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Alexander Kluge

Alexander Kluge: Raw Materials for the Imagination

Edited by Tara Forrest
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  • Book Info
    Alexander Kluge
    Book Description:

    Alexander Kluge is best known as a founding member of the New German Cinema. His work, however, spans a diverse range of fields and, over the last fifty years, he has been active as a filmmaker, writer and television producer. This book - the first of its kind in English - comprises a wide selection of texts, including articles and stories by Kluge, television transcripts, critical essays by renowned international scholars, and interviews with Kluge himself. It will be a valuable resource for students and scholars in the fields of film, television, and literary studies, as well as those interested in exploring the intersections between art, politics, and social change. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1339-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

    • Editor’s Introduction
      (pp. 13-21)
      Tara Forrest

      Alexander Kluge, whose eightieth birthday coincides with the release of this book, is a key figure in the German cultural landscape, having worked prolifically – over some fifty years – as a film-maker, writer and television producer. Outside the German-speaking world, Kluge is best known as one of the founding members of the New German Cinema and as the director of films such as Yesterday Girl (1966), The Patriot (1979) and The Power of Emotion (1983).¹ Film, however, is just one of the mediums with which he has worked throughout the course of his career. In 1962, Kluge publishedLebensläufe,² the first...

    • The Stubborn Persistence of Alexander Kluge
      (pp. 22-30)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      As a film-maker with a modest but loyal transatlantic following, Alexander Kluge’s oeuvre and career are markedly different from those of other European directors venerated by cinephiles.¹ Celebrating his eightieth birthday, he belongs to the same generation as Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Marie Straub and Theo Angelopoulos, but trained as a lawyer before making his first film in 1960. In Germany, he is equally if not more famous as a short story writer and the author of several volumes of sociology. To film historians, he is the legal brain and policy-shaper behind the New German Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s,...

  2. Film, Politics and the Public Sphere

    • On Film and the Public Sphere
      (pp. 33-49)
      Alexander Kluge

      I wouldn’t be making films if it weren’t for the cinema of the 1920s, the silent era. Since I have been making films it has been in reference to this classical tradition. Telling stories, this is precisely my conception of narrative cinema; and what else is the history of a country but the vastest narrative surface of all? Not one story but many stories.

      This means montage. There can be no doubt that the narrative of an individual fate, unfolded in ninety minutes, can convey historical material only at the price of dramaturgical incest. The fictional threat displaces experience from...

    • Cooperative Auteur Cinema and Oppositional Public Sphere: Alexander Kluge’s Contribution to Germany in Autumn
      (pp. 50-71)
      Miriam Hansen

      In 1962, the signatories of the Oberhausen manifesto proclaimed the death of the old German cinema. They welcomed the collapse of the German film industry (the ill-fated UFA had folded the previous year), because it removed the economic ground for a conventional mode of film-making, thereby giving the new film a chance to come to life.¹ Less than interesting in its actual content and rhetoric, the manifesto presented the first public and collective statement by young German film-makers in the Federal Republic. As such it has become something of a mythological point of origin for critics and historians, as if...

    • ‘What is Different is Good’: Women and Femininity in the Films of Alexander Kluge
      (pp. 72-92)
      Heide Schlüpmann

      Alexander Kluge formulated this statement in the early 1970s, when he took issue with the protests raised by those in the women’s movement against his film Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin/Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave (1973). In order to determine the meaning of ‘female productive force’, the film had attempted to depict a ‘femininity’ [Weiblichkeit] that was oppressed, but which, unaccommodated to its oppression, resisted it. The doubt that arose in the course of those discussions as to whether that attempt had been successful – indeed, whether it could have succeeded – to some extent still remains today. At the same time we...

  3. Rethinking History

    • In Search of Germany: Alexander Kluge’s The Patriot
      (pp. 95-126)
      Anton Kaes

      ‘We must begin to work on our history. I mean something very concrete by that; we could even start by telling each other stories’.¹ Alexander Kluge made this statement in his Fontane Prize acceptance speech in September 1979; it announced a programme that he himself wanted to fulfil in his film Die Patriotin/The Patriot, which premiered in the same month.² Although the original conception of the film goes back to the fall of 1977,³ it had lost none of its relevance two years later. On the contrary, at the beginning of 1979 the American television seriesHolocausthad reignited interest...

    • Alexander Kluge and German History: ‘The Air Raid on Halberstadt on 8.4. 1945’
      (pp. 127-154)
      David Roberts

      In a review of Kluge’s volume of storiesNeue Geschichten(1977) Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote: ‘Of Germany’s recognised writers, Alexander Kluge is the least known’.¹ Perhaps the main reason for this neglect is that Kluge’s whole work is a protest against the contemporary division of labour. He is equally active as a film-maker, writer and theorist. His multimedia-projects and his blurring of the boundary between art and theory have certainly complicated the reception of his work by critics and the public. It is therefore important to stress the underlying unity in this variety: The basic impulse of his work comes...

    • The Air Raid on Halberstadt, 8 April 1945 (extract)
      (pp. 155-160)
      Alexander Kluge

      Reporter: So you took off after breakfast?

      Anderson: That’s right. Ham and eggs, and coffee.

      R: Well then, according to routine you started from combat airfields in the south of England?

      A: The Podington 92nd, the Chelveston 350th, the Thurleigh 306th, the Polebrook 351st, the Deenethorpe 401st and the Glatton 457th.

      R: Instead of just listing the squadrons, can you tell me what it was like?

      Anderson could not give a clear picture of the squadrons’ take-off. He stood behind one of the pilots, saw meadows and airport hangars go by and then was pressed against the back wall when...

  4. Realism as Protest

    • Construction Site Film: Kluge’s Idea of Realism and His Short Films
      (pp. 173-190)
      Eike Friedrich Wenzel

      If one wanted to summarise Alexander Kluge’s film work in a catchphrase, it might well read: ‘film-making out of foreign material’. Kluge himself compared his aesthetic programme with the cluttered and unfinished state of construction sites. Shimmering through such formulations is a notion of film that declares the brilliant, thoroughly composed, autonomous work of art to be ideological. For Kluge, art is not a Spanish wall that the individual artist draws between the audience and social reality. Art is perception, perception of reality. As such, it stays close to the experiences of the audience, their experiences of social reality. Kluge’s...

    • The Sharpest Ideology: That Reality Appeals to its Realistic Character
      (pp. 191-196)
      Alexander Kluge

      It must be possible to present reality as the historical fiction that it is. Its impact on the individual is real, is fate. But it is not fate, but made by the labour of generations of men who the whole time actually wanted and want something completely different. In this sense it is in various respects simultaneously real and unreal. Real and unreal in every one of its individual aspects: collective wishes of men, labour power, relations of production, persecution of witches, history of wars, life histories of individuals. Each of these aspects themselves and all together have an antagonistic...

    • Debate on the Documentary Film: Conversation with Klaus Eder, 1980
      (pp. 197-208)
      Alexander Kluge and Klaus Eder

      Klaus Eder: Klaus Wildenhahn has set off a debate on the documentary film with a polemical essay¹ entitled ‘Industrial Landscape with Petty Traders’.

      Alexander Kluge: I see this essay as an invitation to start a debate on theories of the documentary film, on the concept of realism; but it also invites a stocktaking, a critique of all filmic products as such.

      KE: For a start, one can take from this essay an understanding of documentarism, to which Klaus Wildenhahn himself feels committed. He talks about ‘art’s function of depiction’, about the ‘work principle of copying’. For instance, he emphasises in...

  5. Opera as a ‘Power Plant of Emotion’

    • Undoing Act 5: History, Bodies and Operatic Remains in The Power of Emotion
      (pp. 211-240)
      Caryl Flinn

      Many films of the New German Cinema engaged strategies of traumatic and allegorical representation in order to disable standard forms of history, remembrance, and narrative. Alexander Kluge uses music and opera to precisely the same ends. His extraordinary The Power of Emotion/Die Macht der Gefühle blasts open nineteenth-century opera, scattering it as so many interrupted arias, unidentified rehearsals, performance fragments, manipulated film footage, through stereoscopic mattes, time-lapse set changes, ironic voice-overs, fictional interviews. These musical ‘pieces’, along with other European art music, provide the raw material out of which his 1983 film is made.

      Why opera? Because opera generates and...

    • ‘Feelings Can Move Mountains …’: An Interview with Alexander Kluge on the Film The Power of Feelings
      (pp. 241-246)
      Florian Hopf and Alexander Kluge

      Florian Hopf: Which feelings are you talking about in the film?

      Alexander Kluge: All of them. For example, the film begins with a man screwing in a screw. He says you can only do that with a lot of feeling. If it’s screwed in too tight then it will take too much strain, but if it’s left too loose then it will fall out and the nut will come off. That’s something quite simple: without understanding a word of each other’s language, a German mechanic and a Chinese mechanic can agree on whether the screw is screwed in properly or...

    • Alexander Kluge’s Phantom of the Opera
      (pp. 247-256)
      Gertrud Koch

      Alexander Kluge attaches much greater importance to music as an autonomous aesthetic element in the overall montage construction than do other directors who work predominantly with the possibilities afforded by montage. Operatic motifs played through many of Kluge’s films well before opera itself became a motif. Verdi, Bizet and Wagner, dismantled into minimalised parts, run like a thread of sound fragments through his films, as do popular hits, male choirs, humming, warbling, tangos, marches and other musical material. The musical motifs suffer the same fate at Kluge’s hands as do the images and the script: they are a collector’s spoils,...

  6. Storytelling and Politics

    • An Analytic Storyteller in the Course of Time
      (pp. 271-282)
      Andreas Huyssen

      In aSpiegelreview of Kluge’s 1977Neue Geschichten(New Stories), his most voluminous and ambitious collection of stories to date, Hans Magnus Enzensberger said something that ten years later still has the ring of truth: ‘Among wellknown German authors Kluge is the least well-known’.¹ Least well-known in this case means well-known, but not widely read. It seems that Kluge’s unique versatility as film-maker and film politician, social theorist and storyteller has hampered rather than enhanced the reception of his literary works. Many people will have seen one or the other of Kluge’s many films, and there is a lively...

    • The Political as Intensity of Everyday Feelings
      (pp. 283-290)
      Alexander Kluge

      It’s a convention, so I’ve been told, that whoever gets the Fontane Prize for literature says something about Fontane. And it should be in the form of an address that should be in some way festive. I have in consequence ventured upon the title: ‘What Fontane says to us for example’. In doing so I wanted to stick to the ‘for example’.

      The consequence of this for me was that I first had to read Fontane thoroughly. It would certainly be easier for me if I were allowed to speak about Hölderlin, Kleist, Kafka, Döblin, Joyce, Arno Schmidt, or about...

    • At the 2003 International Security Conference
      (pp. 291-302)
      Alexander Kluge

      Curiosity is My Profession: A Scientific Manager¹

      In the rooms of the five-star hotel in Munich, where the conference halls are still adorned with the rounded arches and bulky curtains familiar from German films of the early 1960s, with Spanish trellises breaking up the view, a swell of voices reveals a wealth of languages and lively, acute intelligence at work. There is no mental labour in the absence of pressure. The pressure here comes from the fact that in just a few hours, the lobbyists will have to impart new ideas into the cooperative minds of the decision makers in...

  7. Television and Counter-Public Spheres

    • Raw Materials for the Imagination: Kluge’s Work for Television
      (pp. 305-317)
      Tara Forrest

      As Christian Schröder has argued in his review of Alexander Kluge’s television programmes, tuning in to watch Kluge’s work on late-night German television is akin to the experience of stumbling upon a literary bookshop in the middle of a red-light district.¹ Wedged between the pornographic films, crime thrillers and live competition and shopping programmes that constitute the regular evening fare on the commercial stations, Kluge’s10 vor 11(10 to 11),News and Stories,Mitternachtsmagazin(Midnight Magazine), andPrimetime Spätausgabe(Prime Time Late Edition) certainly strike the viewer as strange anomalies. Constructed, in a similar vein to his films, out...

    • Television and Obstinacy
      (pp. 318-330)
      Christian Schulte

      They are incompatible with the notions about genre that exist in television. The ‘culture journals’ of Alexander Kluge define themselves deliberately ascounter-productions, as draft projects aimed against the dumbing-down tendencies of the medium and the attention deficits that go with it. Instead of reporting on grand cultural events in the same old standardised forms, as is usual in other journals, Kluge opts for variety and interconnectivity (Zusammenhang). In a programmatic statement, he says that the point is ‘[to] develop forms that can survive inside this impossible situation which destroys expression. These will probably be short forms, but ones that...

    • Reframing Islam in Television: Alexander Kluge’s Interviews on Islam and Terrorism since 9/11
      (pp. 331-351)
      Tim Grünewald

      After 11 September 2001, a discourse that propagated a link between Islam and contemporary terrorism became dominant. One ideological foundation of this discourse is the assumption that the relationship between Islamic and Christian societies is inherently antagonistic. Perhaps the most prominent elaborations of this thesis can be found in Samuel Huntington’sClash of Civilizationsand Bernhard Lewis’sThe Roots of Muslim Rage. While the discourse of antagonism between ‘East’ and ‘West’ in the mass media has certainly taken on a trivialised form, it seems only all the more persistent. The question arises how one could challenge what has become a...

    • In the Real Time of Feelings: Interview with Alexander Kluge
      (pp. 352-362)
      Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, Giaco Schiesser and Alexander Kluge

      AD-M/GS: Since 1988 you have been broadcasting your own arts magazine,Ten to ElevenandPrime Time, on the private channels RTL and Sat1. What do you hope to achieve with these programmes?

      AK: In 1972, Oskar Negt and I wrote a book on ‘The Public Sphere and Experience’ in which we tried to analyse the forms of the public sphere. The independent public sphere – as opposed to the direct public sphere of monarchies – is a landmark achievement of the last three hundred years. Negt and I tried to anchor the concept of ‘public sphere’ in human experience, in life...

  8. Television Interviews

    • Character Armour and Mobile Warfare
      (pp. 365-368)
      Alexander Kluge and Heiner Müller

      AK: On the one hand you have a tractor as an invention, a caterpillar tread and machinery for hauling, it can travel cross-country and level out ditches and it can do things with the earth in a specific fashion, and secondly, you have a firing platform, an artillery emplacement that can move around, and thirdly a tank. If you take the components of a tank, what interests you there?

      HM: Why I’m so fascinated by that is a question I ask myself. Why am I fascinated by the word armour, armour-plating?

      AK: And also the workers that make it.


    • Jeff Mills: Godfather of Techno
      (pp. 369-377)
      Alexander Kluge and Jeff Mills

      AK: You said once that no new note is ever new in humanity’s melody, there are only ever new sequences.

      JM: You can’t really say that something is totally new and has never existed before. That means that something new only goes as far back as I can remember.

      AK: If you hadn’t been a musician, you once said you would have been a lawyer or an architect.

      JM: Probably. My father was an engineer, and there was this pressure to follow in his footsteps.

      AK: There’s a piece, X 102, that has to do with the rings of Saturn....

    • Tsunami of Emotion: On Puccini’s Tosca
      (pp. 378-386)
      Alexander Kluge and Joseph Vogl

      JV: Tosca is introduced through herfama, the reputation and fame of her voice [...]

      AK: The most beautiful singer in Rome.

      JV: The most beautiful singer in Rome, the embodiment of what might be called a violence of song, a centre of excitation spanning the gamut of all emotional registers, from tenderness and devotion through to passionate outburst, in jealousy for example. And with that she also shows off a spectrum of political noises, prompting the question: What does a voice do? How does it intervene in the business of politics, in the drama of political intrigues and machinations?...

  9. Early Cinema/Recent Work

    • Reinventing the Nickelodeon: Notes on Kluge and Early Cinema
      (pp. 389-408)
      Miriam Hansen

      Images from Griffith’s Intolerance, the French story, the rape of Brown Eyes, tinted blue, projected in cinemascope onto the background of an opera stage, under a ceiling painted with purple sky and palm trees; on the soundtrack, Giacomo Meyerbeer’sLes Huguenots;all this on a television screen. Uptown music video, nostalgic modernism, or postmodern collage? Kluge’s recent work for television continues the eclectic juxtaposition of found materials familiar from his films – montage clusters combining old footage, still photographs, magic lantern slides, popular illustrations, written titles, second-hand music, and occasional voice-over. While these nondiegetic clusters suspend the flow of the narrative...

    • ‘All Things Are Enchanted Human Beings’: Remarks on Alexander Kluge’s News from Ideological Antiquity
      (pp. 409-416)
      Christian Schulte

      On 12 October 1927, Sergei Eisenstein notes: ‘The decision has been made to film “Capital” based on the scenario of Karl Marx – that is the only possible formal way out’.² The intention is as clear as the addition is enigmatic. Eisenstein’s notes give little sense of how this titanic enterprise might have been realised. All he left us are keywords. A day later, he writes: ‘Here, we encounter completely new filmic perspectives, and the dawning light of possibilities that will be fulfilled in my new work – in “Capital”, based on the libretto by Karl Marx. In a film treatise’.³ Eisenstein,...

  10. Selected Bibliography of English-Language Texts
    (pp. 417-421)