Alexander Kluge’s New German Cinema Classic


At The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.)



White Light Cinema is pleased to present Alexander Kluge’s rare New German Cinema film STRONGMAN FERDINAND (Der starke Ferdinand, 1976, 91 mins., 35mm on video).

Born in 1932, Kluge began making short films in 1960 and completed his first feature, YESTERDAY GIRL, in 1966. He was part of the revitalizing New German Cinema movement that also included Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff, and Werner Schroeter. Kluge was an ideologue, advocate, author, teacher, and one of the spiritual guides for a re-awakened German cinema. During the 1960s and 70s, he made several key, if little known in the US even today, works of the period, including ARTISTS UNDER THE BIG TOP: PERPLEXED (1967), PART-TIME WORK OF A DOMESTIC SLAVE (1973), and THE FEMALE SLAVE (1979), and participated in the omnibus film GERMANY IN AUTUMN (1978). He made his last feature in 1986 and has since been working in television and continuing to write.

More than others of his contemporaries, Kluge’s films frequently incorporated experimental, Brechtian, and other formalist techniques. He injected his films with disruptions to break the narrative flow. STRONGMAN FERDINAND, though, was his most conventional early feature. It is the story of Ferdinand Rieche, a former policeman, who becomes the new head of security at a private corporation. Rieche is obsessed with his role as a security expert: the narration at the start states, “This is Ferdinand Rieche. Security is his business He knows everything about it and will never understand that other people don’t.” Rieche thinks and plans. He reads books on Marx and communism to understand his enemy; he drills his guards endlessly; he conducts practice evacuations of the plant. But his obsessiveness about security begins to move from the practical to the abstract and absurd. He begins to lose himself in the idea of perfection.

STRONGMAN FERDINAND “is Kluge’s most straightforward film to date. It is the story of the head of a company’s safety guards, a former policeman, who ‘guards’ the objects entrusted to him before they are threatened. The film is an ironic parable on an atmosphere of exaggerated fear in the Federal Republic.” (Peter W. Jansen, The New German Film, 1980)

“Alexander Kluge's STRONGMAN FERDINAND is a bracingly prescient, humorous, astute, and understated satire on the obsessive culture of rote rehearsals, role-playing, and fear-mongering…” (Acquarello, Strictly Film School website)

“The dry, deadpan style of this social fantasy is counter-pointed beautifully by a camera that becomes lyrical: focusing on a full moon wrinkled by chimney smoke, or showing the security guards drilling on the beach at dawn and lit up in profile like a line of long-legged wading-birds. The harshness is redeemed even more by the character of Ferdinand himself, memorably played by Heinz Schubert. He is a small man who sometimes totters under the weight of his big mission. He is fond of cake and his blonde taxi-driving girlfriend, Gertie. They celebrate birthdays at midnight feast in cheap restaurants, and go on a winter trailer trip to practice for Christmas. ‘Christmas needs training or it won't work,’ Rieche says. He is something like Chaplin; something like Hitler played by Chaplin. The combination is unforgettable.” (Richard Eder, New York Times, 1976)

“The rumour that Alexander Kluge is supposed to have turned fifty recently is as persistent as that other absolutely ridiculous assertion that this very same Kluge got married sometime toward the end of the year! It is reported that he actually went ahead and had a private matter officially institutionalized by an official state institution. An absurd notion - several hours' worth of stirring movies by the filmmaker Kluge, as well as a whole lot of illuminating and stimulating prose by the writer Kluge, do document after all that it is one of his chief aims to call every kind of institution into question, particularly those of the state - if I interpret half way correctly - and if his work is not indeed even more radical, that is, designed to prove that basically Alexander Kluge is interested in the destruction of every type of institution. Furthermore - an anarchist just doesn't go and turn fifty, the age at which people celebrate you. Categories like that are meaningless to him. I mean, it is precisely rumors of this sort about one of us, serving the purposes of cooptation, that make various things clear, and at the very least remind us of the necessity of continuing to struggle for our cause and of the eternal danger of growing weary in the face of gray, streamlined reality.” (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Berlinaletip – special issue of Tip magazine, 1982)

View a number of Kluge’s early short films here.

Admission: $7.00-10.00 sliding scale.