getroffen hat:

„Mit dem Film steht es ebenso wie mit Malerei, Musik, Literatur, Tanz: man kann die Mittel, die er bietet, benutzen, um Kunst zu machen, man braucht aber nicht. Bunte Ansichtspostkarten zum Beispiel sind nicht Kunst und wollen auch keine sein. Ein Militärmarsch, eine Magazingeschichte, ein Nacktballett ebensowenig. Und Kientopp ist nicht Film.“[3]

Einer der Regie-Kameramänner, der den deutschen Dokumentarfilm entscheidend mitgeprägt und ihm mit seiner Kunst zu visueller Kraft verholfen hat, ist Niels Bolbrinker. Er hat an der HBK in Hamburg Fotografie studiert und wurde in durch den ehemaligen Bauhäusler Alfred Ehrhardt, für den er eine Zeit als Assistent arbeitete, in die Kunst des Dokumentarfilms eingeführt. Seitdem hat Niels Bolbrinker kaum zählbar vielen Filmen unterschiedlicher Formate zu künstlerischer Ausdruckskraft verholfen. Seine aus dem Zusatzstudium an der FOF in Berlin erworbene genaue Kenntnis der fotografischen Techniken, dem Verständnis dessen, wie Licht und Material sich zueinander verhalten gepaart mit der künstlerischen Ausbildung und dem Wissen um die Avantgarde, geben seinem Talent des genauen und erzählerischen Blicks das sichere Fundament. Der genaue Blick und gleichzeitig in filmischen Sequenzen denken und filmen zu können, das zeichnet ihn aus. Und die für den Dokumentarfilm unabdingbare Fähigkeit, im Moment reagieren und ein konzentriertes, das Geschehen in einem metaphorischen oder – im Sinne Eisensteins – als ‚pars-pro-toto’ abzubilden.

So schrieb zum Beispiel Fritz Wolf über seine Bildgestaltung für Die Wäscherei, in dem er „die Tugenden des DDR-Dokumentarfilms“ wiedergespiegelt sieht: „Die Kamera schweift langsam über die ausrangierten Teile, sucht Details, zeigt geplatzte Schweißnähte, korrodierten, angefressenen Stahl, altgewordenes Material ohne Lack und Pomp. Das ist kein polemischer, eher ein wehmütiger Blick, den die Kamera da eröffnet. Das Alte geht, das Neue kommt. Überhaupt ist Niels Bolbrinker mit seiner Kamera wunderbar konkret, er achtet auf Details und nutzt die Ausdrucksmöglichkeiten der Schwarzweißfotografie. Das bietet das Thema – dunkle Räume, saubere Wäsche, weiße Arbeitskleidung usw. – natürlich auch an. Man sieht aber auch, daß sich mit Schwarzweiß eine viel dichtere, konzentrierte und plastischere Visualisierung erreichen läßt.“[4]

Schwarzweiß ist der Dokumentarfilm schon lange nicht mehr, aber die Möglichkeiten des Genres schöpft Niels Bolbrinker nachwievor in seiner Kameraarbeit aus. Sowohl als Kameramann für Kollegen, als Regie-Kamera, als auch als Kameramann für Kolleg_innen. Aus der langen Liste der Filme, an denen er mitgewirkt hat[5], reicht von den Sachgeschichten der Sendung mit der Maus über die Filme der Wendländischen Filmkooperative, wie Gorleben, der Traum von einer Sache (D 1981); Schade, dass Beton nicht brennt (D 1981, Regiekollektiv Novemberfilm), Das Capitol: Irgendwann ist Schluß (D 1992, R: Trevor Peters), ORiginal WOlfen (D 1995, mit K.Stutterheim), bis Die Frau mit den fünf Elefanten (D/Ch 2009, R. V. Yendrenko). Seit 1991 arbeitet er auch als alleiniger Regisseur – begonnen mit Das Ende des blauen Montag für das Kleine Fernsehspiel des ZDF über das Ende des Industriezeitalters. Zu nennen sind hier als Auswahl Fluten (D 2004), Die Natur vor uns (D 2008) und Die Wirklichkeit kommt (D 2014).

Die Goldberg-Bedingung steht kurz vor der Fertigstellung und der nächste große Film ist in Vorbereitung, wirkliche Künstler gehen mit 65 nicht in den Ruhestand.

 

Bibliography

 

Arnheim, R., & Prümm, K. (2002). Film als Kunst (1 ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Inglehart, R. (1999). Postmodernization Erodes Respect for Authority, but Increases Support for Democracy. In P. Norris (Ed.), Critical Citzens (pp. 236-256). New York: Oxford University Press.

Wolf, F. (1993). Möglichkeiten des Genres. „Die Wäscherei“, Dokumentarfilm von Kerstin Stutterheim (ZDF, 11.5., 23.00-0.05 Uhr). epd Film, 1993.

 

[1] Chanan, 2007, S. 98

[2] vgl. (Harvey, 2005; Inglehart, 1999)

[3] (Arnheim & Prümm, 2002, p. 24)

[4] (Wolf, 1993)

[5] die Liste der Kinofilme kann hier eingesehen werden http://www.filmportal.de/person/niels-bolbrinker_ae6e98a8514b454ab697727c95c638c2

Why audience is not the measurement – by Kerstin Stutterheim

Why I think that talking about the audience as a measurement or an aim is a mistake when it comes to writing and directing film or time-based media?

 

As a filmmaker as well as an academic myself, I often come across the demand to think about the audience before and while making a film or writing or conceptualizing art work. This always irritates me. Having been educated in the Faculty of Philosophy at Humboldt University Berlin and in one of the oldest and most established, but at the same time most modern, theaters, my immediate answer is that this is against all tradition. This may look like a very academic answer. From my academic and artistic education, my infinite reading, my excitement about great art – theatre, painting, performance, writing – I am deeply convinced that all great artists are in dialog with their audience in dealing with tradition and everyday life at the same time.

No one starts a work outside of life and reality. There is no ‚Kasper-Hauser‘-Artist. Perhaps sometimes the writer/director/artist comes from a different social group or environment than the decider or judge, but that doesn’t mean the artist is from outer space.

Starting to write or direct or perform takes place in communication with existing work. That means to get to know, to test and to challenge what the basic elements are that one has to respect. To respect means to think about what is basic and what can be changed and how, to be modified, to be tested or to be ignored, played with. Tradition gives a basic understanding and—to follow Kahneman’s concept of human thinking—it gives within the reception an impression of familiarity, cognitive ease.[i]

On that basis starting to try something new, different, surprisingly gives the ‘fast thinking’ a kick, the moment the associative system is invited to connect embodies knowledge and curiosity and to experience something new.[ii]

This fulfils thinking about audience, but more in an abstract or academic way. But this is not what—most often—the demand of thinking about the audience means when it comes to commissioning, film founding or production, teaching film & TV production etc. Will the audience understand and like this? Will they pay for it? Will they keep watching it? The last question includes money and a calculated economic success as well.

There is no such thing as THE audience. There is not one audience, everyone feeling the same or demanding the same story, aesthetic, style, whatever. Would you, my reader, choose the same book or the same story or the same style every day? Would you dress every day in the same colours? Or can you predict that next Friday you will for sure be up for wearing a red Jacket, eating potatoes for lunch, listening to the Beatles for driving to work, and watching a Tarantino film in the evening? Perhaps that day you’ll feel angry and then it will be the Rolling Stones or Bach? What about midsummer in two years? Will you be up that day for a romantic comedy or for a thriller, and should the main cast be Julia Roberts, Tom Hiddleston or Kit Herrington?

tom-hiddlestone

How can I as writer/director be sure that in one, two or five years THE AUDIENCE, on the day that my film will be screened, will still be up to the same calculated specific form? Thus, I have to rely on tradition, on basic knowledge and on artistic wisdom. And I will have to have a great story to tell, one that I am deeply convinced is a story worth years of intense work and my lifetime’s focussing on. What I am here calling artistic wisdom is very well reflected and not mystic or metaphysic knowledge. Philosophy is one discipline reflecting on aesthetics since ancient times, the other is a sub-discipline of philosophy called dramaturgy.[iii] Setting up a lot of new disciplines in opposition to, or thought as independent from, aesthetics and philosophy is taking away traditional and broad knowledge.

When I think about experiences with actual audiences, there are two different fields I can refer to, which I will do here in just a short overview. My first experiences go back to my time as dramaturgy assistant at the Deutsches Theater Berlin. There were some great directors, e.g. Thomas Langhoff, Alexander Stillmark, Johanna Claas, I had the opportunity of working with. But two were dominating the discourse, discussions and debates, fascinating the audience and splitting the colleagues into two groups. Friedo Solter was, in a nutshell, directing in a traditional way, modern, but moderate, up-to-date but not too provoking. He directed Wallenstein (Schiller)[iv] as well as Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (Brecht)[v] in brilliant style. On the other side was Alexander Lang. He was the postmodern director of the ensemble. Provoking, excellent, fascinating. The first production of his I came close to was his interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare). There was a lot of brainwork done before they started to rehearse and during the process. And the audience liked it too. All performances of both directors were always sold out. And ran for a long time.

dantons-tod

Shows I watched again and again as a member of the audience—more than ten times—were e.g. Arturo Ui directed by Friedo Solter; Dantons Tod [Danton’s Death] (Buechner)[vi] and Herzog Theodor von Gotland (Grabbe)[vii] both directed by Alexander Lang.

 

dantons-tod-farbe2

The audience was different every day. There were some evenings when most of the audience came because they were curious to see the new interpretation of something they knew or knew about, others came to see the actors in a new performance, others to see the new work of the directors and some just because they had a season ticket or someone had asked them out, it was a social event organised through work or an educational trip from school. And thus, the performance was a little bit different every day or perhaps just the atmosphere differed.

I have similar experiences from showing our own films. When a film is new, a premiere or a first screening at an important festival, the audience expects something special, they are mostly open minded, interested, excited, too.

And within our films there are always situations, scenes, dialogs, during which you can get an idea of the audience’s reactions at the screening. Do they get the joke or the irony in this dialog, do they see the emotional picture, do they hold their breath at this moment or not? And along that every discussion has a few similar questions, the standards, but more often completely different reactions, responds and queries. There are always differences and similarities between Berlin and Berlin, between Munich and Helsinki, Dubai, Tel Aviv, Szolnok, Dhaka, New York. Some US-media primed colleagues view European Documentaries as boring and old fashioned; others world wide are still working in poetic cinema, documentaries and fiction. Some filmmaker are still able to make poetic documentaries, being more visual, more artistic, and less outspoken or fast or hybrid; others invite these films to competitions in A-Festivals and sometimes these films receive an award too. One excellent example of a poetic documentary is “The Pearl Button” by Patricio Guzmán, awarded with the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival 2015.

Teaching courses in Bangladesh, the UAE or Brazil, I found that the students were socialized and hence primed differently, but all of them were attracted by similar aspects of telling and directing a story. All of them discovered their specific style and narration to make their own projects, but all of them were in the given circumstances successful after they started to trust in artistic wisdom, the traditions, and the balance of constants and variants in storytelling. ‘The Secret of Storytelling’ as Jean-Claude Carrière puts it[viii], is this: it is the universal kernel of human communication, the interest in listening to and reading stories or watching narrative-performative work.

Sometimes a work needs the right time and place, some come perhaps too early or are rejected by journalists not prepared for this kind of art work; others are so well announced that critics and audience are overwhelmed by all this positive talk and don’t dare to question the work or themselves. One can see this easily with Kubrick’s movies. “Eyes Wide Shut” was criticised in the western world due to multiple reasons—some disliked Tom Cruise because of his private beliefs, others disliked Nicole Kidman, many disliked Kubrick since he never gave interviews to support his movies or the critics, others disliked the theme, the style, the amount of naked skin, a lot of immediately dislikes. The movie was not well received in the US, and Western Europe, thus it was marked as a flop. But this movie was successful—in Southern Europe, in Asia… How can anyone say you have to meet the interests of THE audience? Or Barry Lyndon—over decades described as difficult and not very successful—this film was just re-released and shown in cinemas. There is no such thing as THE audience which you can calculate upfront.

But, and this is the good news, we can trust that our audience in its variety, its broad interests and moods, will enjoy a good or excellently told story, when the auteur is aware of traditions and artistic wisdom, is creative and open minded, simply an artist, not a formatted industry worker. One has again to trust the writers, directors, the creative team and the artists, if we still want to get good and great stories told. Looking for a formula to calculate the mood and interests of the people is like reinventing alchemy.

 

Bibliography

 

BRECHT, B. 1965. Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui, (Frankfurt a. M.), Suhrkamp.

BÜCHNER, G. & MAXWELL, J. 1968. Danton’s death, London,, Methuen.

BÜCHNER, G., SMITH, M. W. & SCHMIDT, H. J. 2012. Georg Büchner : the major works, contexts, criticism, New York, New York ; London, W.W. Norton & Company.

CARRIÈRE, J.-C., BONITZER, P. & ALGE, S. 1999. Praxis des Drehbuchschreibens, Berlin, Alexander-Verl.

FUNKE, C., SOLTER, F., ENGEL, P., SCHILLER, F., DEUTSCHES THEATER (BERLIN GERMANY) & AKADEMIE DER KÜNSTE DER DEUTSCHEN DEMOKRATISCHEN REPUBLIK. 1982. Schillers „Wallenstein,“ Regie Solter, Deutsches Theater : Beschreibung, Text und Kommentar, Berlin, Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft.

GRABBE, C. D. & COWEN, R. C. 1975. Werke.

HASCHE, C., KALISCH, E. & WEBER, T. (eds.) 2014. Der dramaturgische Blick: Potenziale und Modelle von Dramaturgie im Medienwandel, Berlin: Avinius Verlag.

KAHNEMAN, D. 2012. Thinking, Fast And Slow, London, Penguin Books.

KLOTZ, V. 1998. Dramaturgie des Publikums: Wie Bühne und Publikum auf einander eingehen, insbesondere bei Raimund, Büchner, Wedekind, Horváth, Gatti und im politischen Agitationstheater, Würzburg, Königshausen und Neumann.

LESSING, G. E. & BERGHAHN, K. L. 1981. Hamburgische Dramaturgie, Stuttgart, Reclam.

REICHEL, P. (ed.) 2000. Studien zur Dramaturgie: Kontexte, Implikationen, Berufspraxis, Tübingen: Narr.

STUTTERHEIM, K. 2015. Handbuch angewandter Dramaturgie. Vom Geheimnis des filmischen Erzählens, Frankfurt am Main u.a., Peter Lang Verlag.

 

[i] KAHNEMAN, D. 2012. Thinking, Fast And Slow, London, Penguin Books.

[ii] Ibid., pp.50; pp79

[iii] LESSING, G. E. & BERGHAHN, K. L. 1981. Hamburgische Dramaturgie, Stuttgart, Reclam. HASCHE, C., KALISCH, E. & WEBER, T. (eds.) 2014. Der dramaturgische Blick: Potenziale und Modelle von Dramaturgie im Medienwandel, Berlin: Avinius Verlag, KLOTZ, V. 1998. Dramaturgie des Publikums: Wie Bühne und Publikum auf einander eingehen, insbesondere bei Raimund, Büchner, Wedekind, Horváth, Gatti und im politischen Agitationstheater, Würzburg, Königshausen und Neumann, REICHEL, P. (ed.) 2000. Studien zur Dramaturgie: Kontexte, Implikationen, Berufspraxis, Tübingen: Narr, STUTTERHEIM, K. 2015. Handbuch angewandter Dramaturgie. Vom Geheimnis des filmischen Erzählens, Frankfurt am Main u.a., Peter Lang Verlag.

Screenwriting manuals are the opposite of dramaturgy, more like painting by numbers

[iv] FUNKE, C., SOLTER, F., ENGEL, P., SCHILLER, F., DEUTSCHES THEATER (BERLIN GERMANY) & AKADEMIE DER KÜNSTE DER DEUTSCHEN DEMOKRATISCHEN REPUBLIK. 1982. Schillers „Wallenstein,“ Regie Solter, Deutsches Theater : Beschreibung, Text und Kommentar, Berlin, Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft.

[v] BRECHT, B. 1965. Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui, (Frankfurt a. M.), Suhrkamp.

[vi] BÜCHNER, G. & MAXWELL, J. 1968. Danton’s death, London,, Methuen, BÜCHNER, G., SMITH, M. W. & SCHMIDT, H. J. 2012. Georg Büchner : the major works, contexts, criticism, New York, New York ; London, W.W. Norton & Company.

[vii] GRABBE, C. D. & COWEN, R. C. 1975. Werke.

[viii] CARRIÈRE, J.-C., BONITZER, P. & ALGE, S. 1999. Praxis des Drehbuchschreibens, Berlin, Alexander-Verl., pp. 143

 

with many thanks to Saskia Wesnigk-Wood