Friday, June 15, 2018

Sodankylä morning discussion: Dominik Graf

Dominik Graf and Olaf Möller at the Sodankylä morning discussion, 15 June 2018. Photo: Roxana Sadvokassova / Midnight Sun Film Festival.

Dominik Graf in discussion with Olaf Möller in English.
    The School, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 15 June 2018.

MSFF: "During Friday’s morning discussion Olaf Möller interviewed the German director Dominik Graf. Graf is a relatively unknown director outside German-speaking areas, since he has mostly worked for German television. Only a small part of his work has been made with cinema distribution in mind. Also, he is one of the rare masters of film who were born in the Federal Republic of Germany and worked actively there."

"Graf was raised in an artistic family and cinema was often present in his childhood – both of his parents were actors, although his mother later mostly concentrated on writing. The first film Graf remembers seeing was Dornröschen – Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Despite his family background, Graf was in his youth more interested in literature and music and started his studies in the field of literature. According to Graf, he even received an overdose of culture during his childhood."

"Despite everything, Graf did end up studying film and television in Munich. At the university he was part of the rebellious generation of the school. One of his close student friends was Wolfgang Büld, with whom Graf has later worked."

"Graf says that he got his early practical education while making minor television series early in his career. It was necessary to precisely know the different stages of the project and the effect that the director’s choices would have on the end-product. Artistic maneuvers were of secondary concern, Graf explains. This practicality was a large step for him early in his career."

"Graf started to get recognition for his work after making the film Der kostbare Gast in the late seventies. Soon came the made-for-television film Treffer and the television series Der Fahnder. His actual breakthrough came with the film Die Katze."

"What is it finally that made Graf so popular? Graf himself proposes that one essential factor was his rapid tempo. German films and series of the eighties were characterized by slow dialogue, but Graf decided against that. He made sure the dialogue tempo was more rapid and wanted the actors to speak faster. Throughout his career, Graf has paid special attention to dialogue – everything in a films centers on it."

"The final question concerning his desert island film made Graf think. Finally he decided on Nicolas Roeg’s psychological thriller Bad Timing."

AA footnotes:

Dominik Graf's father died when he was 13, and he went to a boarding school. In Munich there were many cinemas with exciting programming. There were two film schools in Germany. The Berlin school was political, the Munich school aesthetical. The school had a style. Everybody wanted to be Wenders. We were told not to use actors but Laien (amateurs). The students were interested in classical Hollywood, not nouvelle vague like me. An important influence was Robert Aldrich. He gave a class, we watched 15 films of his. He only talked craftsmanship. No mannerisms, just go straight.

Working in tv series followed, and they were the real school. There I really learned about film-making. Others told: just do shot - countershot. I made them as good as I could. I was faster, and my actors were faster. "First I have to think about the answer" had been the norm before. I became known as the guy whose actors talk fast. I knew that the actors worked at dubbing studios, dubbing rapid repartee in French and Italian. I knew they could make it.

The experience at Neue Constantin was in mercenary film-making. You needed to obey orders. I managed to insert some of my own style. When you know what you don't like and avoid that, it becomes a style. Hill Street Blues influenced Der Fahnder. I introduced corky characters. Doing the opposite to the Autorenfilm. Like Robert Altman we has simultaneous dialogue, like Howard Hawks had done already in the 1930s. In police movies the most fun are the office scenes.

In life the decisive moment is sudden.

A tracking shot could be extended with a zoom. The norm was slow and meaningful. I remembered the Aldrich law: it has to work.

Der Fahnder led to Die Katze. Continuing with other means. Götz George was the star of the decade. Die Sieger was my private Heaven's Gate.

FILM SCREENED: Der Weg den wir nicht zusammen gehen from Deutschland 09 (2009), an outstanding documentary on buildings from after the war about to be demolished in an action of "architectural euthanasia". Graf made remarks on "the other Germany". After years of West German takeover there is no surprise in the success of the protest parties of the vanquished.  Graf shot Morlock: Die Verflechtung there, again with Götz George, whom East Germans hated. Rolf Basedow the screenwriter liked people singing. Since the Wiedervereinigung I have lost some kind of West Germany. The takeover of the East still disgusts me.

It is very important in film-making to have continuity. You grow together. There is a longing for a family in this terrible business. A haven of warmth and safety. The film school was hard for me. I was an outsider. But it gave me teachers I can go against.

After ten years of composing my own music I decided it's too much pressure. I receive 5 cd's a week from unknown composers. In Düsseldorf I found really good composers, friends now since 20 years.

OM: Actors: what are you looking for?
DG: Life.
Awkward it can be.
Bad acting also possible.
But I want it explosive.
New actors: if you discover someone, the fresh period is getting shorter.
In a while they are only mirroring themselves.
Then my work is to lead them back to freshness.
There is always something erotic between director and actor.
I have to trust them immediately.
Most directors don't know what to say to the actor.
A warm and wonderful conflict is needed.

Klaus Wennemann (1940-2000), who acted in the leading role in Der Fahnder, had his cinema breakthrough in Das Boot. He was also the greatest language actor. Always grounded. Knew always what he was doing.

Language in the cinema is getting less important. Impressive images and sounds are sought. I didn't know anything about images. Nothing can substitute good dialogue. Dialogue is the action of the acting. Dialogues are getting worse in German films. German actors are bad in lying. They cannot play politicians. Trump is idiotic but true in lying.

Matthias Brandt took a step from the theatre to television. He became Hanns von Meuffels in the Polizeiruf 110 series. He loved the Derrick raincoat. I really saw him grow. He is undurchsichtig, opaque, quite good in lying, does not put his personality on the table. Boys with great fathers are always in trouble, and they have always something to tell each other.

OM: You are also an arbiter of taste in films. Including in Italian sub-dirt.
DG: Looking at films is a profession and a passion.
When I'm impressed I have to stop the film and return later.
I'm not a good series watcher.
Horizontal storytelling.
Im Angesicht des Verbrechens was based on a tree of stories.
In 2000 US tv storytelling changed. It is not my thing.
Der Fahnder: each episode told a little story.
In Im Angesicht des Verbrechens there was a broad tapestry.
Everything becomes smaller.
Mere storytelling is boring if there is no atmosphere.

Novels: the 1950s cinephilia emphasized that films are not like novels.
When Bondarchuk filmed the greatest novel, War and Peace, it became a tv series in four parts.

I have been offered great film projects that I did not take, even Stalingrad. There was not enough money. I turned it down twice. Joseph Vilsmayer shot a terrific epic street scene, an image that truly conveys it all. Why I turned it down had much to do with my father who was a war invalid of the Eastern front.

For the desert island I'd take Nicolas Roeg: Bad Timing, or maybe Eureka or Don't Look Now, but finally it would have to be Bad Timing.

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