In 1994, you made the rather bizarre horror/fantasy-movie Tief
Could you tell us in a few phrases what that movie's about?
think you've covered it beautifully in your synopsis (click
here), I doubt I can do better. [Thanks - the editor.]
Eisenerz-region in the Styrian Alps plays a large part in your film. What
are your personal links to the region?
My second movie, Auf
Erz gebaut (1984), was a historical docu-drama about Eisenerz. For a
long time, the region has been important for the economy and identity of
Inner-Austria alike. The iron bread was a Styrian landmark even
during the reconstruction after World War II, and the decline of Eisenerz
is a pretty good metaphor for the decline of heavy industry in our country
as such. In the office of the Styrian gouvernor once hung a painting by
Boeckl showing the Erzberg in flaming colours ... maybe it's still there
even. Anyways, the open cast mining at the Erzberg is still an impressive
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How much of your script is based on actual
folklore, and what have you made up yourself?
At the time
of the counter-reformation, there actually lived a legendary and ingenious but
also allegedly very greedy scientist and builder called Gasteiger. Iron
flower cases and the cult concerning iron flowers are genuine
Eisenerz-traditions, though I'm not sure whether to find that touching or
plain kitsch. Other than that ...
Apart from folktales from
Eisenerz, what were your main inspirations?
influence were classic horror movies and their structures - the crime
against the monster that will resurface, destroyed innocence that leads to
punishment, the deeper meaning of seeing ... you can look all of this up
in Mindscreen by Bruce Kawin or Planks of Reason by Barry
Grant. Apart from that there were of course also fairy tales like Little
Red Riding Hood, where the naivity changes into irony. And of
course, one mustn't forget the Orpheus-motive ...
How did you
come up with the ingenious idea of having zombies doing nothing more than
slowly walking through the landscape and standing in everybody's way?
in World War II, Eisenerz housed a branch of Mauthausen ... Plus, towards
the end of the war, a group of prisoners on their way over the Präbichl
was shot there as well. I actually planned a concentration camp-like scene
in which the extras were to appear naked - but when we were about to film
it, they just refused to undress, and after I undressed to show them how
banal this is, I was actually the only one who did the scene naked. I was
so enraged at that point I didn't even feel the cold. Deep
Above as such didn't touch the folks from Eisenerz too deeply, but
after my undressing act, I enjoyed a certain notoriety there for a time.
the zombies in the film are something like the burden of history, at the
same time though they illustrate the question of how all of the dead are
able to find
room in heaven and hell.
band H.P.Zinker, a big name in the Austrian independent scene back in the
day, and especially their music plays a big role in the film, is pretty much part of Deep
Music was vital for the Orpheus-motive
of the film. Apart from that, back then The Commitments was going
strong, a film which I wasn't alone in liking. Back then, I also produced
music with three different bands, but unfortunately that all led to
How did the collaboration between you and
H.P.Zinker happen in the first place, and
were they involved in the project from the beginning?
I was pretty much at a loss about the music - until I heard a tape by
H.P.Zinker in a friend's car - and I knew right away that's it. We
immediately contacted bandleadeer Hans Platzgumer via phone, and caught
him right before his departure from New York for Vienna, where the band
was playing a concert, then had a talk before they left for Tyrol ...
I don't see it so much as a finale in the
tradition of the musical, but more as a symbol of music, of art conquering
death ... and conquering life, since it's a part of death (or vice
versa?). It's the cheesy, sugary sweet, happy ending of a malicious story.
And then there's of course horror icon Barbara
Steele [Barbara Steele
bio - click here] - what made you cast her in the first place, how did the
collaboration come into being, and how was it working with her?
knew her from the films of Mario Bava [Mario
Bava bio - click here] and of course from Federico Fellini's 8½.
After we managed to get her phonenumber, it actually wasn't too much of a
problem to get her. I wasn't too comfortable with the fact that she went
through Eisenerz on her own on her days off, but we simply couldn't affort
someone to accompany her.
On set, she was very competent and helpful.
There was only one little problem when we wanted to film her from below lying in a
hammock. She insisted that this angle was not flattering at
all, and thus kept the crew waiting forever. In the end, she didn't look
bad at all from that angle, but she might have been right still.
few words about the rest of your cast?
Jürgen Goslar and
Gerhard Balluch were already in my earlier film Fegefeuer/Purgatory
The former was a big star on TV when I was a kid, and the latter still is
a very intelligent and popular actor in Graz. Kathy Wressnig was also in Purgatory
previously, but had since moved to the USA, so we only asked her when we
couldn't find a proper actress here. Peter Simonischek had just returned to
Vienna from Berlin. It was tough to get him to Eisenerz, but once he was
there, everything worked just fine.
Shortly after its
premiere, Deep Above,
certainly one of the most unusual and most entertaining films of Austrian
cinema, pretty much disappeared without much of a trace. Why?
possibly, I'm not the right person to answer this. It is a fact though
that modern, self-reflexive Heimatfilms do notoriously badly at the
box office. And my analytic, deconstructive access to horror, with kitsch
replacing gore, irony instead of spectacle, disappointed genre fans. It
was too little H.P.Zinker for H.P.Zinker fans, too little horror for
horrorfans, and the intellectuals didn't get my hidden political agenda.
And then everybody expected something closer to my earlier film Purgatory.
And so on ...
Before Deep Above, you made Fegefeuer/Purgatory
in 1988, a biopic about the
Austrian real-life serialkiller Jack Unterweger. A few words about this
film, and how much was Unterweger, whose autobiography this
film was based on, personally involved with the project?
published his autobiographical novel while he was still in prison, and the
book, his best, became quite a success. I hoped to turn it into a movie.
Initially, I had hoped to write it together with Unterweger, sending stuff
to and fro (this was in a time before email). But it wasn't long after I
had visited him in prison that his version of the screenplay arrived in
finished form - it was just not suitable for our purposes. Ultimately, I
wrote another screenplay with Bernhard Seiter and sent it to Unterweger
for approval. It was difficult inasmuch as Unterweger wouldn't talk about
plenty of what had really happened, so to make up for that we had to build
a dynamic structure around a silent, slightly empty center.
arrived at the premiere in a white suit and handcuffs. It wasn't until
later, after he had been released from prison, that he claimed we tricked him, and I
think most journalists believed him, too ... until it turned out that he
had in the meantime become a serialkiller.
What can you tell
us about your cinematic endeavours prior to Purgatory?
my formative years (20 to 40), film technology was sill analogue, but
narrative structures were modern and diverse. I worked at the university,
but my university was the cinema. As an amateur from the provinces I
dreamed about making a movie. Together with my friend, author Paul Alfred
Schmidt, I ultimately shot Facts & Madness, then a documentary
about dog training (Hundeliebe), and finally my docudrama about
Erz gebaut) ... and so on.
to my information, Deep Above
was your last film as director. What have you done since then?
events, exhibitions, documentaries, a little feature called Hanns durch
die Zeit ... and I wrote a lot.
you return to movie-directing?
Yes, definitely. With Paul
Alfred Schmidt, I am just writing the final draft of a screenplay set in
India, about a filmcrew that accompanies a travelling theatre group that's staging
the Ramayana, the Indian national epic. On their journey though,
the filmcrew loses one recording device after the next - theft, technical
fault, etc - and this is why the film gets more and more rudimentary, the
longer it runs. In the end, you are actually only hearing offscreen sounds
while the screen has gone black ...
Directors who have
This changes, also changes with what you're
working on. When I was doing Purgatory, I was influenced by film
noir directors like Tourneur and also Melville, while Deep
Above was strongly influenced by Mario Bava [Mario
Bava bio - click here], the Hammer-gothics
(especially Terence Fisher's films), and Pressburger/Powell, who had their
own problems with Peeping Tom, actually.
And perennial faves?
There are so many: Visconti, Antonioni, Melville, always Melville, Godard
of course, Pialat, Bunuel, Bergman, Huston, Ozu, Anthony Mann, ...
actually, tehre are just too many.
Your favourite movies?
I love the films of the Brothers Dardenne, La Promesse/The
Promise, Rosetta, Le Fils/The Son, L'Enfant/The
Child. Haven't seen Le Silence de Lorna/Lorna's Silence
don't like at all?
Overwhelming spectacle movies as well as
pretentious films (often literary adaptations), which are preferred by an audience that
doesn't usually go to the movies. People who confuse these films'
design with proper cinematic language.
Thanks for the interview!