Have you ever heard of the saying 'Totgesagte leben länger' (Those declared dead live longer)? A suitable paraphrase for Austrian film, which has repeatedly been declared bankrupt artistically and financially and has turned surprising critics and audience into an artform.
It all started so well in the era of silent film with Carl Mayer thinking up the script for expressionist nightmare 'Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' realized by German director Fritz Murnau. Viennese born MGM star Hedy Lamarr took a giant step to fame by posing as the first nude women of film history. After several box office hits (among them color film 'Samson and Delilah') she retreated from public life only to surprise the world by inventing a device to remote controll tropedoes by frequence hopping during World War II.
The 1950s saw the rise of grumpy Austrian
comedian Hans Moser with his mumbled sentences, boisterous
gestures and his fondness of the ' Wienerlied' - a kind of Viennese
folk song. He often collaborated with German filmstar Heinz Rühmann.
Rühmann was cast as emperor Franz Josef in Ernst Lubitsch
kitschy 'Sissi' trilogy which heavily cashed in on the Austrian
intoxication with its last imperial couple. Empress
Elisabeth was impersonated by a young Viennese actress: Romy
Schneider, who later moved to Paris to escape the Sissi stereotype.
Her career in France was successful, too. Highlights were her performances
in Orson Welles' film version of Kafka's 'Der Proceß'
or together with Peter O'Toole and Woody Allen in 'What's
New, Pussy Cat?'. Her private life, though, was rather tragic with
lonelyness, mood swings and alcohol determining her later years.
Even though he has moved to the States for good, Austrian Oak Arnold Schwarzenegger is possibly the best known Austrian linked to cinema.
Reinhard Schwabenitzky is one of the more
successful Austrian directors today working for cinema and TV. One
of his greatest successes was the TV serial 'Ein echter Wiener
geht nicht unter' (A true Viennese won't go under) with famous
actor Karl Merkatz in the lead role of Mundl Sackbauer, a stereotypical
working class hero with a considerable gift of gab.
There is a certain tradition of whodunnit TV serials in Austria. 'Kottan ermittelt' was produced during the 1970s and 1980s and has enjoyed cult status ever since. Contemporary 'Kommissar Rex' with a smart German shepherd as charismatic police agent is immensly popular. It has been dubbed and exported all over the world.
Today, Austrian film production is based on two pillars: commerically successful comedies often a rewrit from a bestselling cabarett programm. Famous examples: 'Muttertag', 'Indien' or 'Freispiel'.
But there is more to Austrian cinema than
that: a young generation of directors and actors have scooped a
good number of international awards lately. Michael Haneke
has directed a good number of films with a malicious turn. If you
get the chance go see 'Funny Games', 'Benny's video' or 'Code Inconnu'.
His latest film 'Die Klavierspielerin' features Isabelle Hubbert
and is based on a novel by Elfriede
Barbara Albert turned some heads with 'Nordrand', a film that takes a close look on life in Vienna's suburbs. 'Nordrand' was highly successful at the Biennale film festival and made a star of leading actress Nina Proll.
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