White Columns is proud to present the first New York exhibition of Roger Fritz’s production photographs taken on the set of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film, Querelle (1982.) The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with Veneklasen/Werner, Berlin – where it was originally shown in January 2012.
The one-hundred and nineteen color images of Querelle on display were taken by Roger Fritz, a photographer, producer and performer who worked daily on Fassbinder’s set as both an actor and production documentarian. Originally shot as color transparencies Fritz’s photographs were previously known to exist only as Querelle – The Film Book (Schrimer/Mosel-Grove, 1982.) Published to coincide with the film’s release in 1982, the book reproduced Fritz’s production photographs in sequence and in parallel to excerpts of the film’s dialog. Their presentation at VeneKlasen/Werner and now at White Columns is the first time they have been publicly exhibited. Unlike film stills, which are sourced directly from filmed footage, production photographs are by nature a form of re-enactment; the action must be re-staged for the still camera. Fritz’s photographs mirror Fassbinder’s dynamic compositions, at times freezing the dramatic action and in other moments closing in on an actor’s face or an odd prop. The resulting images evoke the surreal drama and atmosphere of the film. They are uncomfortably beautiful and somewhat puzzling: as instances of documentary photography, Fritz’s photographs are thoroughly pure, honest and “true”; yet the scenes they portray were highly artificial, as “false” as anything seen in modern film.
Roger Fritz was born in Mannheim in 1936. Starting out as an amateur photographer he eventually began working professionally with newspapers and advertising agencies. Between 1961 and 1963 he studied at the UFA Training School for Young Actors and Directors in Berlin. Following a year in New York, he spent two years working as an assistant director to Luchino Visconti in Rome. His first feature Girls, Girls appeared in 1966. Fritz has acted in many films including roles in Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lili Marlene, and Querelle.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is considered to be among the most important figures in the so-called New German Cinema. In March 1982, production began on what would become Fassbinder’s last film. With an international cast including Jeanne Moreau, Brad Davis and Franco Nero, Querelle debuted in Paris later the same year, only a few short months after Fassbinder’s tragic death in June 1982. Based on Jean Genet’s 1947 novel, Querelle de Brest, with a screenplay co-written by Fassbinder and Burkhard Driest, the film tells the story of the handsome sailor Querelle, a thief and smuggler disoriented by a series of crimes, sexual encounters and depraved deals in the port town of Brest. The film’s imaginative exploration of violence and sexuality were quite unlike anything that had come before it. Fassbinder’s willful ambiguity toward these difficult themes – at once dramatic and humorous – signify openness toward the taboos and vivid realities of Genet’s story, something few cinematic artists of the time would even dare to approach. Stylistically, Querelle surpasses even Fassbinder’s most outlandish visuals, with unprecedented use of lurid color, lighting and a highly symbolic set design, as well as a striking use of sound and voiceover to complicate the film’s already labyrinthine plot. Querelle was widely misunderstood by critics of the time. Often pigeonholed as mere camp – a term Fassbinder bristled at and continually resisted – careful examination of the film proves it to be something much deeper and complex. The themes Fassbinder tackled in Querelle are larger than life and his extreme visualization of the story is perhaps the only suitable manifestation of it.
White Columns would like to thank Roger Fritz; Gordon Veneklasen, Michael Werner, Birte Kleemann and the entire staff of Veneklasen/Werner and Michael Werner galleries in Berlin and New York for their enthusiastic support of this project and its presentation at White Columns in New York.