Mus.: Marc Roland. Prod.: Unda-Film. 35mm. L.: 181 m. D.: 6’ a 24 f/s. Col
It would be dead wrong to claim that there wasn’t any experimental filmmaking in 1950s West German cinema – yet there were almost no directors whose work was dedicated to formal investigation and experimentation. A paradox? Only partly, as almost everything worth discussing as avant-garde cinema was made in the realm of documentary or sponsored filmmaking, read: productions with a purpose other than showcasing beauty, dazzling the audience with images, lights and sounds. The auteurs who’d soon become known as the first wave of the Young German Cinema contributed to the cause of research and experimentation, if only as part of a bigger project of artistic renewal. Besides that, leaving the sphere of amateur filmmaking aside… well, there’s Franz Schömbs. And maybe really only Franz Schömbs: a loner of German art, a missing link between eras, an auteur too late and too early at the same time – and aware of it: his last finished solo work dated 1962 has the telling title Den Einsamen allen (To All the Lonely Ones).
Schömbs (1909-1976) started out as a painter and photographer whose main interest lay in abstraction, working with ‘pure’ color, and also the idea of color structures like the system developed by chemist-philosopher Richard Ostwald; in addition to that, Schömbs developed in interest in ballet – choreographed movement in time. Combining these interests led in the late 1930s to the first experiments with what one could call proto-cinema: serial paintings that viewers had to explore by looking at them while walking by them. Movement here was literally in the eye of the beholder. After WWII, Schömbs finally got into making films – to become Adenauer-FRG cinema’s lone link to Weimar-era abstraction à la Fischinger, a path the international post-war avant-garde would soon forfeit for other strategies. Schömbs was able to finish only three shorts totaling a clean half hour: Opuscula (1948), Die Geburt des Lichts (1957) and the above-mentioned Den Einsamen allen, each of which would in a different way explore strategies to create explosions of lights, unique experiences of choreographed movements, sound-and-image clashes with a most modern spirit. Which is also to say: Schömbs’ is an art of existential angst, a description of the battle between the desire for artifice and the dread of a world sans nature, all technology – the grand paradox of the age.