Michael Glawogger bei den Dreharbeiten von Whores' Glory (2011) © Maya Goded

Michael Glawogger

March 21 to April 29, 2024

"The theater is not a classroom, so there is nothing to learn. But there is a lot to see," goes an aphorism typical of Michael Glawogger (1959–2014), a filmmaker who was also a close, personal friend of the Film Museum – and not just because his wife Andrea Glawogger was the museum's deputy manager for many years. The Graz native did not only have a gift for making amazing films, he was also great at talking about them – including films by other people: His insightful manner of bringing to life and making tangible ideas and impressions rather than falling back on academic abstractions or readymade dogmas says a lot about Glawogger’s special cinematic talents, which we are honoring with a complete retrospective on the tenth anniversary of his death.
The expression thinking out of the box seems like the ideal description for this quality: Glawogger's ability to think outside the box allowed him to stand out among the filmmakers who played a key role in the international Renaissance of Austrian cinema around the turn of the new millennium. His witty and engaging personality was also expressed in his creative work, both in films and literature (as an author, he also displayed surprising unconventional entry points and fantastic ideas), in addition to the deliberate irony of the quote above: Of course there is something to learn where there is a lot to see, just not in the sense of banal didacticism, but in the sense of recognition. The desire to look and discover was a decisive driving force for Glawogger, his characteristic combination of humor and profundity clearly setting him apart from the "depressive realism" whose success had created a cliched image of his home country's filmmaking.
In his features, Glawogger relished turning this on its head, be it in comedies like Nacktschnecken (2004), where a current of existential melancholy is palpable behind the hilarious jokes, or in dramas like the idiosyncratic adaptation of the bestseller Das Vaterspiel (2009) with its unusual modernist angle. At the same time, his internationally celebrated globetrotting documentaries like Megacities (1998), Workingman’s Death (2006) and Whore's Glory (2011) did seem to fit within the popular line of world cinema known as made in Austria, but Glawogger's desire to look and joy in discovery let them a distinctive note: The untiring curiosity behind his artistic creation stood in stark opposition to the demands of a culture and marketplace that wanted simple (and empty) classifications. This led this unofficial documentary trilogy to be categorized under "globalization," a term Glawogger rejected (and personally struck from every synopsis, for instance in the press kits to his films): "it is one of those words that serves as a projection screen: Everybody uses it they way they need it at the moment. I think that globalization is not a clear word."
That Glawogger's open minded approach provoked resistance from the orthodox side was manifested quite clearly in this strand of his work: How could the "12 Stories of Survival" (as per the subtitle) in Megacities dare to capture poverty in such sensual and beautiful images? Glawogger responded by quoting Plato: "Beauty is the splendor of truth." Workingman's Death used the disappearance of physical hard labor in Western civilization as an occasion for an equally enthralling and stylized report on its present state on the margins of the world: Not with sentimental nostalgia but clear-eyed cynicism mixed with a historically conscious eulogy that calls to mind the Rolling Stones's hymn-like "Salt of the Earth" (whose music rights were impossible to pay for the soundtrack). In its comparison of different red-light districts in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico, the open minded and therefore seemingly politically incorrect portrait of sex work in Whores' Glory also conveys quite a lot about the contemporary nature of systematic exploitation under different economic and social conditions. One could (and can) see a lot in the film concerning the sanctioned functioning of monetary exchange and sex – and "globalization" too. But at its core, it is a film about love and its rituals, and in this way a quintessential Glawogger project.   
Glawogger's ability to cross borders with ease was already on display in his early student films, which can be discovered in this retrospective: in the 1980s, he studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and then the Vienna Film Academy, where, in short finger exercises (including brilliant miniatures like the three-minute Haiku of 1987), he jumped between experiment, document and fiction. His border crossing between feature film and documentary forms, still rather unusual at the time, led from the first long film Krieg in Wien (1989), co-directed with his fellow student Ulrich Seidl, to his solo debut with the Viennese black comedy Die Ameisenstraße (1995) and the unclassifiable collaborative compilation film Kino im Kopf (1996), whose title also provides a perfect guiding principle to Glawogger’s work. This pseudo-documentary compilation of films that other people "dreamed" also reflects Glawogger's diverse interests – he was not only a fan of every possible movie genre, but also of many other fields – from music to literature and even football, which led to one of the best sports films of all time. In Frankreich, wir kommen! (1999), Glawogger follows the progress of the Austrian national team in the European football championship: Thus the resulting film doesn't get very far into the competition, but that is why it touches the hearts of football fans all the more deeply. By bringing together true passion and the absurdities surrounding the football circus, a characteristic Glawoggerian web is spun: Popular cinema arising out of the spirit of non-conformist thinking.
In the same spirit we present a Collection on Screen in conjunction with the retrospective that contains a selection of Glawogger's favorite films, which run the gamut from avant-garde masterpieces and Bud Spencer/Terence Hill comedies to every genre and subject, expanded by several films in whose creation he played a crucial role. Here too, the main goal is to convey the surprising breadth of his enthusiasm and not to be held back by any rules. The variety is meant to correspond to Glawogger's own work, which in the 2000s increasingly expanded in every possible direction, even including the fabulous TV crime film Die Frau mit einem Schuh (2014).
The euphoric associative joy and playful inventiveness of Glawogger’s mind are perhaps expressed most clearly in Contact High (2009), the "sequel" to Nackschnecken, concocted with the latter film's co-writer and lead actor Michael Ostrowski—in a film whose title already evokes (transmissible) intoxication via drugs and whose motley mosaic seems at first glance like a tribute to the nonsense of the anarchic cinematic farces that Glawogger loved so much. Upon closer examination, however, Contact High is also work of precision in its surrealist-like arrangement of patterns and cross references that could compare to the classics of structuralism – except comically twisted together.
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