The Swiss journalist André Ratti (1935-1986), who wrote the scenario of "Der Tod zu Basel" (1990), was one of the first prominent victims of AIDS in Switzerland, and he also "outed" himself, during a TV broadcasting, as a homosexual. Since many gay men belonged to the first AIDS-victims, this immune disease was given the ghastly surname of "queer-plague" (Schwulenpest). And hence the connection to this movie whose English title means "The Plague in Basle": Like the shining examples of dance des morts paintings, such as Nikolaus Holbein's (1538) "Totentanz", the basic aim of Urs Odermatt's movie is to show that like the medieval plague, the modern AIDS-plague hits persons from all social levels, from both genders, from all ages. The core idea behind that is of course the equalizing power of death. The movie raises the interesting question if these persons die from a disease or "from Death". Death with his scythe is touring in a spiral-shaped way, and so the physician Dr. Zinstag recognizes that Death is approximating himself. There seems to be no possibility to stop Death, or is there? "Der Tod zu Basel" connects disease with the humans' own (and artificially crafted) environment - the huge pharmacy-industry in and around Basle - and, like the medieval danse macabre, recognizes disease and death not as purely physical, but as semiotic appearances, thus recognizing living beings in a Paracelsian way as micro-cosmic intersections of macro-cosmic structures and therefore making humans responsible for their sufferings as well as making medicine responsible for adequate, non-reductive treatment. Watching this movie, one should thus not forget, that Basle was also the place where Theophrastus Paracelsus, in the 16th century and thus in the time of Holbein, was professor of medicine. Therefore, this movie goes way beyond of a simple parallelizing of the medieval and modern "plagues". One can also hope that this film that is seldom broadcast in TV, is finally put on international DVD, not only because of the famous international crew of actors.
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