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Hans Jürgen Syberberg

Hans Jürgen Syberberg: "German intellectuals treat me as if I were the enemy. They do not want to hear about what I believe lies at the heart of German identity."

For Syberberg, cinema is a form of Gesamtkunstwerk. Many commentators, including Syberberg himself, have characterized his work as a cinematic combination of Bertolt Brecht’s doctrine of epic theatre and Richard Wagner’s operatic aesthetics. Well known philosophers and intellectuals have written about his work, including Susan Sontag, Gilles Deleuze and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe.

In 1975 Syberberg released Winifried Wagner und die Geschichte des Hauses Wahnfried von 1914-1975 (English title: The Confessions of Winifred Wagner), a documentary about Winifred Wagner, an Englishwoman who had married Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried. The documentary attracted attention because it exposed Mrs Wagner’s unrepentant admiration for Adolf Hitler. The film thus proved an embarrassment to the Wagner family and the Bayreuth Festival (which she had run from 1930 until the end of the Second World War). Winifred Wagner objected to the inclusion in the film of conversations she did not know were being recorded.

Syberberg is also noted for an acclaimed visual interpretation of the Wagner opera Parsifal in 1982.

"Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, the enfant terrible of modern or post-war German cinema, was born in 1935 of vaguely upper class stock. His father owned landed estates in Eastern Germany before the war and his son lived in Rostock until 1945.

Syberberg’s doctoral thesis — very much in the Germanic tradition — concerned the notion of existentialism or the absurd in Durrenmatt’s drama. He himself seems to have been influenced by two vast and yet ‘monstrous’ paradigms: these were Brecht’s notion of epic theatre and Wagner’s idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk — the total art-work.

Without doubt, his seminal achievement has to be Hitler: A Film from Germany (Our Hitler) which appeared in 1978. Although Syberberg was to later furnish a retrospective and documentary feel to his ideas in a non-fiction treatment, The Ister, in 2004. It comes across as a companion piece or dialectical counter-point to the previous work. It’s definitely not a mea culpa."

(Jonathan Bowden: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg – Leni Riefenstahl’s Heir)

Selected filmography:

1965 Romy - Anatomie eines Gesichts

1969 Scarabea - Wieviel Erde braucht der Mensch?

1970 Nach meinem letzten Umzug...

1972 Ludwig - Requiem für einen jungfräulichen König

1974 Karl May - Auf der Suche nach dem verloren Paradies

1977 Hitler - ein Film aus Deutschland

1982 Parsifal

1994 Ein Traum, was sonst?