Starting next week, the Harvard Film Archive is showing a retrospective dedicated to one of Germany’s most original cinematic minds. “The Passions of Werner Schroeter” covers four decades of idiosyncratic, contrary filmmaking by the titular director who died in 2010.
The season opens on Friday with Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972), a bizarre, challenging yet ultimately inspiring work which processes Schroeter’s obsession with opera, particularly its tragic heroines and the tragic prime donne who embody them. Here opera is rendered as if in the fever dream of a dying diva or besotted fan thereof – fragments, poses, expressions, gestures, moments, tableaux. Malibran, a mezzo-soprano who worked herself into an early grave, is played by Schroeter regular Magdalena Montezuma, with Warhol superstar Candy Darling and Ingrid Caven – the Dietrich of post-war German auteur cinema – also featuring.
This event is excuse enough to direct you, if you’ve not been already, to UbuWeb – the enormous online archive which trawls the last century or so of avant-garde artistic production to preserve sound, vision and text which would otherwise go unheard, unseen and unread. There – among thousands of other things – you will find Der Tod der Maria Malibran (without subtitles, but there isn’t all that much spoken text, and some of it is in English).