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Ulrike Ottinger

Ulrike Ottinger: The Autobiography of Art Cinema

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Ulrike Ottinger
    Book Description:

    Laurence A. Rickels offers analyses of Ulrike Ottinger’s films, as well as her photographic artworks, situated within a dazzling thought experiment centered on the history of art cinema. In addition to commemorating the death of a once-vital art form, this book also affirms Ottinger’s defiantly optimistic turn toward the documentary film as a means of mediating present clashes between tradition and modernity, between the local and the global.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5642-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. x-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-15)

    Can art cinema in fact be assumed to be the subject of this autobiography? While Andrea Weiss places her discussion of Ottinger’s work in a chapter titled “Women’s ‘Art’ Cinema and Its Lesbian Potential,” she characterizes Ottinger’s films as rejecting and parodying the conventions of art cinema (128). In part, these are conventions that form a certain sexist continuity shot between art cinema and its public enemy number one, Hollywood. Weiss writes: “Ottinger’s films intersect with several non-classical cinema practices, including art cinema, surrealism, and ethnographic cinema. She works in documentary as well as fiction, and her films combine, or...

    (pp. 16-23)

    Let’s take a running start and put ourselves into the big picture of Ulrike Ottinger’s work, complete with a bouncing bio to follow. There is one life condition of this cinema. When and where and as whom or what Ottinger was born set all systems going for traumatization. Let the record show that she was born in 1942 in Constance, Germany, to a Jewish mother. But the adverse external, social, interpersonal conditions that followed notwithstanding, all forms of margin and difference would remain for Ottinger, just the same, adventure and safety zone. And that’s because, intrapsychically, the conditions of her...

    (pp. 24-41)

    Following the three shorts with which she opened her film career, in 1977 Ottinger shorted out the receiving lines of film and feminist criticism with her first feature,Madame X—Eine absolute Herrscherin (Madame X: An Absolute Ruler).Filmed on and around Lake Constance, the movie made Ottinger a sensational figure of controversy. “Ottinger . . . succeeds in criticizing the conditions of the first generation of the women’s movement” (Spies). “Ottinger transforms . . . the area around Lake Constance into an exotically overflowing, unreal, man-eating orgy of images” (Kemetmüller). “If this planet cannot be conceived, according to the...

    (pp. 42-64)

    Ottinger came to filmmaking via a career in the visual arts (painting, works on paper, photography, performance). After training in Munich, Ottinger resided and worked in Paris. Her success notwithstanding, she reached a crisis point of disappointment in the range of what she could accomplish within these more static, preliminary, or partial media. She renounced her art career and returned to Constance, where, as founder of a gallery and a film club, she continued to work in the art world, but from a directorial or organizing point of view. Ottinger’s film career took off with her subsequent move to Berlin,...

  11. 4 HIT AND MISS
    (pp. 65-89)

    In 1983 Jonathan Rosenbaum, diverted perhaps by the perfection or consummation he found achieved inTicket of No Return, judged Freak Orlando(likeThe Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press) “a decidedly uneven film, definitely hit-or-miss in its overall thrust, and conceivably full of as many misses as hits” (123). The fifty-fifty proviso signs in at the symptom center ofFreak Orlando’sreception. “It is a strongly visual baroque allegory of freaks—those who through world history have been persecuted, tortured, excluded and eliminated as ugly, insane, deformed, monstrous beings, deviating from the norm; a pandemonium of myths,...

    (pp. 90-114)

    In the time that it has become but a screen memory, the theatrical art of Ottinger’s fictional films has been on view onstage. In the theater, Ottinger declared in 2000, “one still has artistic freedoms” (in Liese). Or again, when asked if it is her preference to work for the theater rather than in film, Ottinger spells it out: “Today in Germany it is impossible to finance a film that is not commercially adjusted. Artistically right now in the theater there is greater freedom” (in Focus). While my contact with Ottinger’s 2000 staging of Elfriede Jelinek’s “Das Lebewohl” (“The Farewell”)...

    (pp. 115-122)

    BetweenThe Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press and Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia,Ottinger made three seemingly very different film works. There was the documentary titledChina. Die Künste—Der Alltag (China: The Arts—Everyday Life),which was released in 1985. This excursion into the documentary medium raised the question of a fundamental change in Ottinger’s praxis, which Ottinger rejected, at least as fundamental: “Clear confrontations were always part of my film work. InTicket of No Returnfiction and reality are engaged in a dialogue on which the ladies ‘Social Question,’ ‘Exact Statistics,’ ‘Human Reason’ comment throughout,...

    (pp. 123-136)

    Leading up to and accompanying each of her films, Ottinger also works overtime as photographer, often trying out transformations of location as research for what the film includes in its moving medium. As could be seen at the 2000 show at the David Zwirner Gallery, the photographic work “in the context ofTicket of No Return” had been particularly diverse and even strikingly independent of the final screen product. One productive line of association in preparation for the film referred to the series of fantastic scenes through which the heroine (played by artist, costume designer, and once-upon-a-time Ottinger partner Tabea...

    (pp. 137-149)

    I was pleased to welcome Ulrike Ottinger to the University of California, Santa Barbara, back in October 1992. She was appointed Regents’ Lecturer and was in attendance at the screenings of seven of her films, beginning (out of chronological sync) withFreak Orlandoand closing with the U.S. pre-premiere of her newest film,Taiga.

    BetweenFreak OrlandoandTaigathere are exemplary similarities that tell us something about the style or strategy of Ottinger’s work. In both the freaks movie and the Mongolian-shaman-cult film, there’s the interest in those traveling or nomadic cultures that to this day take us to...

  16. 9 I WAS THERE
    (pp. 150-165)

    Berlin was set, document, and inspiration for allegorical metamorphoses in the trilogy of Ottinger’s fictional films. In 1990 Ottinger turned her documentary camera on Berlin to follow and interpret historical events in the making, in transition.Countdownis the document of the ten days leading to unification of the two German currencies.

    The American or global termcountdownwas first introduced in the 1950s in the United States. A 1969 American film about the space race already bore the titleCountdown,which was advertised as “the motion picture that puts a man on the moon . . . and you...

  17. 10 CURTAINS
    (pp. 166-170)

    I attended Ottinger’s production of J. Nestroy’sDas Verlobungsfest im Feenreich (oder Die Gleichheit der Jahre). Zauberposse in drey Aufzügen (The Engagement Party in the Fairy Realm)for the 1999 Steierischer Herbst, the annual fall arts festival in Graz, Austria. As the sole theatrical project in Ottinger’s extensive portfolio of directorial works for the stage that I had occasion to observe, including behind the scenes during the last week of dress rehearsals, the Graz production ofThe Engagement Party in the Fairy Realmprovided a one-time opportunity to extrapolate Ottinger’s relationship to theater, and the outside chance of assessing Ottinger’s...

    (pp. 171-184)

    The last time I interviewed Ulrike Ottinger (in 1992), the receiving area of her films was pressing to divide, as Before and After, Ottinger’s dual—and in every filmic-moment double—investment in fictional art cinema and documentary film. A series of films that could be identified as documentary led first to a sense of changed direction in Ottinger’s work in progress; second, to a massive repression of her recent art-cinema past; and third, to a projection of Ottinger’s exclusively documentary filmmaking in place of the other cinema that had been lost. But back then, as the interview underscored, the movie...

  19. 12 TOTEM TABOO
    (pp. 185-190)

    Ottinger’s exhibition, Totem, at the Salzburg Kunstverein (summer 2005) assembled work Ottinger made during her residency at Artpace in San Antonio, Texas (fall 2004), alongside earlier and regular explorations of the settings of animal sacrifice (beginning with photographs taken in the context of her 1977 filmMadame X: An Absolute Ruler) and around a tepee-like installation from 1986–87 titledEuropa and the Bull.

    Via a loopy network of association represented by knickknacks from the Mexican holiday of the dead, which she set up as her own alter-altars, Ottinger invited us to recognize in the photo-portraits of Mexican Americans not...

  20. 13 GOING APE
    (pp. 191-196)

    At the 2007 Academy Awards ceremony, clips representing the camera work of each of the nominees for the Oscar in cinematography were screened. But what could also be seen was the interchangeability of cinematography and art direction in movies that Hollywood prizes. With her 2007 filmPrater,Ottinger took the opportunity its documentary status afforded her—in documentary work, cinematography always has the upper hand, if only because there is no set construction to fall back on—to explore along a self-reflexive trajectory (with references to her collected work in progress) what it means to render something cinematic.

    While as...

    (pp. 197-207)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 208-208)