Twilight of Culture

Esther Leslie

I went to see Mr Syberberg's Hitler films at the I.C.A in London. And then saw him speak. I took down everything he said, in order to use it in evidence against him

From the dark soul of a lost Prussian: condemned by his own word[ines]s.

The Birth of Tragedy [rehash as farce]:"I remember nothing of Hitler" [I swear] "The war was over when I was 9. I spent it in the countryside. I remember the sky lit up sometimes by bombs. My father had an estate. He did not have to fight. He had to look after his property." [He was a junker.] "I left the GDR in 1953. I had lived in Rostock before that. I went to West Germany. I was different to them. It was coca cola versus the Red Army." [Traces of nostalgia already. Later comes the Spenglerian Preussentum und Sozialismus]. "I was different to them. I had a knowledge of Marxism." [!] "I filmed Brecht." [He didn't say what or how or why?] "I went to West Berlin and saw Cocteau and Carne. I met Fritz Kortner, who was an actor/director, very different to Brecht, an aristotelian, who used human beings and text, not a brechtian system of theatre. The West German film of that time was Heimat garbage. I worked for t.v. in Bavaria". [He learnt his Gesamtkunstwerkism there, as he details how he learnt of sound tracks and editing and effects.] But this must have been a border crossing which tore him too. For he says, as he will say again and again, in this table talk: I am a Prussian...

Superman Suberberg: the Mensch who moves mountains:... Unlike the New German filmmakers. He defines himself against the German cinema of the 1950s. He defines himself against the post-war German cinema launched at Oberhausen and later sparked by Fassbinder. Like them he was fatherless. But he was a fatherless only child. Not one of the group. A diatribe against the Kitsch of the New Wave Germans. Too much kitsch and too much ideology. Too much interest in acting and not in Technik. But this man is creating mythologies of the self. As always on film, round tables. He says he too knew nothing of film. He knew theatre and literature. He left his camera static in his first films and the French said: merveilleuse, just like Melies. So he went home and read of Melies and dedicated his next film to him.

The Uses and Abuses of History:The questioner says: Your films, when they use the little people; Ludwig's cook, Hitler's valet, looks behind history in the most interesting ways. For me: interesting limitedly, more a rewriting, i.e. destroying of History from Below. Those little people are not so little and what interests them: [unlike most little people] is their special personal relationship to power.i.e. bureaucrats. Syberberg says his aim is large: "To look at history from above; the stars and below; Hitler's underpants: and aren't we getting just a little to literal here? All his characters, even if their views are unpalatable, are content: like he himself to be in the Archive of History. And Benjamin taught what qualified for entry into that archive, also in the name of uses and abuses of history. Why make films? A simple parable as answer. "I saw a film make by some left wing people in the 1960s. It was about an aristocrat, just like Ulbricht would have made. They made this Junker look stupid and small. And so I made a film about an aristocrat, from the other side. I made a film about a strange man. It was about the end of a family, a culture, a house. It was very sad. It was about the end of an epoch. This man was human and sad and honourable. How different the same subject can be made by different temperaments of art!" Oh, but here Syberberg, here and not for the first time you speak of artistic differences, when really you should speak of political discrepancy. But for you, art is all. "The film on Hitler, in the same way, is not about hatred. Shakespeare never hated, even when he wrote of Richard III. It was not his duty to hate. Maybe the audience can judge. But not the filmmaker."

Goethedaemmerung:The critical reaction to Hitler in Germany, has it made it difficult for you, asks the meek interrogator. YES!! Whose fall is being addressed here. The fall of him in the dock, who in turn is trying german history. "But it was the book which led to my blacklisting." Noone will ask about the book. "In Germany after the war, art was not free." [America, America] "I am an inventor of new aesthetics, of new techniques. I am not recognised"[as prophet in my own land. Always the bloody way.]

Genealogy of Moral[ity]:Audience questioning. At times emotional, at other times simply strange. Is it possible, asks someone, to imagine you can do the same thing as Shakespeare. Hitler is too close to us. The man continues, on a polemical run, talking of irresponsibility and German abstract rhetoric which go on and on and a film without a centre. Syberberg responds and seems perversely enough to be his own worst publicist. No aesthetic defence of decentredness, he claims loosely it has something to do with Brecht. Why doesn't he lay into the man in the audience who wants the proper all-in-order Hitler story. Instead, Syberberg says, it is wonderful that Hitler is so close to us. "We are lucky. Hitler is a gift to art. Hitler is a gift to me. Hitler is a gift to us." One way of redeeming hell and the absolute destruction of an aesthetic, I suppose. I mean, it may be irrelevant to ask who was the annihilator of an entire avant-garde: Hitler and his system. Thank god he gave it back to us posthumously. I think Syberberg is only interested in art [from his point of view, not from mine; the aesthetic being already political for me], that Hitler is the ultimate symbol, that Hitlerism was such an aesthetic movement. The man in the audience continues. Hitler was singular. Outrageously you compare him to other systems, including Israel. Now I imagine Syberberg will speak in his own defence, defending his thesis of the Fascist in all of us, even the Jew, of the Fascism at the epicentre of democracy and Capitalism. But he doesn't. He says, he did not wish to compare Hitler with others and anyway, he is not interested in Hitler, but in the people who voted for him. "It is not a problem of one country, but the problem of the human soul. Everyone is to be embraced in the same responsibility." Then he speaks again of his aesthetic, his singular aesthetic, which makes leaps from heaven to hell, light to darkness. And the child guiding us through. A German woman leaps up, perturbed by the film. She seems astonished at the Fritz Lang scene, with the SA man speaking of how he enjoyed killing and how he was deprived. She asks how Syberberg can possibly suggest there were people who enjoyed killing. But lady, unfortunately there were and even if there weren't, its part of the mythology and isn't that what Syberberg is depicting. Syberberg says little again, claiming just that this scene is one scene, that is all, of a whole number of different aspects, as if to dissolve it into the whole makes it any less nasty. "Normally the sympathy of the intellectuals when they see M is with the murderer, not the criminals, [is it?], because of his humane plea, that I am human too." The German woman asks if the reasons the SA man gives, about deprivation, are valid in Rostock today. "NO". Syberberg refuses to mourn. He says he has done all of that, his film was an inoculation against Fascism, by injecting some of the poison you become immune. He is not interested in Trauerarbeit. Its part of the market of common speech now.

The Eternal Return:Suddenly the room erupts into German. Soul, soul, soul, always. Then a man delivers a long speech about how for some things in life there are no answers. Nietzsche had a house in Buchenwald, but not at the same time. Hugenberg gave Hitler money, not in the early days, not at the time of the camps. It is impossible to nit-pick. I think he is saying we speak moralistically with hindsight and shouldn't. Then he continues with claims about some people being larger than life. Those people will always exist. He speaks like Syberberg. The big people didn't come, why should we care, that people from the embassy didn't come. Let them say Herr Syberberg is a Nazi. So what. Some say I was an Adjutant for Hitler. There were many. Then the man begins an attack on Stauffenberg the attempted assassinator of Hitler. He just wanted to be a big man, to be the one who could say: I killed Hitler. Views change in time. There are rehabilitations. In 50 years time, people will see Herr Syberberg differently. He stops there. Frightening. And he is applauded. Where am I?

The Will to Electric Power:'Hitlerí, restates Syberberg for the 10th time, is about soul and mankind. It is about the wounded people of today, the children of the guilty. "But their children, the neo-Nazis, they are not worthy of the name. They are post-Nazis. Hitler would have found them yobbish and would have put them in concentration camps." He speaks for Hitler. He's getting nostalgic for the genuine article. It never the same the second time round. He doesn't seem to know how instrumental the boot boys were and are, how central to the initial stages of fascist invasion. "These post-Nazis are the garbage of history. The politicians should go and speak to them. It is not a problem of justice or prison alone. Sometimes we cannot always behave privately. If now there were a strong left movement in Germany and they were to come together that would be horrible." I do not believe it, how little he understands. A phenomenal ignoramus. And he talks of his future. He will make more films which "mourn the loss of Prussia." But he has no money. They give him no money in Germany and no money internationally. The occident is in decline. And its outcome: to push him into the theatre. An ignominious end for an "orthodox German" as orthodox as a jew. All he is sayng at the end is, Give me money.

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