Susanne Stich is the filmmaker, and she used a translation by Cal Kinnear for the English subtitles. I found this a very effective film.
Goethe’s poem of gothic horror has haunted me most of my life. As a child I found the poem in a collection of books at an estate auction. I read it over and over, fascinated by this idea of the fairy realm as dark and ugly, something sinister that we should fear – not the glamour and sparkle of modern fairy tales. A warning about things that haunt old woods and black forests.
The bits and pieces, techniques and layers used to create this film are many. Dozens of forms of manipulation have been brought together, from animation to live action, from drawings to rotoscoping. This is my homage to Starewicz, Svankmajer, and the Quays – their dark dreams have inspired my nightmares, have given birth to a generation who see the eyes in the forest and know that all that is fairy is not light.
Poem by Paul Celan
Video by Philipp Fröndt, Max Straßer and Martin Race
This perhaps overly literal interpretation of the poem is the only one on YouTube to employ moving images. The slideshows, however, use a recording by Celan himself. Here’s the one I found the most effective:
To put Celan’s reading in context, Gail Holst-Warhaft writes,
The Todesfuge has acquired a unique status among poems about the death camps. To many of its readers, it seemed to contradict Adorno’s famous dictum about the impossibility of writing poetry after Auschwitz. Of all Celan’s poems, the Todesfuge has been the most discussed, anthologized, and translated. Celan’s own reading of the poem, preserved on record, emphasized its relentless rhythm, an effect achieved by repetition, alliteration, and a dance-like beat that reinforces the grotesque musical imagery of a poem originally published in Romanian and called “Tango of Death.” The title recalls the Jewish musicians forced to perform by the S.S. At the Janowska camp near Lvov (not far from Celan’s birthplace in Czernowitz) Jewish musicians were ordered to play a “Death Tango” during marches, grave-digging, tortures, and executions. Before liquidating the camp, the S.S. shot all the musicians. At Auschwitz, the term “Death Tango” was used for whatever music was played when groups of prisoners were executed. Without the lilt of this macabre dance music, the poem loses much of its effect.
Inevitably, then, the poem attracted the attention of composers. Here’s a video of a live performance of Elmir Mirzoev’s setting: