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October 18 - October 26

Tales of a Wandering Camera – The Films of Ulrike Ottinger

The films of Ulrike Ottinger (b. 1942) are shaped by a fascination with place, a topical and topographical curiosity that drives their wanderlust across locales both imagined and real, from the fantastically spectral Berlin of the early Freak Orlando and the nostalgia shrouded Viennese amusement park of Prater, to the vast, remote steppes of Central Asia explored in Taiga and the busy banquet halls of present-day Seoul in The Korean Wedding Chest. Ottinger’s fiction films kaleidoscope a carnivalesque vision of the world, staging unpredictable encounters with a remarkably motley cast of “freak” outsiders – lovers, pirates, brigands, grafters and their adversaries. While Ottinger’s documentaries, in contrast, focus insightfully on the quotidian reality of everyday people, but are no less colorful and exuberant in their spirited exploration of the playful and poetic intersection of the traditional and contemporary.

Born in Konstanz, Germany, Ottinger spent much of the 1960s working as a painter in Paris – where she also studied with the likes of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Louis Althusser – before launching her film career in Berlin in the early 1970s. Ottinger’s earliest films grow out of her close association with various Berlin subcultures and art scenes and involved collaborations with such luminary figures as Tabea Blumenschein, as well as Irm Hermann, Kurt Raab and Magdalena Montezuma, actors central to the Fassbinder scene. International recognition and reknown followed her first feature film Madame X (1977), which especially drew the interest of queer and feminist critics and scholars in the U.S. To this day Ottinger’s films are held up for their radicalness, not only of narrative but also of their treatment of sexuality and of gender itself. A Renaissance woman, Ottinger writes her own scripts, frequently operates the camera and even designs the often elaborate sets and costumes showcased in her films.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and a massive funding crisis for “art cinema” coincided at the beginning of the 1990s to inspire a distinct shift in Ottinger’s cinema away from the theatrical extravagances of her early film work to a mode of carefully observed documentary. Yet uniting and cross-pollinating Ottinger’s documentary and fiction work are a set of running themes – a concern for the normative function of power and its ability to repress and ostracize difference; a nostalgia for the cosmopolitism of pre-war Central Europe; and a delight in the richness and beauty of “other cultures,” be they popular, archaic or simply non-Western.

This program is presented in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, Boston. Special thanks: Karin Oehlenschlager, Detlef Gericke-Schonhagen, the Goethe Institut, Boston; Roy Grundmann; Leonard van der Kujip, Margaret Lindsey, Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, Harvard.

Special Event Tickets $12
Sunday October 18 at 7pm

The Korean Wedding Chest (Die koreanische Hochzeitstruhe)

Directed by Ulrike Ottinger, Appearing in Person
With Kim KeumHwa, Boseong, Kim Minja
Germany/South Korea 2009, 35mm, color, 82 min. English and Korean with English subtitles

Ottinger’s fascinating documentary portrait of wedding customs in contemporary Seoul centers around the eponymous chest, its contents, and the important ceremonial role it continues to play in South Korean weddings. Ottinger’s visually striking film, which was commissioned by the Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, carefully locates the contemporary wedding industry at the very heart of the intersection of tradition and modernity in Korean culture. This screening is co-presented with the Academy of Korean Studies, Korea and the Korea Institute, Harvard University.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Monday October 19 at 7pm

Prater

Directed by Ulrike Ottinger, Appearing in Person
With Veruschka, Robert Kaldy-Karo
Germany/Austria 2007, 35mm, color, 104 min. German with English subtitles

The fabled Viennese amusement park, Prater, is the centerpiece for Ottinger’s meditation on vanished pre-war Europe and its fascination with machines and entertainment. Ottinger skillfully pieces together the park’s history, interweaving remarkable archival footage, interviews with members of the carnival worker families who are the park’s lifeblood and new fictional footage starring Veruschka as a latter-day Alice gliding through the Prater’s Wonderland. An intellectual thrill ride, Ottinger’s film makes delightfully unexpected turns with its harnessing of diverse writings by the likes Josef von Sternberg, Elias Canetti and Elfriede Jellinek.

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Friday October 23 at 7pm

Kim Novak and Jack LemmonJohanna d'Arc of Mongolia

Directed by Ulrike Ottinger.
With Delphine Seyrig, Irm Hermann, Peter Kern
West Germany 1989, 35mm, color, 165 min. German, French and Russian with English subtitles

Ottinger’s unusual melding of documentary and theatrical fiction opens with the kidnapping of an eccentric group of Trans-Siberian bound European tourists by a band of Mongols headed by its notorious female chieftain, Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia. Carefully bifurcated, Ottinger’s film contrasts the deliberate studio artificiality of its largely interior first half to the sweeping exteriors of the steppes that define the rest of the film. Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia offers a playful reflection on the liberatory nature of cross-cultural encounter, embodied in the budding romance between the Mongol brigand and a young Frenchwoman, while also marking an important intersection between Ottinger’s early art films and her subsequent documentaries.

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Saturday October 24 at 7pm

man unconscious in a carFreak Orlando

Directed by Ulrike Ottinger.
With Delphine Seyrig, Magdalena Montezuma, Albert Heins
West Germany 1981, 35mm, color, 126 min. German with English subtitles

Ottinger’s talent for staging extravagant tableaux and celebrating the subversively grotesque animates her celebrated fusion of Virginia Woolf’s transgender novel Orlando and Freaks, Tod Browning’s classic 1932 horror film. Following its hero(ine)’s magical voyage across distinct historical eras, Freak Orlandos episodic structure describes a world populated by outcasts inhabiting a thinly disguising Berlin. Described by Ottinger as “a history of the world from its beginnings to our day, including the errors, the incompetence, the thirst for power, the fear, the madness, the cruelty and the commonplace,” Freak Orlando explores the various ways in which socio-cultural and sexual “norms” have been demarcated, policed and transgressed.

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Sunday October 25 at 1pm

judy holliday and paul douglasTaiga

Directed by Ulrike Ottinger.
Germany 1992, 16mm, color, 501 min. Mongolian and Tuvinian with English subtitles

Ottinger returned to Mongolia to craft her incredible epic documentary portrait of reindeer herders on the far Northern steppes. While offering rare glimpses into the shamanic ceremonies, hunts, weddings and amusements that color the herders’ lives, Taiga uses its nine hours to resist any notion of the nomads as simply “exotic” by creating a fully immersive encounter with the Mongolians daily routines and rituals. Bearing mesmerizing witness to a world seemingly out of time, Taiga is ultimately a study in contrasts: between the vast steppes and the intimacy of the nomads’ private spaces, between the mobility of the nomadic life and the fixity of Ottinger’s camera, between pre-modern practices and their contemporary variations.


Ulrike Ottinger's Taiga will be shown in three parts, with Part 1 beginning at 1pm, Part Two at 5pm and Part Three at 8:30pm. One ticket will allow admission to any or all three parts; the box office will be open at the beginning of each part. There will be a 60-minute dinner break between Parts Two and Three.  Part
Three will conclude at approx. 11pm.

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Monday October 26 at7pm

Janet Leigh at a soda counterThe Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press (Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse)

Directed by Ulrike Ottinger.
With Veruschka von Lehndorff, Delphine Seyrig, Tabea Blumenschein West Germany 1984, 35mm, color, 150 min. German with English subtitles

Once again Ottinger borrows and bends a famous literary character for her own unusual purposes, turning away from a “straight” adaptation of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray to offer a fantasia on the theme of the media as surveillance. Ottinger’s Dorian Gray – played by the model Veruschka in drag – matches wits with none other than Dr. Mabuse, who has transformed from Fritz Lang’s underworld kingpin into an ambitious media tycoon, played by the incomparable Delphine Seyrig. Using her media network not just to control information but also to create it, Seyring’s Mabuse offers a technocratic, yet equally ruthless, variation of Lang’s criminal network.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700