A Cinema of Challenge

By Christophe Hochhäusler


Provocations that are never more necessary than now 

Film still has power. Perhaps its influence has never been greater. But since cinema has become ubiquitous – in every corner of the world, in the underground and on the wrist – and since it no longer takes any effort to see a film (on the contrary, it seems harder to stay abstinent), the medium has become strangely formless, lacking a clear awareness of its potential, and lacking any social perspective.

Three (seemingly) contradictory models dominate the market:

The first model is called Hollywood, but what is meant is the industrial production of films for the cinema as determined by the large corporations and their interest in commercial exploitation and profit-making. The focus is commercial success, reach irrespective of content. The consequences are effect driven mixtures of formal choices and a hysterical deformation of dramaturgies, which merely add up to expensive show effects. Films are held together by a look, not by a meaning. The question of financial success functions like a magnet, which only attracts the “metallic’, hard, highly effective instruments; while the subtly graded description of the world, the “quest for truth” is disregarded. The drive for efficiency ultimately dissolves all the commitments that constitute the narrative itself. Capitalism functions like an anti-narrative centrifuge, in which only fragments of meaning are able to hold their ground.

The second model tends to be called “European”, but what is meant is “film art”, which likes to be “kept” by public funding and ekes out an existence at festivals and in other cinephile niches. Its currency is called originality, and this perspective has generated products that put effect above narrative truth. But since there is less money available and other tastes have to be satisfied, the objective normally is to break “taboos” or to play ironic games with what is remembered of other films. The reading “art film” produces a false understanding among cultural elites – and this “high class consensus” is reflected in the conventions of the art film. The difficulty of art film seems to be precisely its “freedom”, which fosters its laziness.

The third model is the television film, which at the same time adores and trivialises cinematic forms. What distinguishes it from cinema is that in television the energy is not focused on attracting the viewers to watch but on preventing them from changing the channel. Accordingly nervous, television makes every effort to prove its attractiveness in a 30-second rhythm, without offending anyone through content or means which can only be effective when put into context. In the case of private stations there is the additional interest in providing a cosy context for the advertisements on which they survive. As a consequence strong contrasts or non-serial dramaturgies are not permitted as they may make interruptions noticeable as disruptions.

Germany seems to be dominated by an especially persistent mixture of these three variants, though the “art film” does not play a big part outside the festival circuit. German cinemas show 85% Hollywood product, but German film is neither governed by the logic of the market nor does it have a distinct film-cultural orientation. On the contrary, it humbly anticipates and hurries to please the expectations of a market which it isn’t really a part of. At the same time it shamefacedly hides the garishness behind the argument of culture.

Television, the ultimately most relevant commercial exploiter of films produced in Germany, tries to downplay its influence – responsibility is avoided because that would spoil the prices. But the figures tell a different story: an annual 200 million Euros of film funding have to be considered against 6.5 billion euros of public TV licence fees. To this, the proceeds from advertising and pay TV have to be added. In short: without television nothing can be done in German film. And this is the objective of television – this is television.

The festivals on the other hand have isolated the “challenging” film from society and have turned it into an event without grounding. Cinema programmes deteriorate because the festivals seem to have become the natural home of all variety. And in the sameness of delicacies, the festival audience, intimidated by the gurus of cinephilia, has become blind to what is essential.

Both worlds, the TV-industry complex and the festival circuit are successful each in their own way and are therefore not easily overcome. But they are “successful” at the cost of the medium of film, at the expense of the audience, and this success must therefore not prevent us from arguing for a different kind of cinema.


I long for a cinema which has nothing to do with the good taste of the connoisseurs or the bad breath of populist ingratiation. A cinema for which commercial success is an indicator of many things but never the objective of the whole enterprise. A cinema that doesn’t exist to keep a verbally inflated “media industry” alive or to provide the festivals with fresh sensations.

In short, a cinema with questions, needs, problems, life energies at its centre. A cinema which has a real communicative role in society. A cinema that is, and wants to be, discursive.

Seduction into attention. *** The goal is a cinema that makes life more intense. Every film has to let itself be measured against life. It could be said: A film is an instrument in the process of producing reality. It is therefore part of a social context. The basic question is: What is real? Each attempt at replying is a personal commitment.

Form follows. *** The goal has to be to arrive at form through issues. Form follows. But what are the issues? Certainly not “unemployment”, but perhaps the question, who we are if we are (not) what we do.

Effect is not a currency. *** Effect on the audience has to be the result not the objective of creative work. The goal is to convey an issue effectively not the other way around. Whoever renders homage to effect has been corrupted by (the longing for) power.

The frame is a gaze, not an image. *** The production of films is complicated and the means of planning have therefore always been fiercely fought over. But the media of control are not neutral. They produce (in the case of the script) dialogues or (in the case of the story board) images which are contrary to the specific features of the film medium. In this the controlled cinema is a counter-cinema. Preconceived compositions obstruct the gaze. Filmmakers therefore have to free themselves, whenever necessary, from the shackles of foresight. The cinema of tomorrow is a vital constellation of gazes.

What is the time? *** Film is a time-related art. It has to be able to distil the presence and make it resonate. It is self-evident that only a cinema that affects people’s vital interests may hope to be seen. Cinema can only survive in its audience.

Everyone is a filmmaker. *** Film is a complementary medium, which means, the goal is to develop an opposite for every shot. For every on there has to be an off. A cinema that wants to affect our lives presupposes a spectator who is set free to imagine, a self-confident interpreter of his experience. Every film comes to life inside the head and does not want to be gagged.

Open. *** Good taste is in the way of truth. The contradictions of our time cannot be resolved with the good, the true and the beautiful; neither can they be subject to a mechanical pessimism. Hence, one has to open up to the interference of circumstances. The direct connection between curiosity and production is crucial.

Media industry? *** It cannot be our task to cosy up to the media industry – at the beginning there must be a necessity to let a thought or an emotion become film. Setting, budget, cast, format, broadcast slot – those are things that have to follow at the end of the creative process.

No such luck. *** Filmmaking costs money. The digital revolution will not change this. The democratisation of the pencil has not lead to a noticeable increase in great writers. We can’t expect more from the video camera. Talent is expensive, but the price is not too high if cinema has something to tell us.

Mother-of-Pearl. *** To find a surface that also reflects what lies beneath.


A Film Magazine

Revolver was founded as self-financed project in 1998 by Benjamin Heisenberg, Christophe Hochhäusler, and Sebastian Kutzli to counter the dullness of German cinema and its anti-theoretical stance similarly prevalent at the Munich Film and Television Acadamy (HFF) where they were students at the time. Partly inspired by the French Cahiers du Cinéma, Revolver’s principal aims are to explore the craft of filmmaking, to rekindle a sense of cinematic tradition and to create a forum for the exchange of technical know-how and theoretical ideas among filmmakers and viewers. In order to facilitate the passing-on of knowledge and experience and also to satisfy their own curiosity, the makers of Revolver, have pursued interviewing directors and artists whose oeuvre they admire or poses certain questions and contradictions. Among those interviewed are Jean-Claude Carrière, Patrice Chéreau, Harun Farocki, Michael Haneke, Werner Herzog, Wong Kar-Wai, Abbas Kiarostami, Alexander Kluge, Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas, Eric Rohmer, Lars von Trier, or Jeff Wall. Besides the interviews, each issue contains a varied ensemble of contributions that can take all possible shapes: essays, manifests, diary entries and other kinds of gems and “found objects” that range from the polemical to the poetic and can also be entirely visual. Except for reviews and film historical texts, any form is allowed as long as it supports a strong personal statement. The format of the magazine itself is decidedly small. Revolver is meant to be carried around, read and re-read anywhere at any time.


In addition to their publishing activity, the Revolver team stages Revolver-Live events, which are meant to bring interviews and debates into the public arena. Since December 2005, Revolver has run its own DVD label, dedicated to films they feel need a wider exposure. At the relatively low price of €14,90 (ca £10) offer high quality sound and image but no extras, which sometimes are provided by the accompanying issue of the magazine. The first two titles have been Marseilles by Angela Schanelec and The Son by the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Now into its 9th year, Revolver continues to publish two issues per year, one in spring and one in autumn. Two of the founding members, Benjamin Heisenberg and Christoph Hochäusler, are still on the editing and contributing team, which has been joined by filmmakers Jens Börner, Franz Müller and actor/director Nicolas Wackerbarth. They recently published the Revolver anthology Kino muss gefährlich sein (Cinema must be dangerous) which collects texts from the past 15 issues of which a number are no longer available.

Christophe Hochhäusler is a filmmaker and a founder-editor of the German film magazine Revolver. He lives in Berlin. His films include: First Aid (Erste Hilfe, 1995), Night Shadows (Nachtschatten, 1996), Fever (Fieber, 1999), Flirt (2000), Pulse (Puls, 2001), This Very Moment (Milchwald, 2003), and Low Profile (Falscher Bekenner, 2005).

Many thanks to Maren Hobein of the London Goethe Institute for all her help with this section.