– Autumn/Winter 2007

'The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible': On the Work of Ulrike Ottinger

Hildegund Amanshauser

At the end of Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press, 1984), Dorian Gray walks through the underground sewer landscape of Berlin and into the headquarters of the media group. Slowly he unties a packet and takes out a knife, leaps onto the conference table and stabs Frau Dr Mabuse, the director of the media group, in front of the assembled media representatives who were in the process of reporting their current circulation figures. In the next scene we are in a cemetery where a camel is leading the funeral procession. Frau Dr Mabuse bows before the grave: 'Dorian, for me you're still alive.' Next scene: Dorian Gray reads the headline 'Dorian Gray Dead' in the Daily Mirror and says to his servant, Hollywood,'Stop everything - I want to dictate the end of the story.' In the credit sequence Dr Mabuse speaks again and asks the question: 'Why did I always have to kill my most talented pupils?'

Ottinger's films, like all her artistic works, resist linear readings: it is not possible to tell the story of what happens in them because they do not follow a linear plot.1 Instead every frame of the film is carefully composed down to the tiniest detail as they interweave multiple layers of meaning. The films are full of references to literature, mythology, films, music ethnology and history; they are full of discontinuities and contradictions. Collage

  1. Oscar Wilde, quoted by Ulrike Ottinger in the screenplay for Madame X - An Absolute Ruler. Ulrike Ottinger, Drehbuch zu Madame X - eine absolute Herrscherin, Basel and Frankfurt a.M.: Stroemfeld and Roter Stern, n.d.

  2. Ulrike Ottinger, 'Der Zwang zum Genrekino', Kinemathek 86, Berlin: Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek, February 2001, p.40.

  3. See Ursula Blickle, Matt Gerald and Catherine David (ed.), Ulrike Ottinger: Image Archive, Nürnberg: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2006.

  4. See also Laurence A. Rickels, 'My last interview with Ulrike Ottinger', in Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour (eds.), On the Foreignness of Film, Cambridge and London: MIT Press: 2004, pp.422-36.

  5. An argument proposed, for example, by Viktor Misiano at the Lunch Lecture at documenta 12 in Kassel on 10 July 2007.

  6. U. Ottinger, Drehbuch zu Madame X - eine absolute Herrscherin, op. cit., n.p.

  7. 'Ein Werkstattgespräch. Die Collage ist die Form, in der man heute denkt, Ulrike Ottinger im Gespräch mit Peter Kremski' ('Workshop conversation: Collage is the form we think in today. Ulrike Ottinger in conversation with Peter Kremski'), Kinemathek 86, op. cit., p.289.

  8. Ibid., p.288.

  9. See www.ulrikeottinger.com (last accessed on 1 August 2007).

  10. 'Ein Werkstattgespräch', op. cit., p.281.

  11. Ibid.

  12. www.ulrikeottinger.com

  13. 'Ein Werkstattgespräch', op. cit., p.285.

  14. Ibid., p.165.

  15. Such as Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia, which Homay King discusses in this issue.

  16. Ulrike Ottinger, interview with Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, 2007, www.ulrikeottinger.com

  17. Ibid.

  18. Ulrike Ottinger interviewed by Jochen Brunow, Kinemathek 86, op. cit., p.107.