Dear Readers ! 

This is an exceptional issue of Art in Society, the multi-lingual international art journal, because it is mostly in German. Much of it focuses on films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. In memory of Danièle, we have decided to publish a number of emails, occasioned by the news that she has passed away, that reflect the respect and love felt by artists and filmmakers for her and Jean-Marie. They were sent at the time to Doris Schoettler-Boll, an artist who died early this year and who is also greatly missed. In Bochum, many years ago, Danièle gave Doris the bouquet of flowers she had just been presented with by the organizers of a film retrospective focused on “Straub film.” It seems that they instinctively recognized each other as kindred, tender yet combative souls inspired by the same longing for real justice, real liberty and real equality.  Harun Farocki, another friend and soulmate of Doris and the Straubs, is not among those who sent Doris Schoettler-Boll an email expressing his sense of loss. He had already left us, before Danièle went for ever.

Then, there are a number of articles dedicated to a few films by the Straubs that were written long ago by Andrew (or Andreas) Weiland, a bi-lingual poet living in Germany who is also the founder of this non-commercial, irregularly appearing art journal. One of them, on the Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, was written at the time when the Straubs came to Bochum to show their films at the film club run by Sebastian Feldmann and others. It was the first encounter of Andreas with the filmmakers, but not the last one. The short text (in German) that he wrote in January 1969, is entitled  To see the world (and to make others see the world) implies changing it. The German sounds nicer, less wordy: Die Welt sehen (machen) heisst sie veraendern. The subtitle is: Straub Film: A First Impression. The text appeares in spring 1969, in issue  3/4  of the little film and poetry mag that Steven R. Diamant and Andreas edited at the time. There follow other texts by him, on Class Relations (Klassenverhaeltnisse) which were sent by Jean-Marie to Manfred Blank, on the editorial board of Filmkritik, and which Manfred was ready to publish after some editorial changes were made (which Andreas okayed). But they were rejected nonetheless. The Filmkritik was not the right place for poetic impressionism.

The poetic text on Empedokles, also supported by Jean-Marie, was partially published in Claudia Gehrke's Konkursbuch, thanks to the intervention of Barbara Ulrich.

Yes, and then there is, of course, that long poem triggered by the viewing of Moses und Aaron, the film that gave us back Arnold Schoenberg's opera, just like other films of the Straubs gave us back Kafka and Hoelderlin, enabling us to read these works in a way that makes sense today, that recovers and actualizes their “sense” because that sense was always critical, and intervening in the struggle for a world where man is no longer a wolf to other men, where the men-eating society that Lu Xun spoke of will belong to “pre-history.” Jean-Marie Straub translated that poem into French and got the Frenh and German versions published in an issue of the Cahiers du Cinéma largely dedicated to “Straub film” as intervening film, combattive “Marxist cinema.”  More recently, a Spanish author has translated the poem into his language.

This  issue is of course not exclusively dedicated to film, and not exclusively in German. There is Gene Youngblood, many years ago the author of a book on expanded cinema, who remembers his father in a poignant text, and also sheds light on the media that have largely marginalized filmmakers like Jean-Marie and Danièle, like Kenji Mizoguchi, like Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, Joris Ivens, Robert Kramer, Jean-Luc Godard – or that have relegated them to culture pages where they were quite often dealt with as examples of the “art film ghetto.”  No, none of them belongs in that “ghetto” – none of them created film as art in terms of films “for art's sake.”  And yet, Godard is correct in this, that “cinema for the masses is an idea of capitalism.” It implies large investments, stars and the star cult, the extreme commodification of the cinematic product, the desire to attain maximum results at the box office. It implies the spectacular, often the inane, and it caters to the most questionable, falsified and deformed “needs” and “desires” of the public. It creates shallow  myths, and despises clarity and the critical mind of the viewer. It despises man. Above all, it does not question things as they are. We glide towards an abyss, faster and faster, as ecconomic crises grow more intense, and follow each other more quickly, as society slides deeper into crisis and disintegrates, as the oikos (“house”) of all that lives – Mother Earth – aches under man-made stress and becomes a garbage dump, but they celebrate money and success and egotistical, “individualist” blindness: yes, that sells. Yes, that gets attention. 

We try to walk a different path here, as the filmmakers, the critical minds and intervening citizens we care for did –  we choose the narrow path (as the old saying has it), not the wide road, the avenue with sixteen lanes where millions of cars crawl forward to the abyss. The cities are illuminated as never before, the spectacle of lights drowns out the dark corners where families made homeless sleep in a crumbling, rusty old car parked in the cold night on the parking lot of a supermarket, and where returned GIs with severe psychic problems, an aged, handicapped man, an artist, youngsters on meth, sleep on pieces of cardboard, while a teenage girl walks past them, selling her body for the price of a breakfast at the cheapest McDonald joint.

If you're with us, stay on board, reader. You just go ahead, then: find out whether you would like to learn German and read things not available in English. And otherwise, yes, we hope there will be still something here, for you, in this small, modest issue of Art in Society. And if not, there are other fine attempts to intervene in the ongoing debates that try to call us to action, that try to wake us. Go and participate. We are with you, reader. We are with you, friends and citizens. We can change the world.

Karen Wittstock
for Art in Society


go back to Art in Society # 16, Contents page