Jürgen Böttcher - Short Film Programme Two

Jürgen Böttcher: Shunters Jürgen Böttcher: Shunters © DEFA-Stiftung Thomas Plenert

Sun, 03.11.2019

5:30 PM

Close-Up Film Centre

A programme that draws the connection between Stars (1963), Jürgen Böttcher's first group portrait of women at work, with his film of this kind, The Kitchen (1986). In between a summer excursion to a sandstone quarry where a sculpture is created is In the Lohm Valley. And finally, closing the short film programmes at Close-Up, Böttcher's poetic masterwork Shunters.

The screening will be introduced by Diana Mavroleon, who will be joined by Franziska Nössig and Martin Brady for a conversation after the film.

Böttcher’s first film to document women at work is a group portrait of an all-female brigade at the NARVA light-bulb factory in Berlin, where each worker examines more than 30,000 filaments a month through a microscope or a magnifying glass. They are “stars”, but not, as the opening commentary explains, of the kind one finds in the movies of the West. As in the later Laundry Women (1972, see programme 1), Böttcher shows much sensitivity towards the way in which the women interact with each other, the way they talk and joke to counteract the strain of their monotonous task. We witness a discussion about the advantages of working or staying at home after childbirth and see the GDR’s model of bringing babies to work to be taken care of by the factory nurse thus allowing the mother to work. Böttcher wrote in an essay dedicated to Stars: “l am interested above all in a sort of synthesis of personal and social documentation. I would like to realize films that, together with social truth, radiate special individual impulses, as we know from living - honest autobiographies.”
GDR 1963, b/w, DCP (35mm), 20 mins. With English subtitles.
In the Lohm Valley (Im Lohmgrund)
The Lohmgrund is a sandstone quarry near the Elbe in Saxony, providing the soft stone for the sculptures on many historic buildings in nearby Dresden as well as for sculptors, like the ones Böttcher and his camera man Thomas Plenert observed over a summer in the 1970s. We recognize Böttcher’s friend Peter Makolies, one of the protagonists in Three of Many (1961) (see programme 1), who is seen carving a figure out of a stone block with increasingly finer tools. But the film also captures the hard and dangerous labour of the quarry workers. Art is shown as the result of a patiently pursued skilled work process. However, an atmosphere of camaraderie and summery joy pervades the film, which harks back to Böttcher's own artistic beginnings in Dresden in the 1950s.
GDR 1976 - 1977, b/w, DCP (35mm), 27 mins. With English subtitles.
The Kitchen (Die Küche)
Once again, Böttcher presents us with intensive images from a work place, here the enormous kitchen of the Neptune Shipyards in Rostock, predominantly staffed by women. The film follows one shift from the early morning until the midday meal has been served, the kitchen cleaned.  As the day progresses, the pace increases culminating in the hectic serving of food to almost 5000 shipyard workers. Böttcher and his cameraman Thomas Plenert quietly observe this daily repeated dramaturgy, unobtrusively allowing the film narrative to be made up of the women’s actions, gestures and conversations, heard mixed in with the complex soundscape of kitchen noises. Filmed two years after Shunters, The Kitchen was Böttcher’s last study of the GDR work-industry-world and closes a circle of films that began with Furnace Makers in 1962.
GDR 1986, b/w, DCP (35mm), 43 mins. With English subtitles.
Shunters (Rangierer)
Böttcher’s poetic masterpiece, is a study of railroad workers during a long, cold night in a freight-yard in Dresden. Up to 1600 wagons per night have to be disconnected, moved, re-connected. The intuitive teamwork between Böttcher and cameraman Thomas Plenert beautifully captures the relationship between workers and machines; workers at risk under enormous pressure of accuracy; the combination of time, effort and skill. All this seems in line with the GDR’s ideal of hard, dedicated, and precision. But the absence of all conversation hints at Böttcher’s disillusion with a system that does not allow any free expression. If the men are not allowed to say what they want, why let them talk at all? Shunters thus is both a mesmerising, almost abstract study of movement, shapes and contrasts  - a cinematic ballet set to a soundtrack of concrete music (composed of the mechanical sounds recorded on location), and a wordless testimony of resistance.  
GDR 1984, b/w, 35mm, 22 mins. With English subtitles.
Total Running Time: 112 minutes
Diana Mavroleon works with experimental and documentary film. She is a programme maker for Resonance Radio, a founder member of European Media Arts Network and a correspondent for S.E. Asia. Currently, she is researching a documentary feature on: ‘The impact of globalization on the hereditary musicians of the Thar Desert in Western Rajasthan’. Diana is also a qualified bio-dynamic gardener and landscape/garden designer.
Martin Brady is Emeritus Reader in German and Film Studies at King’s College London. He has published on European film, music, literature, disability, architecture, and the visual arts. He translated Victor Klemperer’s LTI (The Language of the Third Reich) and works as a freelance interpreter and visual artist.
Franziska Nössig teaches in the German Department at King's College London, where she recently completed her PhD on Jürgen Böttcher. She has published on his experimental trilogy Transformations and has presented his films at the German Embassy London and the Weimar Art Society.