R.I.P. Peter Kern – From Fassbinder to Räuber Hotzenplotz and Beyond

    |    Thursday, der 27. August 2015  |     1

Austrian filmmaker and actor Peter Kern has passed away at age 66. He had been performing since childhood, singing in the Vienna Boys Choir and acting on stage and screen. His film debut was Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s „Ludwig – Requiem for a Virgin King“ (1972), the first of Syberg’s monumental and controversial reflections on German history. Kern later appeared in films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Daniel Schmid, Hans W. Geißendörfer and Wim Wenders – Wenders‘ „The Wrong Move“ won Kern one of two German Film Awards for Best Actor (the other was for his performance in Walter Bockmayer’s and Rolf Bührmann’s „Flaming Hearts“). On the other end of the cinematic spectrum, Kern also worked in children’s film and television, starring as „The Robber Hotzenplotz“ and appearing in the legendary educational cartoon series „Die Sendung mit der Maus“.

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The Many Faces of Peter Kern: Robber Hotzenplotz

Kern was a key member of the New German Cinema and its most radical critics of the hypocritical, heteronormative, history-denying hegemonic culture in postwar West Germany and Austria which they felt stifled by. Probably taking careful notes while working with the masters, Kern moved behind the camera – first producing films by Fassbinder associates, then with his 1983 directorial debut „Escape From Blood Plantation“, co-directed by Kurt Raab, which promptly landed on the forbidden films index in West Germany. Kern directed another 25 films; his final film, „The Last Summer of the Rich“, premiered at the 2015 Berlinale.

Kern’s directorial style can be best compared to poking fingers into open wounds. Nazis old and new and their impact on Austrian society as well as queer identity avant la lettre (homosexuality as subversive act – personally, socially and politically) were the core themes of Kern’s work. „Haider Lives – April 1, 2021“ unsurprisingly incurred the wrath of the late extreme rightwing populist Jörg Haider, and INITIATION, starring Helmut Berger, was one of the most uncomfortable explorations of an already uncomfortable topic – the fascination in the parts of the gay community with aspects of Fascism and Nazism.

Kern’s multi-faceted and incomparable career left an indelible impact on postwar German and Austrian culture. An openly gay, radical filmmaker who also starred as a beloved figure of children’s literature – if Peter Kern hadn’t pulled this off in real life, only something like „The Simpsons“ could have come up with a similar concept.

Peter Kern lost a lengthy battle with cancer. He spoke openly about his illness, discussing various forms of traditional and alternative therapy. His voice will be missed.