The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless (1968) Poster

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10/10
Art after Auschwitz
Osip15 May 2003
Alexander Kluge's "Artisten unter der Zirkuskuppel, ratlos" has often been criticized as inaccessible. I've heard that at the time of the film's first release some cinemas allowed viewers to see the film twice while having them pay for only one ticket, acknowledging that more than one viewing was needed to digest this complex film. Clearly, the film's montage technique and its use of quotes from Hegel, Nietzsche and others in often rather rapid succession doesn't help and may leave some viewers almost as clueless ("ratlos") as the artists of the title. I've nevertheless experienced the film as a deeply moving attempt to deal with the question of the role of art in the face of historical catastrophe - the question of how art after Auschwitz is possible as asked by Theodor Adorno and other intellectuals and artists in post-war Germany.

Ironically, Leni Peickert, the film's hopeful circus director, and her production team, is confronted with the same questions Kluge may have asked himself before making the film. After having solved the problem of producing art for the market, which had caused the first artistic setback (a deus ex machina solution all of a sudden provides Leni Peickert with money), the team is pondering difficult artistic questions. Should we try to reach a mass audience, popularize and simplify matters? Should the circus produce politically engaged, "tendential" art - our would this reduce the issues at hand to mere slogans?

That the circus is a stand-in for artistic production in general becomes clear when Leni Peickert and her team visit a writer's congress that triggers off a discussion of "can there be art after Auschwitz," resonating with Adorno's statement that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. Rather than endorsing this discussion, however, the film appears to exhibit its sterility and formulaic quality.

The film's insistence on catastrophe, violent historical upheaval and failed revolution through its use of historical footage implicitly makes a claim for the task art has to take on. Kluge's film begins with the recent past many Germans of the sixties wanted to forget: a hilarious documentary sequence of a "festival of art" staged by the Nazis and featuring extras wearing (unhistorical) ancient Germanic costumes. The soundtrack ironically underlays this with an Italian version of Paul McCartney's song "Yesterday." Against this "yesterday," against Nazi art with its blind celebration of a presumably glorious Germanic past, Kluge's film critically reflects on the role of art in post-war German society.

Most memorable are perhaps the scenes with the elephants - the animals that never forget. At one point, scenes of circus elephants filmed by Kluge are cut with historical photos, while Kluge's voice tells of elephants who died in a sensational fire in a zoo. "We won't forget," the elephants say, and Kluge's voice-over mysteriously tells of a pain that had to be locked up in crates and submerged in the ocean: the experience of trauma that can neither be dealt with and faced, nor forgotten. Kluge's film is a plea for an art that enables us to work with historical trauma and to transform it into artistic production and political action. Unfortunately, his film was not, like, for instance, his earlier movie "Abschied von Gestern" ("Yesterday Girl") a success with audiences, but it remains a moving and intellectually engaging contribution to the discussion of the role of art in postwar Germany. Unfortunately, to my knowledge Kluge's films are not generally available on video.
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no entertainment, politics instead
srlsan9 December 2004
For people who think that film has to be an entertainment and there's no other possibility for the film language, this movie can be really boring and disappointing. However, for the ones who think that films can question and make us rethink our preconceptions and the ethics of today's society, it can be very interesting, and so can other Alexander Kluge's films. It's so easy to sit and watch a Hollywood-like all-the-time-the-same-old-bulls*** film and leave the movie theater all satisfied and thinking that life is perfect because the threaten was beaten by the great hero. And it is so difficult to stop and bother our notion of time and think about how fake, stupid and paradoxical this society can be. I guess that for the ones who want to get out of this Plato's cave movies like "Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos" and "Die Macht der Gefühle" are really worth seeing.
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4/10
Kluge's bleak style does not appeal to me
Horst_In_Translation28 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos" or "Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed" is a (very strange title for a) West German film from 1968, so this one will have its 50th anniversary soon. it is a black-and-white film (for the most part), which was not too common anymore around that time and the director and writer is Alexander Kluge. He was still fairly young, but already an established filmmaker at this point, but with all the awards attention his work here received this is certainly one of the most defining movies from his body of work. It runs for slightly over 100 minutes and makes statements on society, politics and the protagonists' life in general, in the face of the times and country they live in. This is a bit of a general consensus with Kluge's films and I also found it difficult to make a connection to what I see. I cared very little for the characters and I was surprised the actors received German Film Award nominations for their work here. Kluge is always extremely bleak. So you need to like this approach in order to appreciate his work, in general and in the case of the "Big Top". I personally do not recommend the watch or only to those who have seen other works from Kluge and enjoyed them.
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1/10
What a waste of time!!!
Mikew300131 December 2002
This is the kind of German 1968 cinema I never really got into and never will - and this is also the kind of movie that has killed the German cinema and any kind of entertainment on German movie screens until a new wave of film makers emerged in the late eighties.

"Autorenfilmer" Alexander Kluge, part of the "intellectual" 1968 bunch of West German movie makers, tells no story but just a simple frame plot about a young woman (played by Hannelore Hoger of later "Bella Block" TV fame) who starts a new kind of politically correct circus attraction in the late sixties with the artists and animals showing the cruel sides of war and the Third Reich, but the idea fails as the artists and the audience cannot follow her visions.

It's filmed partially in b/w and consists mainly of documentary-like scenes, interviews, improvisations, artist exercises and useless repetitions and loops of people falling into the dirt, dancing without any reasons or repeating stupid sentences. A completely boredom of 115 minutes!

Maybe this was considered as "avantgarde" in 1968, but I cannot really imagine that even then anybody had fun watching this except with a gun held at his head. An unnecessary and completely uninteresting movie that made the punk movement of the late seventies more than necessary!
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