Geschichtsunterricht (History Lessons). 1972. Italy/West Germany. Written and directed by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet. Based on The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar, by Bertolt Brecht. With Benedikt Zulauf, Gottfried Bold, Johann Unterpertinger, Henri Ludwig, Carl Vaillant. In German; English subtitles. 85 min.
An extended shot from a car coursing through the streets of Rome in 1972—which is to say, the ancient Republic in ruins—sets the stage for Straub-Huillet’s complex interpretation of Brecht’s unfinished experimental novel The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar. The work explores history as it has been written by the victors, with their hero worship of tyrannical leaders (whether Caesar or Hitler), and offers an alternate view of history writing as fractured and potentially revolutionary. Caesar’s former slave and former banker are both featured, providing their own differing perspectives on the Emperor’s career in the political, economic, and military life of ancient Rome.
Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (The Bridegroom, the Actress, and the Pimp). 1968. West Germany. Written and directed by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet. Based on Pains of Youth, by Ferdinand Bruckner and verses by St. John of the Cross. With Irm Herrmann, James Powell, Hanna Schygulla, Peer Raben, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 35mm. In German; English subtitles. 23 min.
Love is a tawdry transaction, and a coercive weapon of the ruling class, in this exhilarating, controversial product of the Munich Action-Theater, an immediate forerunner to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Anti-Theater productions of the late 1960s. Invoking the writings of Chairman Mao and the events of Paris 1968, Straub and Huillet cast Hermann, Schygulla, and Raben (who would soon become regulars of the Fassbinder acting ensemble) along with Fassbinder himself in this radical condensation of Ferdinand Bruckner’s 1926 play Pains of Youth, a single 11-minute shot that is subsumed within an intricately structured, 12-shot constellation of other quotations, including poetry by Saint John of the Cross and musical passages from Bach’s Ascension Oratorio.