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Darrin Navarro

Darrin Navarro

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An original and provocative voice in German cinema since her debut in the mid-1970s, Ulrike Ottinger came to film from painting and photography, well-versed in contemporary feminist theory and criticism. After making several short films, Ottinger immediately asserted her presence with her first feature, "Madame X--eine absolute Herrscherin/Madame X--An Absolute Ruler" (1977), a bizarre, campy, feminist pirate movie, featuring a spike-fisted, leather-clad dominatrix captain played by underground icon Tabea Blumenschein (who had co-directed one of Ottinger's shorts). Ottinger's other films include "Freak Orlando" (1981), her unforgettable homage to both Tod Browning's classic horror film "Freaks" and Virginia Woolf's experimental novel "Orlando." Continuing her penchant for revision and quotation, she also made "Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse/The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press" (1983), in which Oscar Wilde's famous character is played by a woman.Ottinger achieves her fascinating visual effects via a truly odd flair for costuming and composition, and unusual settings that range from the excessively ornate to the spare and futuristic. Journeys ("Madame X," "Johanna d'Arc of...

An original and provocative voice in German cinema since her debut in the mid-1970s, Ulrike Ottinger came to film from painting and photography, well-versed in contemporary feminist theory and criticism. After making several short films, Ottinger immediately asserted her presence with her first feature, "Madame X--eine absolute Herrscherin/Madame X--An Absolute Ruler" (1977), a bizarre, campy, feminist pirate movie, featuring a spike-fisted, leather-clad dominatrix captain played by underground icon Tabea Blumenschein (who had co-directed one of Ottinger's shorts). Ottinger's other films include "Freak Orlando" (1981), her unforgettable homage to both Tod Browning's classic horror film "Freaks" and Virginia Woolf's experimental novel "Orlando." Continuing her penchant for revision and quotation, she also made "Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse/The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press" (1983), in which Oscar Wilde's famous character is played by a woman.

Ottinger achieves her fascinating visual effects via a truly odd flair for costuming and composition, and unusual settings that range from the excessively ornate to the spare and futuristic. Journeys ("Madame X," "Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia" 1989) and mirror effects ("Bildnis einer Trinkerin/Ticket of No Return" 1979) are recurring motifs in her work but are not used, according to standard metaphorical convention, to suggest an exploration of the self. Her work, rather, undermines traditional concepts of identity.

A versatile talent, Ottinger undertakes many of the creative and administrative functions on her own films, writing her own scripts, shooting scenes herself and often designing sets and costumes. She considers herself first and foremost an "ethnographer," and her credits include such fine documentaries as "China. Die Kunste--Der Alltag, Eine Filmische Reisebeschreibung/China. The Arts--The People, a Travel Log" (1985). At times, "Ticket of No Return," with its allegorically named characters Social Question, Exact Statistics and Healthier Common Sense, constitutes an ethnographic investigation of alcoholism. "Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia" is a highly self-conscious representation of Westerners probing an Eastern culture, as a group of European women traveling on a railway are kidnapped and taken on an offbeat tour by a band of Mongolian women. Ottinger, in fact, has ambitiously reconsidered her fascination with Mongolia in a more straightforward documentary vein with her riveting, 8 1/2 hour portrait of indigenous yak and reindeer farmers, "Taiga" (1992).

Ottinger is a notable figure on the contemporary German scene, not only for her pastiches of Hollywood--reminiscent of much German film since the 1960s--but also because she satirizes the "New German Cinema" itself. Her company of regular actors includes several of the leading names in German underground cinema, including Blumenschein and Magdalena Montezuma, as well as more widely known art-house figures such as Delphine Seyrig, Eddie Constantine and Rainer Werner Fassbinder stock company member Volker Spengler. Some of Ottinger's work contributes to a theoretical debate on issues within German film movements such as the Berlin documentary school. Other films, meanwhile, offer a trenchant critique of the so-called German "cinema of experience." An openly lesbian figure, Ottinger calls for an understanding of the disenfranchised (women, gays, alcoholics, the handicapped, the poor) but, beyond that, she offers a visually enthralling examination of some of the stranger and more wonderful aspects of contemporary popular culture and diverse ethnic cultural heritages.

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