22.8.06

TV-Dokumentation über Thea von Harbou

Der australische Filmemacher Richard Gilzean, der eine TV-Dokumentation über das schriftstellerische und filmische Schaffen Thea von Harbous vorbereitet, stellt sich im Thea von Harbou-Weblog vor:

Zur Dokumentation

Life for the German author Thea von Harbou was to play itself out in a manner befitting one of her own melodramas. In 1954, Von Harbou was invited to attend the Berlin Film Festival for a screening of her first film collaboration with Fritz Lang, ‘The Weary Death’. As the end credits rolled, von Harbou stand and receives the audience’s applause. Upon leaving the cinema she stumbles and falls heavily. She dies a few days later in hospital.

Born in 1888, the young Thea was a precocious child: fluent in English and French, an accomplished pianist and an avid reader of the classics, drama, and poetry. She had written animal stories and, at 14 years, had her work published. This young woman, who subscribed to the Kaiser’s dictum that German women should serve ‘children, church and kitchen’, soon chose one of the few options available to independent women; she became a theatre actress. She marries the actor and theatre director, Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Her career as an author dates from 1910 with a series of popular melodramatic novels that reflected the prevailing spirit of nationalism. Eschewing any notion of herself as an artist, von Harbou asserted that she was ‘a servant of the State and the Fatherland’.

Von Harbou was to serve as a screenwriter and muse for influential men. Upon arriving in Weimar Berlin, she switches careers from acting to full-time writing. At 29, she is introduced to the monocled and debonair Austrian director, Fritz Lang. An instant kinship is formed and von Harbou leaves her husband for Lang. Controversy surrounds the affair with conflicting accounts of the shooting death of Lang’s wife, Lisa Rosenthal, after she found her husband in the arms of Thea von Harbou.

Von Harbou was one of the most renowned and one of the most reviled figures in the history of German cinema, depending upon which decade one is talking about. Over the course of her career she would write more than 100 published works, including 50 screenplays. She was a serious, deeply philosophical writer, her work encompassing conflicts that reflected a social conscience and underpinned by her conservative, nationalist idealism. She found her métier in the hermetic and apolitical dream world of the German film industry; a creative hot-house that catered to both the avant-garde and entertainment films for the masses.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, von Harbou emerged as one of the most accomplished scenarists in the German filmwelt, recognised for her ability to transform a description in literature to the imagery of film. She collaborated with Weimar Germany’s most prominent directors and producers including F.W. Murnau, Carl Dreyer, Veit Harlan and the Head of Ufa, Eric Pommer. But it was her contribution to Lang’s films for which she is best known. Von Harbou played a vital collaborative role in the German films of her husband Fritz Lang from 1919 till 1933. Von Harbou wrote the screenplays and novels for Lang’s films M (Murderer Among Us), The Indian Tomb, Das Wandernde Bild, Fighting Hearts, The Weary Death, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, The Nibelungs, Metropolis, Spies, Woman in the Moon, and The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse.

Lang and von Harbou’s marriage merely serves to consolidate their creative partnership. Over the next few years, Lang’s penchant for glamorous starlets sees von Harbou’s ardour for her husband wane. She meets and falls in love with a young Indian radical, Ayi Tendulkar. At the same time her interest in National Socialism is kindled. Her admiration for Nazi pageantry and their call for a return to traditional values serving blinding her to the Fuhrer’s more sinister agendas.With the Nazi’s in power, Lang flees Germany to begin a new filmmaking career in America, while von Harbou is recruited into writing and script doctoring for the Third Reich.

At the end of the war, she is interned by the Allied forces as a Nazi collaborator; a charge she would continue to deny. Upon her release, she returns to Berlin and sets about to rebuild her writing career. In the quiet of a sound studio, where she works as a voice-over artist for British and Hollywood films, this now old and frail woman slips in and out of her own reveries in front of the films of her era.

The story of Thea von Harbou is the story of an enigmatic and complex woman. Von Harbou’s writing reflected a philosophy of individual renewal of spirit and imagination, but she came to understand that social justice would require more than private philosophising: one had to take a principled stand and bring others along. She was an outspoken advocate of legalized abortion in Germany, an activist for reform of sex discrimination legislation, and a protector of the displaced Indian community trapped inside Nazi Berlin during the War.

Zur Person


I live in Sydney, Australia with my German wife. At a family dinner in 1993, in a Munich restaurant, I was introduced to a woman who claimed to be “the niece of the woman who wrote all of Fritz Lang’s German films”. My cineaste curiosity aroused, I have been researching and writing on Thea von Harbou ever since. In between my bouts of thinking and writing about Thea von Harbou, I have completed my BA in Communications (Honours) at the University of Technology, Sydney. My other writing projects draw on historical characters. They include a television-drama series based on real life characters that formed ‘The Push’; a group of anarchist bohemians that thrived in the pubs of 1950’s Sydney. I am also working on a documentary about the Australian sculptor Barbara Tribe.

Richard Gilzean ist zu erreichen unter richgilz@gmail.com

1 Kommentar:

Andre Kagelmann hat gesagt…

Ein Filmprojekt, welches das Œuvre Thea von Harbous einer breiteren Öffentlichkeit bekanntzumachen geeignet scheint und ihre herausragende Rolle als Drehbuchautorin hervorhebt (wie es Reinhold Keiner bereits 1984 herausgearbeitet hat), wird – wen wundert es auf dieser Seite? – von mir ganz außerordentlich begrüßt.

Viel wird bei dieser TV-Unternehmung wohl von dem Umfang abhängen, in dem dieser biographische, literarische und cineastische 'Brückenschlag' realisiert wird. Dabei wird es auch gelten, Thesen wie die der persönlichen ideologischen – nicht der cineastischen! – Verstrickung Thea von Harbous in das Dritte Reich bzw. „the Fuhrer’s more sinsiter agendas“ kritisch zu hinterfragen und überhaupt tradierte Pauschalisierungen aufzubrechen: Denn 'einfache Antworten' werden weder der Person noch dem Œuvre gerecht.
Ich bin gespannt!