On Wednesday, February 2, 1975, the night before Fat Thursday (last Thursday before Lent), a young woman, aged 27, leaves her apartment at around 18.45 o’clock to join a private dance. Four days later, after a dramatic development during Sunday evening at around the same time – at 19.04 o’clock to be more precise – she rings the door bell at the police chief inspector Walter Moeding’s apartment and testifies that she has shot the journalist Werner Tötges at around 12.15 in her apartment …
Those are four days in the life of Katharina Blum that completely change everything. A police swap raids her apartment the morning after she had met Ludwig Götten at a carnival party and took him home: Her lover is supposed to be a bank robber and she is the alleged accomplice in his escape. Katharina is brought to the police station where she is held and grilled for hours. The local press reports right from the first hour: by obtaining insider tips through the police interrogation protocols and dubious investigation methods the press is able to publish day after day highly exclusive stories about the “hussy”, the “mol”. It is the beginning of a documentation of medial humiliation – until the moment Katharina will avenge her mental murder by a physical murder.
Right away I saw what a dirty swine he was – a real dirty swine. He said, why that dumfounded look my flower – I propose I bang you now. I thought: “bang, o.k..” – and I grabbed the pistol and immediately shot him.
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or: how violence develops and where it can lead is a novella by Heinrich Böll, whose first galley proofs reached Volker Schlöndorff by registered mail in 1974. After the film adaptation of Böll’s novel Gruppenbild mit Dame (Group Portrait with a lady, 1971) failed due to financial reasons, Böll offers here, as sort of compensation, his newest literary piece, where he gives an account of his very own experiences with the “Entanglement of the Public and the Police Apparatus”. (Schlöndorff 2011, p. 213) After Böll spoke out on the coverage of the BILD against the background of the Baader-Meinhof group being accused of bank robbery only based on leads, in the Spiegel on January 10, 1972, Böll now himself stood as a mental accomplice in the cease fire of criticism. “People and actions in this novella are fictitious. If the portrayal of certain journalistic practices should have arose similarities with the practices of the Bild-Zeitung, these similarities are not intended nor accidental, they are inevitable”, so it also reads in his preliminary note on his work against the inhumane methods of the Springer Press.
It strikes me for the first time how compact the “newspaper” takes centre in the film, threatening, polluting, poisoning everything, the consciously intended association with the Bild-Zeitung happens unconsciously. Couldn’t it be, that one feels uncomfortable when grapping a Bild-Zeitung after that film? (Schlöndorff in the shooting report “Das 43. Blatt”, p. 10)
Preliminary work and shooting
Schlöndorff founded, together with Eberhard Junkersdorf and Reinhard Hauff, the Bioskop Film. The first film shot under this company’s name was DIE VERLORENE EHRE DER KATHARINA BLUM (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum), followed by 50 more films during the next 30 years. With Böll at his side Schlöndorff had for the very first time the unique opportunity to personally collaborate with the author of the literary piece on the film adaptation. The precise explanations of the figures, their thoughts and motivations were partly based on real archetypes.
I am impressed of the intense working atmosphere during the meetings lasting almost five hours. One can feel that no script is just reeled off, the literary base not just photographed, instead the characters and behavior patterns of the people are being discussed, the pros and cons of their actions are reflected, it is an attempt to analyze their awareness and their situation in class. (Schlöndorff in the shooting report “Das 43. Blatt”, p.10).
These observations made by a journalist on a visit during the shooting are confirmed in Schlöndorff’s own notes: “One must definitely stick to the ‘Ozu-style’ (which is the poetic-minimalistic stile of the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu), to further on resemble the figure of Katharina and her feelings as much as possible. (cf. Schlöndorff’s notices). The different practices of author and director on approaching the figures become apparent here: While Böll stayed with the reserved form of a well researched protocol, Schlöndorff went with emotionalizing and strong contrasts of good and evil by pinpointing the relationship with Götten in the novella – “which was spared by Böll.” (ibid.)
The protocol like layout of Böll’s novella made the adaptation into a film version easier; Schlöndorff added prolog and epilog later on. Schlöndorff worked the timely gaps of the novella into a chronology of the actions. A documentary of real police raids in Bremen was used as base for the house raiding scene in the film.
Because the collaboration with Margarethe von Trotta on former projects had been very productive, with this project she received for the very first time a credit for co-direction. The film location was set in the area of Köln-Bonn: the scenes in Katharina’s apartment took place in Köln’s Uni-Center. For a realistic portrayal of the police and their offices the production team had to overcome huge obstacles as an order from the Federal Ministry of the Interior had gone out to all German police departments to not assist the “Team Katharina Blum”. Thanks to Eberhard Junkersdorf’s improvisational and organizational talent the future police headquarters of Bonn, at the time of shooting still under construction, could be used as a film location.
I don’t have an image of the heroine in mind. I’m also not able to tell you how she looks like. In any case is she no saint, rather a proletarian girl, even a little vulgar, with an especially petty bourgeois sensibility, clearly a wage-earner, she is a housemaid. One who will actually come out of the kitchen and reach for a pistol, like in a Küchenlied (popular form of song during the 19th century), to regain her reputation in an archaic manner. (Böll, cit. after Schlöndorff 2011, p. 214f.)
Böll recommended Angela Winkler, a yet not well known actress, for the role of Katharina. He had met her during the filming of the novella Ende einer Dienstfahrt. Schlöndorff still knew her from Fleischmann’s film JAGDSZENEN AUS NIEDERBAYERN (Hunting Scenes from Bavaria, 1968/69), her first film acting debut in the role of the housemaid Hannelore.
Angela Winkler is a medium that is often overwhelmed by her own feelings. During the practices one can only go to a certain extent, during the filming one should start with her for not to miss the moment were the emotions overwhelm her for the first time and she finds wonderful, unforeseen gestures, pitches and glances. (ibid., p. 216f.)
This contrasts with the role of Winkler’s “adversary” Mario Adorf as chief inspector Beizmenne, who “can deliver every scene in infinite different variations” (ibid., p. 217), where it wasn’t always easy to find the right and adequate one.
Hans Werner Henze (*01.07.1926, +27.10.2012), born in Gütersloh, is said to be one of Germany’s most important composer of the modern age. His comprehensive work contains concert pieces as well as theatre, opera and film music. Already in young years Henze came in contact with the New Music, but declined the dogmatic position many representatives of this school and increasingly turned to traditional, classical types. The music to DIE VERLORENE EHRE DER KATHARINA BLUM (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum) too is an illustration of contrasts and diversity. Just as Henze all his life never could be pinpointed to a specific musical direction, the soundtrack to this film as well shows different tendencies. The music consists of classical, symphonic pieces as well as atonal sound constructions that subliminal contribute to the film’s menacing mood.
The acoustical background of the film is composed of diegetic music (the music source can be seen in the picture and can also be heard by the figures in the film) and non-diegetic music (music that can only be heard by the audience).
Two main motifs are set in a non-diegetic level and are being picked up in different instrumentation throughout the film.
One main motif, further on called love motif, is played by violins and flutes, and represents the love between Katharina Blum and Ludwig Götten. This music is played whenever Katharina thinks about Ludwig or when there is a contact between Katharina and Götten. Henze used a strong expressive sound track to get the emotions of Katharina and Ludwig over to the audience. The love motif as well as Katharina’s emotions is distinguished by the insistent tenderness and vulnerability. The love motif, in contrast to the otherwise loud and intrusive music, appears to be of a world unknown or a dream: the music represents a love that has no place in reality. This becomes very apparent in the prison scene where Katharina sits in a dark cell, unsure whether she will ever see Ludwig again. The confetti that falls out of her bag reminds her of her first meeting with Ludwig. The love motif is played and the audience is brought back to the carnival party and to the first dance of Katharina and Ludwig.
Also, continuously the love motif sounds quietly in the background and is often interrupted by a sudden scene change – just as there is no hope for the love of the couple there is not much space given for the love motif. The love motif becomes most insistent when it is played in direct contrast to the second main motif, further on called threat motif. This is most evident during the marching-up of the police in front of Katharina’s apartment. In this scene the advancing state authority is shown, underlain with the sound of the threat motif. The camera zooming in on Katharina’s apartment is accompanied by a short play of the love motif: Katharina does not yet know of the imminent danger and in her thoughts she is still with Ludwig and their shared night.
The threat motif, as the second important musical element, is heard whenever the state authorities pose a threat to Katharina or the special operation forces of the police are present. The threat motif is here a classical lead motif displaying the representatives of the state authority. It is also heard when indicating a threat in general. In doing so, the music is, in contrast to the structure of the love motif, atonal. It is composed of short, abrupt fragments, played by high pitched violins, trumpets and flutes. The short, constantly interrupted pieces have an alarming effect and irritate through its lack of structure. Just as Katharina is exposed to the arbitrariness of the police and press, the music as well is played arbitrarily, without any development or harmonic structure.
The role of the threat motif is also of a different kind than that of the love motif. The music is not used to illustrate the mood of the characters but to cause anxiety within the audience. This is sensory film music.
Music on a diegetic level
The music on a diegetic level, consisting of carnival songs, is used to represent the omnipresent terror that Katharina faces. Wherever Katharina goes she faces brawling carnival sounds. Katharina can neither escape these sounds outside her apartment nor during the telephone calls or reading the threatening letters. It is the purposefully used party music that gives the audience the feeling of harassment and persecution. The carnival music therefore represents the terror that Katharina faces.
Schlöndorff and Music
DIE VERLORENE EHRE DER KATHARINA BLUM (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum) is evidence for the significance that Schlöndorff attributes to the sound track. Schlöndorff, in contrast to the approach of many directors to call in the composer only after the script is finished, works right from the beginning with Henze and even gives him a voice in the shooting. At Henze’s suggestion, that the music would benefit from a reuniting scene of Ludwig and Katharina in the prison, Schlöndorff adds such a scene. The film therefore exhibits the composition of a musical rondo: it starts and ends with the meeting of the two lovers.
Schneider, Norbert Jürgen (1990). Handbuch Filmmusik I. Musikdramaturgie im Neuen Deutschen Film. München: Verlag Ölschläger.
Horton, Andrew (1981). Modern European Filmmakers and the art of adaption. New York: Ungar.
Schlöndorff / v. Trotta work phenomenological, meaning with a sensual view, with moments of action, with particles of speech, with an anthropomorphic world: with gestures and face expressions and words. The key quality of the film lies in its ability to describe our reality all the way up to the oppressive nightmare with this method. Wolfram Schütte, Frankfurter Rundschau.
The film adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s bestseller is commonly seen as a “break through” (W. Schütte) of the New German Film (Neuer Deutscher Film), as for the first time a film made by these young film producers attract a wide audience to the municipal cinemas. Particularly abroad the film met with huge respond: Paul Moor from The Times speaks of the film as the maybe best film of West Germany in 1975. According to Kevin Thomas from The Los Angeles Times Schlöndorff’s newest piece marks a turning point in his career.