Interview with Jutta Brückner
Recognizing collective gestures

by Marc Silberman

from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp. 46-47
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005


Born 1941, Jutta Brückner studied political science, philosophy and history (Ph.D.). She has had no formal training in film, and also scripts for Völker Schlöndorff and Ula Stöckl.

1975: TUE RECHT UND SCHEUE NIEMAND (DO RIGHT AND FEAR NOBODY) 60 min., l6mm, b/w, dist: Unidoc (Munich) and Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (Wash. D.C.). The story of Gerda Sipenbrink is told by means of still photographs covering the years 1920 to 1975, in order to illuminate the interaction of history and biography in the life of a woman who is seen as a product of petty bourgeois upbringing.

1977: EIN GANZ UND GAR VERWAHRLOSTES MÄDCHEN. EIN TAG IM LEBEN DER RITA RISCHAK (A FULLY DEMORALIZED GIRL. ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF RITA RISCHAK) 80 min., 16mm, b/w and color, dist: Unidoc (Munich) and Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (Wash. D.C.). Rita Rischak presents her life as a story of victimization in her work, by her parents, by men and by her child. Both her demoralization and the forms of her revolt are determined by the social pressures on her.

1979: HUNGERJAHRE (YEARS OF HUNGER) 100 min., 35mm, b/w, dist: Basis Film (Berlin). Set in the sexually and politically restrictive fifties, the film reconstructs the memories of an adolescent girl who refuses to become a woman. She finds herself so alienated from her body and her emotions that she finally attempts suicide.

1980: LAUFENLERNEN (LEARNING TO WALK) 88 min., 16mm, color, dist: Basis Film (Berlin). A forty-year old woman begins to think about her life and her dreams after she learns that she may have cancer. Although the test turns out negative, the process of self-reflection leads to the conclusion that she has not yet lived. Radical change at her age, however, is no easy matter.

Film Projects:

  1. a half-hour essay film on Germany as part of a German-French omnibus project by six women filmmakers (LES FILLES HÉRÉDITAIRE)

I have been writing a long time, and I always find myself stumbling over the threshold of realism. When I point a camera out the window, I get a shot of the house across the way and a car. Yet if I try to describe a house or car verbally, I usually founder because the external world confuses, at times even threatens me. Film has saved me from this threshold of realism, for everything that could not be described verbally was simply in the film image. Thus, I can work with pre-given material. A disrupted relation to the external world and to objects — which emerge so clearly in every female neurosis and latently in so many women's biographies — will not be displaced through description, nor simply by filming the external world. Yet the public production of space as is found in film opens up completely new opportunities to develop what has been maimed and to release what has been repressed. Film can integrate and release women's collective neuroses and maimings differently than literature does, because film creates a public space for experience.

My films are all autobiographical. Autobiographical motivations counter the false generalizations into which we have been molded for years. These generalizations are false for men too; they simply don't realize it. We women tend to notice them more because our individuality simply cannot be contained within these generalizations. We must not just constitute images out of the small banalities of daily life. To do only that is false realism. Rather, we must find new forms to narrate private life, to recognize collective gestures in the most banal ones. For example, the way a wife hands her husband a cup of tea in the morning. To what extent does this collective gesture destroy me because it has nothing to do with me and makes me into a trained dog? I am trying to disrupt the habitual ways in which people see.

As to a particular relation between feminism and film form: woman's historical and cultural oppression does not just reveal itself not only in our familiar exclusion from the forms of exchange in a public sphere erected by men. Also it especially reveals itself in the deformation, renunciation and incapacitation of our physical integrity and perception. This has most clearly affected sexuality, but also looking. Through the look, a person establishes space relations, and without space there is no time. Space-time-looking mean something else to women than to men. In film especially, these three elements of perception come together. Moreover, film allows us women to represent our disrupted physical integrity, whereas literature restricts physical presence to the imagination. In filmic representation, a vision of what undisrupted physical integrity might be emerges. And that vision presents itself not only to our imagination but also to our looking. Film for me offers the sole medium in which we can explore our collective labor of mourning for the cultural paralyzing of our bodies, our eyes, and our space-time relations. The goal: recuperating the means to reconstruct symbolically. This throws into question filming's own premises. Film becomes filming’s content, not as the burden or joy of a tradition, within which you are confined to sitting for hours in movie theatres. It’s not as "real life," the way the French New Wave formulated it. I mean recuperating our capacity to look.

This has nothing to do with a specific style. There is no one feminist style. Nor can stylistic "innovations" be introduced like exotic commodities or clothes fashions. I am talking about new questions and new points of departure.

TUE RECHT UND SCHEUE NIEMAND is a film about my mother, an historical film. I compiled photos by August Sander, from photo agencies, from history books and scrapbooks, with the intent of showing that this woman — Gerda Siepenbrink — is not a person in her own right. Rather she lives under the collective term "someone": "one should do this" or "one should do that." I did not choose photos of only Gerda Siepenbrink's family, which would have made only a fictional narrative in stills. I show a general image which a whole class devises for itself. Thus, I never come to the point of telling a story. Instead I focus on the damage caused to this woman by her class-bound upbringing. The film is done with much love.

You might wonder why I chose this specific form. August Sander's photographs first impelled me to make a film consisting of stills. If I want to depict history, I must demonstrate that people at that time had distinctive attitudes. For instance, look at this photo (a doctor with his wife in Monschau an der Eifel). Their pose expresses a very specific attitude, a certain stylization, an attempt to project an image of themselves. I feel Sander caught this petty bourgeois comportment with its unmistakable traits so well that, were I to try to reproduce it with actors who used period gestures, it would become a matter of makeup and costumes. I want to show how the individual and his/her social class mutually condition one another and how consciousness is formed. This kind of film is really only possible with documentary material. At the same time, though, it was an attempt to tell an individual person's story with very disparate material, such as pictures of families and mothers.

EIN GANZ UND GAR VERWÄHRLOSTES MADCHEN was conceived as a fictionalized documentary. A personal story is interrupted by summary statements in which the young woman accounts for her development, particularly for the four central influences in her life: her attitude toward work, toward men, toward her parents and toward her child. The woman (Rita Rischak, a personal friend of mine) plays her own life. It is not so important here that situations from her life are staged, but rather that she lives her life precisely this way. She acts out life as she acts in the film. In her life, she acts as poorly as in the film. In this film, she invents roles just as she does her identity in life. Her role playing is interrupted, however, when she speaks her own commentaries directly into the camera, to the viewer. She addresses the viewer as "you" (with the familiar form du). For that reason it is a documentary film which, for long segments, resorts to forms of the fiction film.

The narrative is once more interrupted, for the entire film is in black and white except for the last five minutes in color. Here, in images modeled after advertisements, with text bubbles as in cartoons, a life is told as she would fantasize it. It is the dream of a petty bourgeois life and in each picture there is a man. Prince Charming or the Savior places life at her feet without her lifting a finger.

Nothing is offered as a counterbalance to this false utopia. I feel that its counterbalance must occur in the viewer: recognition of one's own situation. The film achieved that, even though some viewers became terribly aggressive. Many women viewers were sensitive to this young woman's inability to relate to others, to create meaningful bonds. They understood her fear of being hurt, which from the beginning led her to say, “Get lost!" That has nothing to do with social or legal conditions for emancipation, but rather with our conditioning to a certain kind of self-destruction. I show that we have to seek out the sources of these mistakes, not only in the social system (although that accounts for part of the problem), but also in what really lies in us. I show what has to be changed in us. That elicited some viewers’ aggression.

I conceive of my films unmistakably for women, not for men. The men don’t get off very easily. But I also don't think we are obliged to be objective at this time. I think we should first figure out exactly where we are and learn, for example, to articulate hate. Most of us can't let anger out for fear of punishment, of being denied love because of our hate. If men too find an echo of their problems in my films, naturally I would be happy.

In my films I try to bewilder, disturb, and irritate. You can have seven murders in a film, you can show someone being chopped to pieces. But just don't show a sanitary napkin as I do in HUNGERJAHRE because then everyone will feel embarrassed. No one wants to see it, so everyone forgets it, pushes it from view. “You don't have to show everything. It's enough to suggest something." No, it is not sufficient to suggest; I want to show. We are confronted with images of women everywhere: mother, rosy lovers, or deceived wives. But a large part of female reality (which this napkin only represents) is not shown. Nor is the way in which we are trained to have an alienated relation to our body, to ourselves.

In my new film HUNGERJAHRE I try to show how a girl is forced to the brink of suicide. At the beginning she is bewildered because she is no longer permitted to like what she is. Gradually it leads to a more general bewilderment, expressed by her constant eating. She tries to consume everything, despite the title, until she is forced into silence and finally suicide.

This film is an attempt at a psychoanalytic cinematic form. The problem concerning me is the relation between the individual and society, a central issue of the women's movement that also implies the question of film content. As to the form, I try to work with newsreels and photos and with sound structures that introduce anonymous consciousness as anonymous voices. Someone remembers experiences from the past but not in the linearity of a narrative sequence. The images are disparate and uncoordinated, juxtaposed just as memory progresses by leaps and associations. I don't like to reproduce reality as if history were simply a costume party. I am trying to suggest the complexity of a whole period, of the fifties, by letting it speak for itself.

I discovered my own subjectivity by means of a long detour on a highly theoretical road through reading books about psychology, psychoanalysis, and social psychology, and, at the same time, in experiencing a deep, uncomprehended crisis. I experienced my subjectivity as alienation, as failure, as deficiency. For a long time I was unable to connect my intellectual schemes with the incomprehensibility of my lived process, although they influenced each other. The theoretical concepts helped me see more lucidly. I did not let them swallow up my lived experience but corrected them through it. Because of this personal history, I believe my understanding (not my concept!) of my own subjectivity may differ significantly from that developed by many others in the women's movement. Abstract, theoretical knowledge is very important to me. I don't consider scholarship and science a male conspiracy aimed at oppressing women.

My own subjectivity is also the result of a long cultural process. It is constituted by the history of the Western world. Women's turning point will not be found by starting at zero but by becoming conscious of this connection and emerging from unarticulated malaise. My subjectivity does not consist of negation — a position the student movement sometimes maintained. As a woman emerging from a male-dominated culture, the more I'd negate myself (as woman), the deeper I'd sink into the situation that women have known for centuries and that we, for the first time, have a chance to escape. Today negation serves men differently from women. Women cannot give up something which they have never possessed: access to a sphere of reality beyond the household. I also don't believe that my subjectivity can exhaust itself in political action. On the contrary, political action constitutes my subjectivity only insofar as it offers space to subjectivity and enters into that subjectivity. Political activities become "political" for me when they facilitate women's process of coming into subjectivity.