Werner Schroeter

The Museum of Modern Art, in association with the Munich Film Museum and the Goethe-Institut, presents the most comprehensive retrospective ever assembled in North America of the German film, theater, and opera director Werner Schroeter (1945–2010). Featuring 38 feature films and rare early experimental shorts, very few of which ever had theatrical releases in the United States, the exhibition also includes the New York premiere of Mondo Lux (2011), a documentary portrait of Schroeter by his longtime cinematographer Elfi Mikesch, as well as interviews conducted by Alexander Kluge and others.

The full measure of Schroeter’s influence on his German contemporaries, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Rosa von Praunheim, and Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, as well as Daniel Schmid, Ulrike Ottinger, Wim Wenders, and Werner Herzog, has only recently begun to be fully appreciated. So too his direction of actors like Isabelle Huppert, Bulle Ogier, Candy Darling, and his muse and superstar, Magdalena Montezuma, from whom he drew their greatest performances, inspired as he was, like Jack Smith, by the divas of silent-era cinema. Schroeter strove for an authenticity of feeling through extreme emotions, reaching a point, he said, of “musical and gestural excess.” He found this on the steps of an ancient Roman temple and on the streets of Manila, in a Pina Bausch dance piece, a fin-de-siècle Oscar Wilde tragedy, and a Verdi aria performed by Maria Callas. Making no distinction between kitsch and high art—travesty was for him a form of exaltation—he drew from a dazzling array of sources: Shakespeare and the Passion Play, German Romanticism and Italian neorealism, 19th-century opera and Arab pop, Jean Genet and Douglas Sirk, fashioning out of these a densely woven, ravishing, and often hallucinatory collage of images, songs, and fragmentary narratives organized around musical structures.

Fassbinder anticipated Schroeter’s belated recognition when he wrote in 1977 that “Werner Schroeter, who will in years to come assume a place in film history similar to one I would describe in literature as somewhere between Novalis, Lautréamont, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, was for 10 years an ‘underground’ director, a role one did not want to let him slip out of. The great filmic vision of Werner Schroeter’s world was constrained, repressed, and at the same time ruthlessly exploited. His films received the quite useful ‘underground’ pedigree, which rendered them in a flash as beautiful, but nonetheless exotic plants, ones so far away which blossom in such a strange manner that one in the end could not really deal with them. And ultimately, that goes without saying, also did not have to deal with them. And precisely that is just as simple as it is wrong and stupid. Because Werner Schroeter’s films are not far away; even if they are beautiful, that still does not make them exotic. On the contrary.” No less admiring was the French philosopher Michel Foucault, who wrote that “what Schroeter does with a face, a cheekbone, the lips, the expression of the eyes…is a multiplying and burgeoning of the body, an exultation.” All films lent by the Munich Film Museum and courtesy Monika Keppler, except where noted. This exhibition is organized by Stefan Droessler, Director, Munich Film Museum, and Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.  Presented in association with the Goethe-Institut New York.

The exhibition is made possible by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art.