Many movie fans see Munich as Germany's true home of film. With the 2018 Munich Film Festival in full swing, we talked to Munich Film Museum director Stefan Drössler about great films set in the Bavarian capital.
I meet Stefan Drössler at Jacobsplatz in the Munich city center at the Munich Film Museum he has headed since 1999. Amidst film cartridge spools, video cassettes, brochures, books, programs and film posters, as well as photos of actors and directors hanging on the walls, I asked the film historian about his favorite films that were set in Munich.
"I once did a big retrospective on Munich films, that's a topic that has always interested me... especially older films," he said.
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Drössler had, as it turns out, recently watched the film Liebe und so weiter (Love and so on) by George Moorse. "What a wonderful Munich film," he noted. "It's probably the one most beautiful document of Munich in 1968, showing life in the city and various locations."
With German-American director Moorse little-known today, Drössler considers some other important international productions set in the city. "There are three big films made by foreign directors in Munich, in which you see many Munich locations," he said.
Among these is Lola Montez, directed by von Max Ophüls, shot in the Bavarian capital in 1955; Angst by Roberto Rossellini; and Mr. Arkadin by Orson Welles.
"It's interesting to note that Mr. Arkadin and Angst were shot right in front of our door at a time when the film museum did not yet exist," he observed. "This is where the film Angst began; that's where Ingrid Bergman meets her extortioner," Drössler added, pointing at the museum's entrance.
Home of the New German Cinema
In the 1960s, when the era of the New German Cinema began, Munich was the true film capital of the former West Germany. The Oberhausen group of young revolutionary filmmakers like Alexander Kluge, and their associated production companies, were nearly all based in Munich. "That's why the city comes up in very numerous films of this era," Drössler explained. "Much more frequently than Berlin and other cities ... There are lots and lots of Munich films!"
Director Rainer Fassbinder grew up in Munich and established his unique film oeuvre in the city. "We did a retrospective titled Fassbinder's Munich," Drössler remembered.
However, this was no simple task. "When you take a close look at Fassbinder's Munich films, you will notice that he limited himself to very few locations. Fassbinder always tried to make timeless films in an effort to abstract things in terms of language and constellations."
As such, the city of Munich only came up as a kind of side note in Fassbinder's films. "There are mainly backyards, perhaps an underground station here and there, or some building in the background," said Drössler.
And what about Fassbinder's colleagues? Did they use Munich as a location for their films? While Werner Herzog was from the city, he didn't produce a single film that was set in Munich's city center," noted Drössler, recalling the director's penchant for exotic locations — like the South American jungle which populates Herzog's 1982 film, Fitzcarraldo.
Munich-based Wim Wenders did shoot in his home city, but he rather had American movies in mind. Drössler mentions, for example, Wenders' use of American vintage cars in his early road movies like Kings of the Road (1976). "But his debut film, Summer in the City, is partially set in Munich," Drössler added.
At some point, Munich as a film city ceased to be en vogue, said Drössler. "That's what was tragic about the Munich film scene. In the 1960s, the city...was the center of young filmmakers." But then, filmmakers like Wenders started to look afield to Berlin (Himmel über Berlin / Wings of Desire) and Düsseldorf (Parlermo Shooting).
Munich as a popular shooting location
Numerous foreign directors have worked in Munich's Bavaria Film studios, one of the largest in Europe, even if their films were not set in the city. Drössler lists Cabaret by Bob Fosse (pictured above) that was set in Berlin; Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz; Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg; Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming; and Billy Wilder's Fedora in 1978. Herzog also shot some of Nosferatu (1979) in the studios.
According to Drössler, Munich's studios were already used by filmmakers during the silent film era. "We love to show two important silent films that were originally produced and then restored here, namely Nathan the Wise and Helena," he said. At the time, Munich had designs on becoming a big film center like in Hollywood or Berlin.
But while German and foreign directors shot films in Munich without using the city as a location, the opposite has also been true.
One of the most famous Munich films, namely 2005's Munich by Steven Spielberg — which tells the story of the Palestinian terror attack against the Israeli delegation during the 1972 Olympic Games — was shot in Hungary and Malta.