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Werner Schroeter: Magnificent Obsessions

Saturday, January 19, 2013
6:30 p.m. The Death of Maria Malibran
Werner Schroeter (Germany, 1972)

Archival print!


"A creative perversity that bespeaks the presence of genius."—Amos Vogel

Schroeter, whose goddess was the diva Maria Callas, was inspired by the romantic fate of yet another mythical opera star, Maria Malibran, who, in 1836, literally sang herself to death, collapsing on stage. The Death of Maria Malibran, Schroeter's 1972 masterpiece, seems bent on emulating its eponymous heroine; the film is Malibran's passion, condensed. Magdalena Montezuma and Warhol superstar Candy Darling head a cast of women and cross-dressers who perform still-life duets in a series of theatrical, painterly tableaux; like moving statues, they evoke the gamut of romantic allusions with the slightest gestures. Theirs is a sensuality of the mind, in lamp-lit faces and silent screams. As always, when Schroeter's camera moves outside of these hermetic interiors, he manages to find the same rich colorization in forests and clouds, and to find "ancient" ruins in modern settings. The soundtrack weaves opera and Shakespeare, blues and country music (Marty Robbins singing"Carmen"?) into a tapestry of mock classicism and trashy modernism; dialogue is in whispered snippets, in English and German (no subtitles necessary). For Schroeter, it seems that male form flows into female just as mock passion flows into ghostly sadness. Thus it is no contradiction that, having dedicated the film to yet another fated diva, Janis Joplin, he has her impersonated by an enormous cross-dresser.

• Written, photographed by Schroeter. With Magdalena Montezuma, Christine Kaufman, Candy Darling, Ingrid Caven. (115 mins, In German with English soft titles, Color, 35mm, From Eye Film Institute Netherlands, permission film & kunst)