On the Set of Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau

Georg Lehner

With Günter Rohrbach, the WDR had a head of TV drama who launched several important innovations beginning in the mid-1960s. Up until that time, the genre tended to look like recordings of theater productions in the studio with four video cameras. “Real” films were now going to be shot. With a fresh team of cinephile producers, he gave young filmmakers who wanted to do something different from “papa’s cinema” an opportunity to direct for TV. Among them were the great Fassbinder and film school graduates like Wim Wenders. Since I won the top prize at the International Mannheim Film Festival with my dffb thesis film in 1970, I was also given a ticket for this train.

After I finished the script for Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau (Two Clever Men and the Faithfulness of a Woman), an adaptation of a novella by Goethe, with the channel’s support for research in Venice, and it was judged satisfactory, I was assigned to the rather elaborate production and given the privilege of naming my own cameraman. Of course, I wanted to work with my friend Carlos Bustamante—I’d shot all of my previous projects with him—and he named Skip Norman as his assistant: us three musketeers from the dffb versus the WDR.

Set photos from Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau © Michael Biron

For the channel, this constellation posed a bit of a risk because us dffb graduates did not have at this point any experience with large productions. We were therefore teamed up with professionals, mostly years-long WDR employees. But therein lay the seed for mutual mistrust: slightly arrogant know-it-alls on our side and seasoned “establishment” pragmatists on the other. Above all for Carlos and I, who covered up our insecurities this way, but not for Skip, who got along well with the WDR people. Sovereign and friendly, he was respected by everyone and he let them know that he appreciated his colleagues’ professionalism. Skip was of course a little older and more experienced than us. His authority therefore helped us to assuage a very ugly conflict that led to a lot of tension towards the end of the shoot.

After four weeks in the studio in Cologne, we moved to Venice for the exteriors. Naturally, the problems piled up there and our nerves tensed. At the end, we had to shoot a wedding scene in a church with an additional 40 local extras in Renaissance costumes—with only one shooting day. It was difficult to set up the lighting and arrange the wedding guests and the complicated tracking shots: everything dragged on and at the end of the day around 6 p.m., we were not yet ready even though we’d frantically made considerable cuts to the script.

At this moment, one of the WDR employees literally pulled the plug and the set went dark. After a moment of shock, Carlos went completely berserk and jumped at the prop man who had caused the stop. Luckily, Skip was next to the camera and intervened with all his physical presence. He managed at least to prevent a bitter fight in which the rather slender Carlos would probably have lost to the sturdy Rhinelander. It didn’t progress beyond angry shouting.

Carlos was so furious because the last take would have needed maybe another half hour and the day was so expensive that reshoots were out of the question. On the other hand, the crew’s frustration is understandable since we had already tortured them with overtime more than once; ultimately, when we finished shooting, a few people still could not go home because they had to deal with the extras’ costumes. They had of course also been the first on set that morning.

I was so happy about Skip’s resolute intervention and his role in calming Carlos down. His good relationship with the WDR people also contributed to this remaining a one-time uproar and we managed to complete production safe and sound.

Georg Lehner started to study film at dffb in 1967. His thesis film Omnia Vincit Amor (1970) won an award at the Mannheim Film Festival and qualified him for the larger TV production Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau (1973), on which Skip Norman worked as the assistant cinematographer.

Translated by Ted Fendt. German version available as a PDF.

Images: Michael Biron.

[Suggested citation: Georg Lehner, “On the Set of Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau,” Rosa Mercedes 03/B (April 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/04/30/on-the-set-of-zwei-kluge-manner-und-die-treue-einer-frau/]

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April 30th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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