«1944 I should have been born in Berlin, in the Virchow Hospital, but we left the city because of the bombing. I was born in Neutitschein, today Nový ...»
I should have been born in Berlin, in the Virchow Hospital, but we left the city
because of the bombing. I was born in Neutitschein, today Nový Jic ̆ín, at that
time Sudentengau, today the Czech Republic. We stayed there for only a few
weeks; we spent less time there than I have ever needed since then in order
to explain that Iʼm neither a Czech nor a Sudeten German. I have also spent
lots of time with the spelling of my name, Harun El Usman Faroqhi, until I simplified its spell- ing in 1969.
1945-1953 My father was Indian. He first trained as a pilot in Dessau; later he completed his first period of study with a Ph.D on The Hindu-Mohamedan Conflict from an Economic Point of View in Gießen, and then studied medicine in Berlin. My mother was German and grew up in Berlin. After her training as a foreign- language correspondent, she worked for a scientific society and then studied medicine for a few semesters. In 1947 we moved to India, where my father intended to settle down as a doctor. The civil war took us to different places.
In 1949 we moved to Indonesia where my sister Suraiya and I went to school.
First in Sukabumi, later in Jakarta; the school language was Dutch.
1953-1958 We moved back to Germany and lived in Bad Godesberg, a little town near Bonn in which only five houses had been bombed, where I attended a Jesuit School which was full of the sons of the economic and political elite. I saw my first Westerns and gangster films in the Burglichtspiele cinema. Other cultural experi- ences: 1958 in Cologne, the big Picasso exhibition; in Bonn at a school theatre, Thornton Wilderʼs Our Town.
1958-1962 My father set up a doctorʼs surgery in Hamburg. We moved into a terraced house and had a Mercedes. I saw the world premiere of Brechtʼs Saint Joan of the Stockyards. Things didnʼt go well at school. I went to a disreputable bar every day, and this helped me to rebel against my father. I ran away from home several times and wanted to be a writer.
1962-1966 I ran away once and for all, moved to West Berlin and, following the beatniksʼ example, I scraped a living with casual jobs and lived in various cheap flats. I also went to evening classes and finally took my Aʼleves. Occasionally I succeeded in getting a proposed review accepted for radio or a newspaper, less occasionally, a short literary text.
1966 This year I made my first film of three minutes duration for a Berlin television channel. (Zwei Wege/Two Paths). Ursula Lefkes and I got married. I was admitted to the just-opened Berlin Film Academy, the DFFB. I also got my driving licence.
1967 I was thrown out of film school with five other students after an intermediate examination. This led to a big protest by the rest of the students. In the following summer the protest movement swelled enormously and in autumn we were re- admitted for a trial year. That summer I travelled through Venezuela and Colombia for several months in order to have a look at the revolution and the guerrilla move- ment, but I didnʼt find them.
1968 For once in my life I was ahead of Godard: at the beginning of the year we disrupt- ed a festival of experimental film in Knokke, Belgium, fortunately not the films by Shirley Clarke and Michael Snow. In May my daughters Annabel Lee and Larissa Lu were born. I was thrown out of film academy again, this time with around 15 other students, because of political activity.
1969 My father Abdul Qudus Faroqhi, born 9 March 1901, died on 21 January 1969.
I made a short film with a budget of some DM15,000. (Nicht Löschbares Feuer/ Inextinguishable Fire, 1969). The producer at WDR, Reinhold W. Thiel, thought that the actorsʼ way of speaking and acting was not stylised enough, or stylised in the wrong way and proposed that all the actors should be dubbed by two voices. Night after night I edited the working prints into synchronised loops, which turned out to be far too long, as I realised when I did the sound recording in a youth film studio where I could work for free.
When the film had its premiere in Mannheim and I saw it for the first time on screen, I realised you could see my cameramanʼs girlfriend with her blonde curly hair who was taking a joyride in the aeroplane we hired to fly over Munich that stood in for a cropduster on a mission to drop pesticides over Vietnam. Critics blamed me for technical sloppiness and over- calculation. In those days things were changing quickly and a few months later the film was not regarded as awkward or cold any more; it actually gained a certain recognition, also beyond the anti-Vietnam War movement.
1970 Hartmut Bitomsky and I planned to film Das Kapital by Karl Marx; the first part, Die Teilung aller Tage (The Division of all Days), was completed in this year.
We read Marx and Marx commentaries and texts on semiotics, cybernetics, didactics and learning machines. Our programme: “to make film scientifically and make science politically.” 1971-1977 During the production of the second part of Das Kapital – Eine Sache, die sich ver- steht (15x) (Something Self Explanatory (15 x), 1971) – we overreached ourselves completely. Before our daily shoot, with very little money and a small team, we had to accomplish Herculean tasks; for example collecting a donkey with a mini van and pushing it up three steps, which was much easier than motivating it to climb down again. Once Hartmut had to push a dolly with one hand and hold a prop into the image with the other, while performing a voice over. Another time we had to push a car up a steep ramp, and do so this very quickly because we were filming secretly in the Academy, where we were banned.
Out of stupidity or courage we sometimes gave an entire scene of some minutes to an extra from the job centre. When the film was finished the comrades who belonged to political parties were bound to dislike it for the simple reason that their own party hadnʼt commissioned it; the so-called undogmatic factions found it not undogmatic enough: if anybody can be a revolutionary, then anybody can be a filmmaker. We had tried to protect ourselves from this kind of criticism with our scientific pretension. We had also speculated that with our work we could reach film people who were after innovation and that this would offer us a niche in the cultural industry. This calculation didnʼt add up. For the next few years we could almost only get casual jobs to make a living. To me it looked as if we were being punished.
We had tried to exploit the guilty conscience of those who had called for ʻrevolutionary filmʼ or had nodded in agreement, but they now didnʼt want to be reminded of their guilty conscience or their nodding.
It wasnʼt easy to do anything political in television, firstly because I didnʼt want to understand politics as simply content or discourse. I was looking for an advanced political practice as promoted by the Groupe Dziga Vertov or Tel Quel. For exam- ple I was against intercuts or shot-countershots.
For a while I tried an alliance with the proletariat in the TV industry, with the female editors and cameramen (in those days the former were exclusively female and the others male). I talked to editors and published our conversations in the journal Filmkritik. We discussed worker participation and how it should affect the quality of production. If such participation had been seriously attempted or actually achieved, it would certainly not have improved my production possibilities.
In the early 1970s the WDR television channel instigated a series called Glashaus, which included TV criticism. I contributed the feature Der Ärger mit den Bildern. Eine Telekritik von Harun Farocki (The Trouble with Images. A Critique of Tele- vision, 1973) in which I examined the word-image relations in daily broadcasts. It wasnʼt difficult to demonstrate that television images didnʼt show what the commentary inferred from them.
That language is the key medium and that images are only nominally supposed to depict what the commentary addresses. My critique triggered agitated debates in the television industry. At that time, public-sector television had no competition and a yearly growth rate that was almost equal to that of the overall economy. It employed a host of functionaries who dealt with the requirements of the political parties, the church and other lobbyists.
They also fielded the demands of the new political left, which was calling for new and different treatments of issues. But it was unable to deal with a critique of televisionʼs overall daily practice. And many people who were covering new issues (womenʼs liberation, reform of the education system) found my criticism unhelpful.
1977-1979 For many years I tried unsuccessfully to find the means for a film which would show that it was the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production that drove German industry into crisis and to Hitler. As Alfred Sohn- Rethel pointed out, they put Hitler into the saddle while they themselves were the horse. In autumn 1977 I started shooting with around DM30,000, which I had earned from other productions. Everyone in front of the camera received DM100 per day, everyone behind the camera DM50.
Sometimes we worked in comparatively luxurious circumstances: while the lighting was being prepared I rehearsed with the actors in Ursulaʼs flat, where the wardrobe was also located. But in the evenings I had to schlep heavy objects, convince an actress about our project – for four or five evenings, in the end successfully.
Shortly after completing the shoot, the body of the murdered Hans-Martin Schley- er was found. I had a gun in my flat which we had used as a prop, and in those days the police always came to a few hundred suspicious flats after a sensational event – they had also called on me a few times. In panic I got rid of the gun – but the police didnʼt come. After 10 years they finally knew who was using guns for artistic purposes.
After the filming was done I first had to do the work for which I had already been paid; and I hadnʼt kept in mind that you also spend money while youʼre earning it. Zwischen Zwei Kriegen (Between Two Wars) was completed in the summer of 1978, and working off its production costs lasted until late 1979.
But by then I had learned how to earn money. Meaning that I learnt how to make use of the big television apparatus. Later on I read that the 1970s were the Golden Age of West Germany, and I only learned at the end of the decade how to skim off some of the profits. I probably only had the courage to make productions which didnʼt fit into any programme because I was surrounded by such wealth and energy. From 1979 until 2000 I was able to make one production every year with television finance, sometimes two or three.
1980-1982 For Etwas wird Sichtbar/Before your Eyes Vietnam (1982) I received around DM300,000 from ZDF. Two weeks before the shoot in 1980 I realised what I hadnʼt admitted to myself for a long time: that I had sided with the Vietcong without dealing with the politics of the victorious communist regime and without mentioning the boat people or the detention camps. I cancelled, and wrote a new script. A year later we began to shoot. We filmed on 35mm and had 50 days on location.
1983 We had a few days shooting in a studio belonging to the magazine Playboy in Mu- nich, documenting how the centrefold with the nude girl was produced.
(Ein Bild/ An Image, 1983) Some 10 years before I had watched a make-up artist painting a bad injury onto an actorʼs body. She rolled some synthetic material into a small strand thinner than a tooth pick, glued it on in tiny curved portions, and this looked as if the skin had been broken open by a blow from a blunt item and as if the injured parts had swollen up – even before she painted on the blood. I thought it would be more appropriate to show how a wound is painted than to show a fight that results in a wound.
For a long time I had planned to relate the alienation effect not only to Brecht but also to pop art. I had the idea of documenting cultural-industrial production processes both at a distance and right down to the last detail with my camera.
I came back to this again and again. The first of this series is Make-Up (1973).
It shows in detail how a make-up artist paints a modelʼs face. Using a technique that was often practised in the silent-film era, he covers a womanʼs face with masses of powder, which he then rubs deeply into the skin. Through the addition of black or red tones he produces a strong effect of plasticity. He transforms flesh into marble, he fossilises female beauty – later on I used parts of this production in Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (Images of the World and the Inscription of War, 1988). Unfortunately I also staged a few things in Make-Up. The next title in this series was Single. Eine Schallplatte wird produziert (Single. A Record is Being Produced, 1979), and then later on also Stilleben (Still Life, 1997). In almost all of these cases we were keen to profit from the glamour of the studios in which we were filming, in many cases from their expensive lighting.