Experimentainment: The Films of Michael Brynntrup

     |    Friday March 14th, 2014

Cartoons, clever puns, crossdressing characters, risqué double entendres, genre spoofs… elements you would associate with Comedy Central very much also appear in the works of German experimental filmmaker Michael Brynntrup. A selection of Brynntrup’s key works from 1987 to 2007 will be available exclusively on realeyz.tv.

Michael Brynntrup in VERONIKA (vera ikon)

Michael Brynntrup was born in 1959 and grew up in a Catholic background in Münster, in then West Germany. “Identical twin brother stillborn. Since then studies in Philosophy. The artist lives and works.“ is how Brynntrup summarizes his biography. In fact,  biographical facts figure in varying degrees of abstraction and encryption throughout his work: doppelgänger, mortality and  Wittgenstein-like games with language and representation.  Earlier films deal with religious themes. For the epic “Jesus – der Film” (Jesus – The Film, 1986) Brynntrup commissioned short film vignettes based upon the New Testament from many members of the mid-1980s West Berlin Super 8 underground scene (including realeyz.tv CEO Andreas Wildfang).  Brynntrup screened “Jesus – der Film” in experimental film venues and church clubs alike, to promote dialogue. VERONIKA (VERA IKON), available on realeyz.tv, is a trailer of sorts for Brynntrup’s answer to “The Ten Commandments” and won an honorable mention at the Friedberg Religious Film Festival in 1988. By then, Brynntrup had left the Catholic Church, after constructing a scrap metal altar for the Catholic church in his hometown which was criticized in the clerical press despite winning a government award for art in public space.

Brynntrup in DIE STATIK DER ESELSBRÜCKEN

This biographical fact is presented in 1990’s DIE STATIK DER ESELSBRÜCKEN (The Statics – Engineering Memory Bridges). DIE STATIK DER ESELSBRÜCKEN marks a turning point in Brynntrup’s work. Many ideas explored in earlier films (about the body, identity, mortality) are fully formulated here, while a more detached style is in evidence. In any case, there are as many sight gags, self-referential jokes and plays on words in DIE STATIK DER ESELSBRÜCKEN as in an episode of “30 Rock”.

Helge Musial and Tima the Divine in NARZISS UND ECHO

Sandwiched between those two films is Brynntrup’s early magnum opus, NARZISS UND ECHO (Narcissus and Echo, 1989). Brynntrup stages the Greek legend of love, punishment and communication breakdown as a “riddle film” in a lush Rococo setting, featuring the crème de la crème of the West Berlin drag scene. NARZISS UND ECHO won the German Film Critics’ Association Award for Best Experimental Film but it also puzzled, even polarized audiences. Was “a  film in the form of a riddle is a special kind of entertainment film whereby the film’s content must be deduced from the film’s formal structure“ besides the point in the age of ACT UP? Brynntrup was instrumental in the crystallization of and image production for an activist queer community that responded to the AIDS crisis with humor and humanity. Like Rosa von Praunheim, but with a different aesthetic project (though sharing some actors), Brynntrup was exploring cinema’s role beyond mere documentation and agitprop. In the next weeks, we will be adding more films by Michael Brynntrup to our catalogue, in chronological order of production.