“One must let out the animal, into the sunlight with the animal.”
The anarchist poet Baal is especially attracted to two things in life: Alcohol and Sex. To gain the latter he charms men and women alike with his lyrical lines until he has completely exhausted them with his egocentric and extremely moody attitude. The desperate who are hopelessly under his spell get quickly replaced. In the end he is left with a bottle of booze, which he also prefers to the newly pregnant Sophie. When he finally destroys his one remaining, always faithful companion, Baal becomes the one who must perish alone and miserable in the forest.
“I cannot help it if the wine that you serve me gets me drunk!”
For his first television film, based on the late expressionistic play written by Bertolt Brecht in 1922, Schlöndorff created his very own version while still preserving Brecht’s language. Brecht’s Baal also narrates “the unusual story of a man in a dram shop, who sings a hymn to the summer without having chosen the audience—including the consequences of the summer, the brandy and the singing” (Brecht, cited in Schlöndorff’s working script). Spread over 24 chapters, Schlöndorff takes the story to the year of 1969. He dresses the poet contemporarily in a leather jacket and with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and fills the room with music by Klaus Doldinger to show that the figure of “the last anarchic lone warrior“ (press booklet, p. 7) feels more current than ever in times of artistic protests, especially in the year ’69. It was Brecht’s first play. At the age of 20 he wrote the first version of this play as a reaction to the Drama Der Einsame (The Loner) (1917) by Hanns Johst. As an alternative draft to Johst’s romanticised portrayal of the poet Christian Dietrich Grabbe’s life the playwright created his Baal as a larger-than-life illustration of vigour, anarchy and egomania of a, in Brecht’s own words, just as well “antisocial society” (Brecht, cited in Schlöndorff’s working script) which after all gave birth to him. Therefore, Baal defends himself against the “commingling” (ibid.) of his talents with the means which society itself has toughed him.
Preliminary work and Shooting
“A wondrous image arose of the 1969 Munich spring, which, it has to be admitted, had little to do with Brecht but with us.” (Schlöndorff 2011, p. 183)
In 1969 Schlöndorff and Peter Fleischmann, whose JAGDSZENEN AUS NIEDERBAYERN (Hunting Scenes from Bavaria) (1968/69) caused a sensation in May that same year, established the Hallelujah-Film GmbH, based in Munich. Schlöndorff classifies their first production, BAAL, to be “an attempt between the categories ‘Film’ and ‘Play'” (press booklet, p. 4). He states that the production for the television medium poses new challenges, as for the small screens, in comparison to the big screen, “the concepts of ‘image steadiness’, ‘shot’, and the differentiation of close-ups, long shots, Shot-Reverse-Shot etc.” are of no significance (ibid.)
“This barbarian, said to be a Baal, will act him as well.” (Schlöndorff 2011, p. 179)
Volker Schlöndorff met Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his antiteater-company with Hanna Schygulla, Peer Raben, Irm Hermann, Rudolf Waldemar Brem and others for the first time during a theatre meeting at the Münchner Kammerspiele. He describes them as “an ensemble that did act and speak differently than what was common in theatres otherwise” (ibid.). “In most cases they literally had no knowledge of acting or film technology. They were secretaries, taxi drivers, merchants, mechanics or had no profession at all” (ibid., p. 181). Later on he experienced Fassbinder during the shooting of KATZELMACHER as such an unrelenting, harassing director that Schlöndorff recognises in him the perfect cast for the anarchist Baal. Most of the other minor roles were also cast with members of the antiteater, whereas for the remaining roles Schlöndorff provided the actors, including Sigi Sommer, Marian Seidowsky, Sigi Graue and Günther Kaufmann.
Reception and “Ban”
The film, after its first broadcasting on January 7, 1970 on Hessischer Rundfunk and a few months later, on April 21, on Erstes Programm (ARD), provoked both, a storm of indignation and of enthusiasm and paean of praise alike.
While the conservative educated middle class, even after 1969, could not acquire a taste for the rebellion, the new freedom and the boundless carefreeness that this time had to offer, the press however praised the “unexpected topicality”, with which Schlöndorff transports “the time that is shaped by a new cult of genius and loosened views of sex morals”. One would think “to recognize species in Baal, in the girls and in the cronies that one comes across daily”, so the Süddeutsche Zeitung continues (ibid.)
Less out of diverse moral concepts, but rather out of different opinions about the viewpoints of the social classes portrayed in BAAL, Brecht’s widow Helene Weigel imposes a ban on the screening of the film–that would last for 44 years. She criticizes that it won’t do “to put on a leather jacket and stick a cigarette butt in one’s mouth to fancy oneself being Brecht” (Schlöndorff 2011, p. 183).
With the influence of Juliane Lorenz, Fassbinder’s confidant and president of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, the digital rework of the film could experience its festival world premiere—right in time for the kick-off of the 64th. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin.