Es Why We Love Each Other
The Story of Friendship between the Film Directors Elfi Mikesch, Rosa von Praunheim, and Werner Schroeter
By Rosa von Praunheim
It began in the mid-1960s. I met Elfi Mikesch with Fritz, her husband at the time, in Frankfurt am Main. Elfi thought I was the devil in person. I painted dirty pictures, wrote absurd poems and, encouraged both of them to come to Berlin as freelance artists. I was studying painting there and ran my Clo gallery in a storefront flat. Elfi, who had trained as a photographer in her hometown in Judenberg, Austria, documented the photo productions I did with my superstars, including Sex einer Idiotin and Todesarten. That culminated in our joint photobook Oh Muvie in 1969.
In 1971 I invited Elfi and Fritz to collaborate on the film Passions, which we made in ten cities in America and Asia. Fritz played the lead, Elfi and I did the camera work. We filmed in Super 8. After four intensive months, during which we travelled from Glasgow to New York, from Mexico to Hollywood, from Tokyo to Saigon, and from Calcutta to Innsbruck, we couldn't stand the sight of each other for a few years.
I got to know and to love Werner Schroeter on New Year's Eve 1967–1968 at the EXPRMTL film festival in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium. I had shot my first short film (Von Rosa von Praunheim, 1967) and Werner had
made a cat film (Verona, Zwei Katzen). I visited him in his hometown near Heidelberg and together we filmed Grotesk – Burlesk – Pittoresk, which marked the first appearance of Magdalena Montezuma, who would later star in his films. I got Werner to come to Berlin, where we helped each other with experimental films in the late 1960s. We both won awards at the International Filmwoche Mannheim in 1969: I with Schwestern der Revolution and Werner with Eika Katappa. Our love faded but not our friendship, which lasted through many highs and lows until his death in 2010.
Elfi Mikesch separated from her husband in Berlin and only had relationships with women from then on. She made imaginative Super 8 films, such as Charisma, and I assisted her on her first full-length film The Blue Hawaii, for which she at once won the Bundesfilmpreis in 1978. She had gotten to know and appreciate Werner Schroeter through me. In 1972 she did makeup and costumes for his film Salome, which was shot in Lebanon. After making many of her own wonderful films, she established herself internationally as a cinematographer. In 1984 she stood behind the camera for my film Horror Vacui, and in 1986 for Schroeter's The Rose King, his last film with the magnificent Magdalena Montezuma, who died of cancer shortly thereafter. Elfi worked as cinematographer on many subsequent films by Werner and by me.
Despite my often provocative manner, Elfi showed always solidarity and provided the right balance. To this day she is my closest female friend. I admire her art and extraordinary visual compositions, and had the privilege of giving the laudatory speech when she was honoured for her life work at the Deutscher Kamerapreis in 2006.
I was often envious of Werner Schroeter's international career. He enjoyed cult status in France and Italy, won over forty film prizes, and produced countless pieces of theatre and opera. Not long before he died he received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his entire body of work in 2008.
Aggression was foreign to Werner; he was completely unfazed by my criticism. Often I didn't understand his pathos and his yearning for big emotions, but I admired his powerful imagery. I was more politically active than he was and involved in the gay rights movement. My images were quick and dirty, and cineastes scorned me as a result. Elfi and Werner shared an aesthetic genius. I was more interested in content and less in form.
The three of us were lucky that we could turn our calling into careers, that we were recognised, and that we were able to find funding for our often weird and non-commercial films. I've now been in the profession for over fifty years.
We three are joined by our homosexuality which we live openly and are proud of and which has influenced our form of expression and choice of subject matter.
Rosa von Praunheim, 2018