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52nd edition from May 13 to 23, 2020

Othon

Fortnight 1970, Feature film,

Synopsis

Straub examines the process by which events enter our cultural mainstream, and the process by which their use as part of a communications system is transformed into Culture. Corneille’s play of political intrigue in Late Empire Rome is used as a base. The text speaks of individual power games outside any social context. Straub perches his actors in togas on the Capitoline Hill in broad daylight. He treats Corneille’s words as an undifferentiated block of sound (the actors gabble expressionlessly), and interweaves it with birdsong, traffic noises, the loud splashing of a fountain. A dialectic is set up between the abstraction of the actors’ speech and the intimacy of their presence on screen; and between the actors as actors and the actors as play characters, between the actuality of the past and our use of it, with light and colour changes taking on some of the functions of intonation in speech. The film can be mesmeric or irritating: irritating if one tries to force it into fulfilling preconceived notions of plot and character, mesmeric if one trusts the film-maker to lead one into fresh areas of perception.

Directors

Danièle Huillet

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet form one of the few husband-and-wife production teams of any real consequence or true equality. Together they have created some of the most demanding and interesting films of the 1960s and 70s, beginning in 1963 with their short film « Machorka-Muff/Majorka Muff »). Straub ran a local cineclub in his birthplace of Metz, and later worked in various assistant capacities for such directors as Jean Renoir, Abel Gance and Robert Bresson, all of whom had an enormous influence on his work. He and Huillet met in 1954 in Paris and immediately became artistic partners. In 1958 Straub, fleeing conscription into the French armed forces, moved to Munich, Germany, with Huillet, and they soon became involved with radical theater groups in that city. Among Straub’s early collaborators was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who appears as an actor in Straub’s short film, « The Bridegroom the Comedienne and the Pimp » (1968), which combines the story of the murder of a pimp (Fassbinder) with a drastically condensed theatrical piece and a lengthy tracking shot from an automobile of prostitutes plying their trade on an ill-lit German thoroughfare. Perhaps the couple’s most famous early film is « Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach » (1968), which the director shot on the actual locations of Joahnn Sebastian Bach’s life, featuring Gustav Maria Leonhardt, the renowned harpsichordist, as Bach, and instruments borrowed from various museums for a more accurate sound. The film almost collapsed before production: Straub insisted on recording all the sync-sound on location, eschewing the use of any post-dubbing, to get the most natural and authentic performances from the ensemble of excellent musicians he had assembled. This horrified the original backers, who withdrew their funding at the last moment. Jean-Luc Godard came through with emergency funding, but the film had to be shot in black-and-white rather than in color, which Straub would have preferred. Nevertheless, it was a surprise hit at the 1968 New York Film Festival and remains a stunning artistic achievement. In « Chronicle », as in all his works, Straub insisted upon lengthy takes, which were used virtually without editing in the final film; some shots of nearly ten minutes duration appear in « Chronicle ». Coupled with the use of natural lighted austere sets and subdued performances, this minimalist shooting technique results in a an extraordinary sense of « place, » as if one is watching the incidents of Bach’s life as they occur, rather than a re-creation of them. Other early successes include an adaptation of Heinrich Boll’s « Billiards at Half Past Nine », which became the astoundingly rich and perverse film, « Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules » (1965). By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Straub preferred to function more as a producer than a director; often working in 16mm film, Huillet and Straub created such films as « Othon » (1971), « History Lessons » (1972), « Moses and Aaron » (1975), and most recently « Class Relations » (1984), based on Franz Kafka’s « Amerika ». In all these films, Huillet and Straub demand a great deal from the viewer, refusing to create films of easy visual reconstruction. Given the proper attention, however, Straub-Huillet films remain among the most haunting and visually resonant of the German filmmaking renaissance. Certainly the two are worthy of wider appreciation, particularly in light of recent attention paid to the works of Fassbinder and Wim Wenders.

Jean-Marie Straub

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet form one of the few husband-and-wife production teams of any real consequence or true equality. Together they have created some of the most demanding and interesting films of the 1960s and 70s, beginning in 1963 with their short film « Machorka-Muff/Majorka Muff »). Straub ran a local cineclub in his birthplace of Metz, and later worked in various assistant capacities for such directors as Jean Renoir, Abel Gance and Robert Bresson, all of whom had an enormous influence on his work. He and Huillet met in 1954 in Paris and immediately became artistic partners. In 1958 Straub, fleeing conscription into the French armed forces, moved to Munich, Germany, with Huillet, and they soon became involved with radical theater groups in that city. Among Straub’s early collaborators was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who appears as an actor in Straub’s short film, « The Bridegroom the Comedienne and the Pimp » (1968), which combines the story of the murder of a pimp (Fassbinder) with a drastically condensed theatrical piece and a lengthy tracking shot from an automobile of prostitutes plying their trade on an ill-lit German thoroughfare. Perhaps the couple’s most famous early film is « Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach » (1968), which the director shot on the actual locations of Joahnn Sebastian Bach’s life, featuring Gustav Maria Leonhardt, the renowned harpsichordist, as Bach, and instruments borrowed from various museums for a more accurate sound. The film almost collapsed before production: Straub insisted on recording all the sync-sound on location, eschewing the use of any post-dubbing, to get the most natural and authentic performances from the ensemble of excellent musicians he had assembled. This horrified the original backers, who withdrew their funding at the last moment. Jean-Luc Godard came through with emergency funding, but the film had to be shot in black-and-white rather than in color, which Straub would have preferred. Nevertheless, it was a surprise hit at the 1968 New York Film Festival and remains a stunning artistic achievement. In « Chronicle », as in all his works, Straub insisted upon lengthy takes, which were used virtually without editing in the final film; some shots of nearly ten minutes duration appear in « Chronicle ». Coupled with the use of natural lighted austere sets and subdued performances, this minimalist shooting technique results in a an extraordinary sense of « place, » as if one is watching the incidents of Bach’s life as they occur, rather than a re-creation of them. Other early successes include an adaptation of Heinrich Boll’s « Billiards at Half Past Nine », which became the astoundingly rich and perverse film, « Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules » (1965). By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Straub preferred to function more as a producer than a director; often working in 16mm film, Huillet and Straub created such films as « Othon » (1971), « History Lessons » (1972), « Moses and Aaron » (1975), and most recently « Class Relations » (1984), based on Franz Kafka’s « Amerika ». In all these films, Huillet and Straub demand a great deal from the viewer, refusing to create films of easy visual reconstruction. Given the proper attention, however, Straub-Huillet films remain among the most haunting and visually resonant of the German filmmaking renaissance. Certainly the two are worthy of wider appreciation, particularly in light of recent attention paid to the works of Fassbinder and Wim Wenders.

Adriano Apra
Anne Brumagne
Anthony Pensabene
Eduardo de Gregorio
Ennio Lauricella
Jean-Claude Biette
Jean-Marie Straub
Léo Mingrone
Marilù Parolini
Olimpia Carlisi
Sergio Rossi

Screenplay
Pierre Corneille

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