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7— Musical Modernism and The Schoenberg Films
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Musical Modernism and The Schoenberg Films

It is both logical and fantastic that the biblical injunction against idol worship should have led to the abstraction of modern art. Yet modernism still concerns us as we are caught between the culture industry's ceaseless flood of images and meanings and the challenge the horrors of the Nazi extermination camps have posed to the possibility of artistic expression at all. As Theodor W. Adorno put it, "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric."[1]

It is appropriate that the life and art of Arnold Schoenberg have become part of Straub/Huillet's treatment of the contemporary dilemmas of culture and politics in the films Moses and Aaron (1974–1975) and Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's "Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene" (1972). The difficulty of reconciling modernist artistic form with politics is an explicit problem of Schoenberg's opera Moses and Aaron , and Straub/Huillet demonstrate the issue's continued relevance with both films.

The name of Schoenberg is almost synonymous with modern music, or "the new music" as Adorno called it in German.[2]Moses and Aaron , considered one of Schoenberg's masterworks, was never completed. He composed the first two acts in 1930–1933, that is, just before he reconverted to Judaism and left Germany in the face of Nazi persecution in 1933. Introduction deals with another composition from what Eisler and Adorno called Schoenberg's "most radical period," the "Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene" (1930). The composition bears the simple inscription "Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe," and Eisler and Adorno argue that the fear expressed in Schoenberg's dissonances "far surpasses the measure of fear conceivable to the average middle-class individual; it is a historical fear, a sense of impending doom."[3] Although fear and danger certainly apply to the atmosphere in Berlin


when the music was written, Straub/Huillet's work also stresses a postwar, post-1968 perspective. As Jacques Aumont has written, "Straub and Huillet are working after the war; they know how the threat has become catastrophe, horror. Their reflection traverses the French colonial wars, Zionism and the Six Day War, May '68 and European leftism; they confront violence, the traces of which are borne by their German films."[4]

Both musical works featured in these films are outstanding examples of Schoenberg's attempt to write large-scale musical works using the twelve-note technique of composition he had developed a few years before. Dodecaphony, the twelve-note structure on which the technique rests, was Schoenberg's way of restoring a logical principle to composition once tonality had been abandoned in the early 1900s. Rather than being organized around a tonal center, twelve-tone composition places notes in a sequence that is then followed and varied only in relation to its own structure. Adorno and Eisler described such modern music in Composing for the Films : "In truly valid new music, everything is the direct result of the concrete requirement of structure, rather than of the tonal system or any ready-made pattern."[5]

Schoenberg's position as a musical innovator who failed to reach a wide audience is not unlike that of Straub/Huillet in the cinema. Although their works are radical in many respects, these modernists insist that their methods are derived from earlier forms. The principles of atonality, for instance, were found in tonality itself in the form of "alternative and subordinate means of creating the relation of dissonance and consonance" that developed more and more power in the nineteenth century. "Schoenberg's genius," as Charles Rosen puts it, was "to have recognized almost unconsciously the dispossession of the principal means of musical expression by the new force of what had been a subordinate and contributing element."[6] Straub/Huillet's use of cinematic materials against the grain of film convention resembles the atonal principle that no pitch is more important than any other. Their stress on the forgotten qualities of earlier cinemas as a basis for modernist filmmaking resonates with Schoenberg's discovery of twelve-tone composition by studying the submerged logic of earlier developments, culminating in the "emancipation of dissonance."[7] And finally Straub/Huillet, like Schoenberg, reject the idea that strict formal principles are more important to them than artistic expression: "It was never Schoenberg's intention to emphasize the technique."[8]

In discussing the Schoenberg films, I will begin to connect the Brechtian theories of a political avant-garde discussed so far to the insistence on critique and "negativity" found in Frankfurt school Critical Theory, particularly the work of Adorno. Straub/Huillet films have convinced me that Brecht and Adorno are not as far apart as is commonly assumed. Or, to put it another way, the contradictions between the two correspond to the aesthetic and theoretical tensions that Straub/Huillet films constantly explore. In History Lessons , the freedom of the audience was found in the separation of narrative and history


from the film form in which they are contained. Moses and Aaron and Introduction explore further aspects of this separation of cinematic materials and the freedom it postulates. They thus correspond to the kind of modern "film music" Eisler and Adorno envisioned when they wrote, "A proper dramaturgy, the unfolding of a general meaning, would sharply distinguish among pictures, words, and music, and for that very reason relate them meaningfully to one another."[9]

Moses and Aaron

In her study of "visual constructions of Jewishness," Gertrud Koch begins with a consideration of Adorno, Schoenberg's opera Moses and Aaron , and the Straub/Huillet film of that work.[10] Her discussion of the contradictions between mimesis and the "proscription of images" in Adorno's aesthetics relates closely to the aspects in Straub/Huillet's work I consider here in regard to Adorno and Brecht. The principal subject of Koch's book, however, is the difficulty the cinema has in creating adequate visual representations of Jews as Jews, particularly since such representations either tend to reproduce anti-Semitic stereotypes or are defeated by the unrepresentability of the Shoah . In the face of this, Koch stresses that Critical Theory's theoretical attempt to link the extremes of mimesis and the proscription of images is relevant to contemporary film.[11] Although Koch concludes that Straub/Huillet's Moses and Aaron is unsuccessful in resolving the extremes, I hope to show that this film and the short film Introduction productively explore the contradictions of politics and representation, anti-Semitism and identity. They carry on the task that Adorno valued in Schoenberg's opera, as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe described it, "the offering of a work which explicitly thematizes the question of its own possibility as a work—this makes it modern—and which thereby carries in itself, as its most intimate subject, the question of the essence of art."[12]

Straub/Huillet's interest in Schoenberg as a basis for film is nearly as old as their Bach project. Plans to film Moses and Aaron stem from 1959, when they saw the first fully staged production at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.[13] Their Schoenberg collaboration with the conductor Michael Gielen continues with plans for a film of Von Heute auf Morgen in 1996.

The action of Moses and Aaron is Schoenberg's retelling of the story of Moses' presentation of the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel and their worship of the Golden Calf (Exod. 3, 4, 30–32). The work breaks off at the resulting impasse between the invisible law of monotheism, for which Moses stands, and the more accessible religion Aaron represents, which includes miracles, sacrifices, and the worship of the Golden Calf. The unfinished third act occupied Schoenberg until his death in 1951, when he expressed the wish, carried out by Straub/Huillet in the film, that the final act "be staged merely


spoken, in case I cannot complete the composition."[14] Schoenberg envisioned the opera more as a staged oratorio, and Straub/Huillet's exploration of this form in film extends from Chronicle to the Hölderlin films.

Since the temporal structure of Moses and Aaron is largely predetermined by the score of Schoenberg's opera, my main focus here is its relation to cinematic space. The themes of the opera's narrative are located by Straub/Huillet in separate planes of cinematic space, allowing the spectator to move with the camera within and between these planes. By contrast, the strongly two-dimensional nature of the short film Introduction draws our attention to its use of cinematic time and its relation to Schoenberg's innovations in composition. In conclusion, I will argue that this film asserts both artistic and political freedom through its thorough separation of art from politics.

Before examining the spatial drama of the opera film, I want to note briefly a few aspects of the relation between Schoenberg's score and the score and screenplay finally used in the film. As the musical conductor for the film, Michael Gielen, has pointed out, since Schoenberg only completed a draft of the score, the work involved in producing this complete production for the film provided the opportunity to "research and present a fundamentally authentic text, definitive for our time. Here, too, in this sense it was a premiere."[15] Gielen's published comments document the quality and the thoroughness of Straub/Huillet's preparation of the opera.[16] The resulting film has since been called "the standard-setting opera film, which leaves all the others behind" and "the most radical film-opera the cinema has given us."[17] The Philips studio recording made conjointly with preparation for the film is also considered definitive (record no. 6700 084) and was awarded the Prix Mondiale du Disque de Montreaux. Gielen's record diverges from the film in leaving off the recitation of the text of the third act, a decidedly different interpretation of the unity of the work, Koch has pointed out.[18]

The nature of the recording also differs from film to record: For the film a very "dead" recording was used, with as little resonance as possible, whereas the record has the "artificial resonance" typical of the recording industry. Gielen in some ways prefers the lack of resonance, because it emphasizes the structural relationships in the music, rather than tone.[19] This structural relationship carries over into the technical basis for the filming of the performances themselves. True to their principles, Straub/Huillet rely almost exclusively on live sound in this work, with the singers recorded on camera in the theater of Alba Fucense in the Abruzzi region of Italy. The orchestral accompaniment, however, comes from a studio recording, audible to the singers as they perform through earphones hidden by wigs and costumes. The technical separation, which takes on cinematic meaning in shots I will examine later, corresponds to Adorno's observation of the musical difference between the voices and orchestra: "The unity of Moses and Aaron is created by its strictly sustained dualism. [ . . . ] The function of the orchestra as a whole is that of an


accompaniment."[20] In an acoustic as well as a visual sense, then, the film offers a dimension that other recordings of the work do not.

The other aspect, which will be largely excluded here, is the exactness with which the editing of the film follows the "movement" of the score as Gielen attests. This essay, like any analysis or viewing of the film, is thus partial inasmuch as its ignores this careful correlation of music and editing. Merely the phrase "musically necessary locations for cuts"[21] establishes the uniqueness of the Straub/Huillet approach. The relatively small number of shots in the film, seventy-seven shots over 110 minutes, arises from the difficulty of breaking between measures of twelve-tone composition. As Koch has observed, each series of notes could be related as well to the series coming after as that coming before; the cinematic consequence of this lack of hierarchy is much more camera movement than usual in a Straub/Huillet film.[22]

The emphasis of this chapter will thus be on the "cinematic space" of Moses and Aaron and its relation to the material of the opera/film, the constitution of a nation in and through history. The film takes as its starting point the assertion that "things could have been otherwise," even in regard to monotheism and the existence and nature of God. Straub/Huillet have in more recent films further investigated this interplay between myth and history, which Lacoue-Labarthe has called "the caesura of religion." Such a materialist project is not contradictory to that of humanist theology, since Martin Buber also has written, "We will not be able to reach the core of history . . ., the experience of events as miracles is itself history on a grand scale. It must be understood on the basis of history and placed within the historical context."[23]

The historical miracle at the center of Moses and Aaron is the development of monotheism among the Hebrew tribes, along with their emerging consciousness of nationhood. They created their God who chose them as His people. Even Catholic theologians describe this as a historical process, subject to change, which thus attests to the freedom of God.

The God Moses is allowed to confront is not tied to a place. He proclaims himself "God of Abraham, God of Israel, God of Jacob," and thus the God of wandering nomads, with whom He has moved and whom He has led. He prophesies and promises that He will lead the people into the land of Canaan. An unrepresentable God is a free God—God in His unfathomable freedom, from which history emerges: history which will give meaning and a goal to the life of the peoples.[24]

The existence of such a God, however, is tied by covenant to that of His People: "It is the prophecy that God's Being will be revealed in His Being-with-and-for Israel."[25]

A materialist concept of history values the historical mobility the development of monotheism represents. For this reason, Danièle Huillet accompanied the published screenplay of Moses and Aaron with a "Little Historical


Excursus," based on a variety of historical sources.[26] The essay describes just how much the Israelite nomads had in common with the other tribes of the area and thus to what extent the historical development of their religion fit their needs for progress as a nation. The significant historical dimensions parallel those in Adorno's aesthetics, that is, memory of a past, motion toward a future, and thus constitution of a group identity, historical subjectivity. In her excursus, Huillet stresses the importance of the link between the "unrepresentable God" and the freedom and identity of the Israelites: "He [Moses] was convinced—and convinced his people—that a god fought on their side who was more powerful than all the gods of Egypt: Jahweh, the Elohim of the Sinai, who would not only free the oppressed Hebrew tribes, but also would make a People out of them."[27]

The radical concept here is the importance of historical change bound up with the central existence of God: a people comes to its God; its religious life is not unchanging but moves forward, has a history. The "unrepresentable" nature of God is the driving force, the thought, that pushes onward into the future.

Thus Moses' task was a practical one: the creation of a People by means of a national religion: Jahweh is to be the God of Israel and Israel the People of God. This often-repeated formulation is Moses' guiding thought. A last trait of this national religion is its historical character.

Most other Semitic peoples had worshiped their gods since time immemorial and felt bound to them through a natural, physically related image. But on a certain day, Israel was brought to Jahweh by Moses, a personality long to be remembered.[28]

At another time Straub asserts that although Schoenberg was "anti-Marxist," his "prudent" way of working makes the opera a suitable "object of Marxist reflection":

When he talks about the "chosen people" there is a mystical idea there, which is not a Marxist idea, but which he neither takes as an end in itself. The idea of the chosen people is instrumental. It enables a step into history, as it were, as a means to something else. Subsequently, of course, the idea became an oppression. It became institutionalized. We have to start again every day, and when something becomes institutionalized it loses its revolutionary potential.[29]

The opera Moses and Aaron is centered on just this contradiction: the strength of the monotheistic idea rests on its link to a historical event, the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt. This idea is new; it cuts a people off from its past in order to allow it to "step into history." But just this newness requires Moses' insistence that the old gods, with physical and geographic nearness to the people, be left behind. The new God cannot be seen in images.


This historical quality of God is inherently ambivalent, and here arises the conflict between Moses and Aaron. First, the newness of this God is based on "the complete, absolute separation of God, who is everything, from humanity, who is nothing."[30] This is the source of the power that could lead an oppressed people into the unknown; the power of God does not derive from any human characteristics but is something that can never quite be absorbed into human experience; "it is truly the 'completely Other.'"[31] But the fact that this power "chose" to free the Israelites and chose to speak to Moses contradicts its nature as "completely Other." Having created this nation, it is also somehow "represented" in it.

The contradiction between God as "unrepresentable" and separate from the world and God's existence for the chosen people is expressed clearly enough in the opera. Moses argues for the "unrepresentable Idea" while Aaron allows its physical representation in images. Moses expresses himself in Sprechstimme , Aaron in "melodic" tenor. The film Moses and Aaron is unique in two ways, however: first, the cinematic "representation" of the ambivalence of an unrepresentable God actively influencing reality; and second, the transformation of this historical conflict into an aesthetic experience for an audience. As Adorno's aesthetic theory suggests, the dilemma of art is similar to this contradiction. It points toward freedom, but it is by nature separate from the society in need of this freedom. It represents the unrepresentable.

Straub/Huillet's film balances this ambivalence by separating the kinds of narrative space created at each point of the dilemma. In the first place, all narrative action that involves either performance of the opera or the temptation of the people to return to religious images is tied very strictly to the physical space of and motion within the amphitheater of Alba Fucense. On one level, the entire opera is confined to this space; all the "images" created by Aaron and the people of Israel as represented in the opera are photographed there. The "unrepresentable," the mythical step into history that Moses "represents" as well as the implied aesthetic step into history for the spectator of all this, is provided only by the material means of the cinema that go beyond the opera's performance.

The early shots establish this contrast. As Moses receives his call to lead the people out of bondage, we see him and the space in which he will continue to be photographed in an extended shot tracing the extremes of the camera's mobility, shot 10. The shot moves from an extreme close-up of Moses by way of a 300-degree pan around the amphitheater that is to become the setting for the action, and during this pan it tilts from a high angle showing the ground from over Moses' left shoulder to a low angle showing the mountains in the distance outside the amphitheater.[32]

Shot 10 thus sets Moses within his sphere of action. As he receives his call from God, we see the amphitheater in which the "drama" of leading the people


Straub/Huillet directing Schoenberg's  Moses and Aaron  with 
cinematographer Ugo Piccone, right. 
Courtesy Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.

will be enacted and, at the end of the pan, the mountain where the "idea" has originated. As yet the people are not visible, since the spiraling tilt has literally gone over the heads of the other singers. They do not exist until Moses (or God) addresses them through Aaron. Because this initial view of Moses is an oblique one from over his shoulder, the viewer does not take the place of speaker or listener at this stage but instead observes the camera's passage from Moses' position to the "goal" this idea represents. As Straub has said of this shot, "All the themes of the film are there." The pan halts on its long shot of the distant mountains with the words of the burning bush, "And this I promise to you: / I shall conduct you forward, / to where, with the Eternal Oneness, you'll be a model to every nation."[33] As in the rest of the film, the Verheißung , the otherness of God, the unrepresentable, is pointed to by way of cinematic techniques that are also "other" to the drama within the amphitheater.

Walsh links the historical and aesthetic/philosophical issues of the film in the following manner: "Co-extensive with Moses and Aaron's conflict over how to lead the people is the problem of how to 'represent the unrepresentable': how to realize the idea in an image without betraying the idea. In short, they are concerned with the ideology of representation, and the film may be read entirely on this level."[34] The "ideology of representation" is therefore a theme for both the people of Israel and the spectators of the film, but by different means.


The chorus in  Moses and Aaron .
Courtesy Museum of Modern Art.

The film's manner of separating these two "audiences" determines its structure to a great degree.

After the spatial tour de force of shot 10, the film sets up the "rules of the game," as Huillet calls them, for the drama within the amphitheater. These are the spatial relationships between Moses, Aaron, the chorus, the priest, the man, the young man, and the young girl. These relationships, like the motion of Moses from the theater to the mountain, are constructed through an external cinematic device. During these exchanges in Act I, leading to the liberation of the Israelites from bondage, the camera remains in the center of the ellipse. Thus every shot of one of the "roles" listed above has the amphitheater as its background. The choir is arranged in a square of six rows instead of the customary four, so that it, like the other actors, can always have space around it and usually the wall of the amphitheater in the background. The existence of the people is thus always accompanied by evidence of human history.

The effect of this arrangement is established in shots 19 and 22, which without editing include the positions of all the actors in the amphitheater. Since all the positions are photographed here in a single pan, the spectator and the camera do not identify with any single position. There is never a shot, for instance, that shows Moses from the point of view of the chorus whom he addresses. But the camera is still within this configuration. It never again stands behind Moses to reveal at once his position and the location of the listeners,


Moses and Aaron : The amphitheater at Alba Fucense 
showing arrangement of characters for Act I. Graphic: Andrew Reich.

which would make the spectator superior to this relation. Thus the spectator is not confined to a point of view but still senses the confinement of the theater space. This constant background serves to emphasize at the same time the static performance quality of the work, the separateness of this historical action from the present tense of the spectator and the camera movement, and the equality and interdependence of each of the musical and dramatic parts.


Walsh has noted the narrative structure in the way camera placement varies the positions of Moses and Aaron in the image: "insofar as shots 4 and 6 bracket shot 5, Aaron metaphorically surrounds Moses—is his voice."[35] What Walsh notes here is that changing camera placement shows Aaron in various positions with respect to Moses, while Moses remains static, photographed from the front. Walsh also notes the function of camera movement to provide the changing positions of Moses and Aaron in shot 24. Schoenberg has specified such shifts in distance between Moses and Aaron and between each of them and the audience.

Straub/Huillet's mise-en-scène respects the sense of an oscillating power struggle that is here Schoenberg's concern, but instead of having Moses and Aaron move (they remain static throughout the shot), the camera moves, the relative sizes of Moses and Aaron shifting in the frame as the camera tracks around them, and back again. The shot thus functions narratively, but Straub/Huillet simultaneously accomplish more than this, since their materialist use of the medium becomes apparent once again, this time through the contrast between the rapidly shifting background of the amphitheater and the slowly changing relations between Moses and Aaron: this dramatic separation of foreground and background has a strong two-dimensionalizing effect.[36]

As in twelve-tone musical technique, then, the importance of the camera in this narrative thus equalizes its elements, flattens them out in visual space, and emphasizes their abstract interrelatedness, existing wholly in the past.

So far, we have seen that neither Moses' confrontation with God nor his (and Aaron's) persuading and leading the people is acted out. Instead, these events are represented through relationships of cinematic space and camera movement. A sharp contrast to this technique of "representation" is thus provided by those aspects of the opera that are acted out. These elements belong entirely to Aaron's transgression of the prohibition of images and are also largely confined in space to the amphitheater. We do not see Moses go to the mountain or return; we do not see his receiving the Ten Commandments. But in his absence, we do see the unification of the twelve tribes, whose princes arrive at the amphitheater on horseback. The adoration of the Golden Calf is acted out, as are the representations of decadence, the orgy, the animal and human sacrifices. These activities are thus aesthetically and thematically opposite to the stylized manner in which Moses received and conveyed his mission, "the unrepresentable." However, this is not to assert unequivocally that Aaron's transgression is condemned by the film. The expressions of worship involved with the Golden Calf do indeed arise from the real-life experience of the people of God. They also have history and are a way of joining history. Thus one must note that the Golden Calf is meant to represent the liberation from bondage and that it is made of the gold the people themselves had gathered (Aaron: "Ihr spendet diesen Stoff, / ich geb ihm solche Form";


Aaron (Louis Devos). Courtesy Museum of Modern Art.

shot 30). Even the destruction and the self-destructiveness acted out are desensationalized. They are not made more powerful by way of cinematic effects but are merely presented as "representations" of these transgressions. Gielen finds the "renunciation of the orgy" of great importance to the film, stressing, among other things, the "unprofessional" dance of the butchers, performed by professional dancers.[37] Koch also accurately observes that this method of presenting the ballet is part of the price Straub/Huillet have paid for treating the opera as a text, including this portion which approaches conventional film and theater spectacle. But she seems to underestimate the significance of her own crucial observation: "The naturalistic details and objects, recommended by the composer and potentially offering considerable visual spectacle, have the effect in the film as theatrical props in the literal sense."[38] A powerful shock is produced by the juxtaposition of music, theatrical spectacle, the athletic skill of the Cologne ballet dancers, direct sound, and "the frustrating precision of the framing." The final image of the ballet is of the gravel base of the amphitheater, a frame the dancers have left, filled only by the sound of their panting from such exertion.[39]

One could also argue that this distancing from the "pleasure of the spectacle" is necessary to historicize it. The dance of the butchers is not only the music most closely resembling traditional program music in Schoenberg's opera,[40] it is also the only portion ever performed during his lifetime. As such, it has already been "realized" in the past to a greater degree than the unfinished opera as a whole.


Concerning the separation of life and art and the question of representing the unrepresentable, the "artlessness" of these scenes becomes extremely complex. It seems particularly fitting that virtually all critics have been disturbed by the orgy scenes and the dance of the butchers as Straub/Huillet have filmed them, since they portray the transgressions of the people, who attempt to represent their religion in the forms of everyday life. Since both true art and true holiness are separate from everyday life, these scenes are neither artful nor reverent. Despite their lack of art, however, they do provide a contrast to the rest of the film by capturing some of the spirit of real human life in its physical richness and diversity and give some credence to the "demands of the peopel" as even Eisler and Adorno urged. The images of the night of the orgy are cool and comfortable compared to the stark bright heat of most of the film's settings. The image of the moon in shot 69, for all its associations with death in the shots preceding it, is an inviting one. And the life breathed into the amphitheater by the arrival of the animals for sacrifice is also attractive as a sign of everyday living; their surplus of sound temporarily overwhelms the music. Furthermore, the unconvincing depiction of the suicides in the orgy also has an affirmative, realistic note: self-destruction is not natural after all, and thus it is difficult to depict without the aid of professionals in the art.

The transgression against the unrepresentable God thus is represented without "art." It is merely acted out, quite literally following the libretto, set within the reality of human life. The cinematic art of this film thus is linked to the opposite element: the unrepresentable God, the idea of freedom, the negation of reality, otherness. The ultimate expression of this freedom occurs in the film when the cinematic apparatus leaves the realm of narrative representations to suggest something beyond them. Preparation for this liberation from the historical narrative is provided by the central placement of the camera in the amphitheater. All the narrative action is focused inward, but the camera's perception of it can escape. Suggestions of this possible escape reside also in the fact that Moses' journey is not seen, nor is his destruction of the stone tablets narratively completed. Most important, the destruction of the Golden Calf is not acted out but is achieved by the fade to white offered only by cinematic technique. Here the question of the audience rises again. Moses is able to destroy the image, but even this destruction is an image: "Auch die Zerstörung des Bildwerks war nur ein Zeichen, ein Bild."[41] But in the context of the film, the destruction of the Golden Calf and, more important, the liberation of the people from bondage are radically different kinds of images from those positive ones worshiped within the narrative drama. The destruction of the Golden Calf, for instance, is not acted out dramatically but occurs through the fade of the film image. This is not to say that the white film or black film is any less a "sign" than the calf, but it does have a different audience: the calf is an image for both the people of Israel and for the viewer of the film; the fade to a white screen is only an image for the viewer. Even more liberating is the travel of the camera


outside the narrative space of the amphitheater. In this motion it follows none of the actors of the film, not even Moses. The two long panning shots of the Nile, shots 42 and 43, thus do much more than represent the escape of the Israelites from Egypt described in the accompanying text. To a great extent, it replaces this escape with an opportunity for the spectator to be both within and beyond the conflict of the film. At this point, we are on a different level from an audience reflecting on an "estranged" opera performance. The cinematic structure both confines and abandons the operatic performance. The audience for this pan across the Nile valley is also not the people of Israel, because they are enclosed in the space of the amphitheater and are not given the freedom of movement that the camera has. The chorus heard on the sound track is suddenly not present to the shot. The opportunity of freedom offered by this cinematic transformation is to become an audience for (and in) which the unrepresentable is brought into existence. As Jahweh is to the people of Israel, so is the authentic work of art to the audience that might exist for this film.

The final confrontations between Moses and Aaron also complete the separation of the formal structure of the film from the historical dilemma of their two ways of leading the people. As shot 10 united Moses' journey with the promise of the burning bush to free the people and to lead it, here the process is reversed. In shot 78, Moses destroys the stone tablets, the result of the foregoing struggle. Aaron and the people are no longer seen, and this is another parallel to the beginning. But Aaron's voice argues that the signs that lead toward the promised land, the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of clouds by day, are no less signs from God than the burning bush. A moving camera points to the distant sky outside the amphitheater as Aaron sings "Darin zeigt der Ewige nicht sich, / aber den Weg zu sich und den Weg ins gelobte Land" (shot 79). The same camera perspective that had inspired Moses to lead the people into the desert (into freedom) inspires Aaron to lead them out again. Act II ends as the opera began, with Moses alone, with only the arid ground around him.

The photography of Act III takes another step out of the context of the amphitheater. Like the long pans of the Nile, this shot is lush, fertile, and cool, with a mountain and a lake in the background. Lacoue-Labarthe has observed that by staging the first two acts in a Greek theater, Straub/Huillet have emphasized that this portion of the opera is the "tragedy" of Moses.[42] The modern dilemma enters with the opera's unfinished state, both a historical and a conceptual contradiction that cannot be resolved. This is the "caesura" that Lacoue-Labarthe locates in Straub/Huillet's approach to the third act.

The dramaturgical choice of Straub and Huillet is particularly illuminating: for not only do they play this rarely spoken scene in the unbearable silence which succeeds the unfurling of the music, a silence that Adorno analyzes so well, but they have it played in a place other than that which, since the outset, was properly the stage or the theater. They do this in such a way that it is not only the tragic


apparatus as Adorno understands it that collapses in a single stroke, but the entire apparatus which kept Moses within the frame of opera or music-drama. And it is here, probably, that religion is interrupted.[43]

Again, Straub/Huillet allow the cinema to take over: Moses and Aaron are no longer in the desert; they have been transported to a new setting, not by their own action, but by the camera's. Here, too, they do not act; all motion is supplied by the camera. The camera takes in first both Moses and Aaron, who is bound and lying in the mud, insisting that his images served the survival of the nation: "for their freedom—so that they would become a nation." Then, without a cut, the camera pans to Moses, who has the last word. The lack of editing unifies the scene rather than breaking it up into its contrasting parts.

Originally, the escape into the desert had been an escape from bondage and the creation of a nation. Now Moses proclaims that the nation will always need to return to the desert, as punishment for the successes of its own creation.

Whensoever you went forth amongst the people and employed these gifts—
which you were chosen to possess
so that you could fight for the divine idea—
whensoever you employed those gifts for false and negative ends,
that you might rival and share the lowly pleasures of strange peoples,
and whensoever you abandoned the wasteland's renunciation
and your gifts had led you to the highest summit,
then as a result of that misuse you were ever hurled back
into the wasteland.[44]

The separation of God from the people is the reality that makes it possible for this people to depart from and return to its covenant; the absoluteness of God's otherness makes possible a historical continuity for the "chosen people." The otherness of God is the basis of their freedom. But to "become a people," the images of Aaron were also necessary, and Straub/Huillet thus maintain the dissonance of this contradiction to the end. Aaron, who had been the man of melody and images, speaks his last words from offscreen; and the stage direction indicating that he falls down dead thus is negated. The only image at the film's end is Moses proclaiming the unity of the people and God without images.

The otherness of the cinematic structure in this film is the basis for the spectators' freedom. Since the audience is not in the cinematic space that confines the historical characters, it can see beyond them, can imagine the possibility of another liberation that cannot be represented because the people who could claim it do not exist. The film proposes an escape from its own images but does not depict either a leader or a nation that could carry out this escape. It returns to the limits of its own forms; since it is not the world, it


cannot depict freedom in the world. Even the magnificent freedom of the panoramas of the Nile, freedom offered to an audience able to accept it, begins and ends in bondage, in the history of its own mechanical creation, its unreality. Visually, shot 43 encompasses the hopes and the limits of the entire film as well: it begins with the arid rocks at the left of the frame, moves to take in the glorious green expanse of the Nile valley, then returns to the same arid rocks at the right of the frame, just as the chorus repeats the word "free." This film thus does not unselfconsciously indulge the audience's desire to gaze at natural beauty and evades, I think, the trap Gertrude Koch has consigned it to: "Thus both shots of pure nature get caught up in the wake of the ambiguity of Moses and Aaron , including its Zionist, political-biographical aspect."[45] The film can escape the desert and point toward the promised land, but it cannot enter it; liberation in reality and liberation in the cinema are separate propositions. The proscription of images and cinematic pleasure are both upheld.

Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's "Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene"

The heterogeneity of elements seen at work in Moses and Aaron provides a link to the work of Schoenberg as presented in Introduction . "Accompaniment," composed in 1930, bears the simple inscription "Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe." The piece is the only music heard in the Straub/Huillet film, one of a series of short films on composers commissioned by West Germany's Süd-West-Funk television station. The film is a collage of the following elements: a short introduction by Straub, showing him on a balcony in Rome and then shifting to images of Schoenberg's expressionistic self-portraits; excerpts from letters Schoenberg wrote to Wassily Kandinsky in which he confronts anti-Semitism and proclaims his rejection of politics (read on-screen into a microphone by two young men in the broadcasting studio);[46] a statement by Brecht on the connection of economics to fascism, from the year 1935 (recited by Huillet in her home); and finally, images of bombs being loaded onto B-52 aircraft and then dropped on the rice fields of Southeast Asia. Schoenberg's "Accompaniment" begins about halfway through the film, while the composer's letters are being read, and continues to the end.

The arrangement of such diverse elements into the temporal unity of a film is a film counterpart to Schoenberg's atonal compositions and his method of twelve-tone composition. Traditional tonality in music has a structural function parallel to that of traditional narrative in film. The overall structure of both is hierarchical, giving each note, image, or moment a "meaning" dependent on its relative place in the hierarchy. Dissonance in music, like the "lack" or "unreality" caused by the fragmentation of film, postulates a final resolution that restores and confirms equilibrium and completeness.


This sense of completeness based on hierarchical organization was rejected by Schoenberg. As Rosen puts it, "In Schoenberg, there is no voice, no note that is expressively neutral."[47] As noted above, however, this renunciation of a hierarchical structure is not a renunciation of structure or organization in itself. The composer still uses musical materials as a means of expression, but the value or meaning of certain expressions is no longer merely accepted as given by tradition. Thus other means of organization proposed by the nature of musical possibilities themselves are investigated; variations in sound were produced by changes in instrumentation rather than by the arrangement of notes. Rather than rest on a tonic chord, serial composition pushes toward the logical material limit of eventually using all the notes. "The saturation of musical space is Schoenberg's substitute for the tonic chord of the traditional musical language."[48]

Here is another parallel to the narrative tradition. A spectator of narrative cinema is held in position through the activity of filling the gaps in the narrative, restoring connections as time passes to synthesize the experience into a coherent memory. The gaps and dissonances in tonic composition serve the same purpose. They urge the listener to participate in the hierarchy by anticipating its formal coherence, knowing often what the next note will be, or at least feeling that each note fits comfortably into the structure.

Schoenberg's abandonment of the traditional principles of harmonic structure was not absolute. In fact, "relative degrees of stability" are still created but not on the basis of an external hierarchy. Schoenberg's atonal compositions of the pre–World War I period were thus both a step in the direction of his later twelve-note technique and a method of pushing the tensions within the earlier tonal system to their extreme. Stability is now internal to the music, or is implied by a reference to the traditional stability it refuses to provide. Rosen describes this relation of innovation to tradition as follows:

Here we touch on the most delicate and most difficult to understand of all Schoenberg's innovations: his reconstruction of the relation of consonance and dissonance without the use of the perfect triad, which had been the ground of this relation for more than four centuries. . . . For the moment, we must concentrate on his reconstruction of relative degrees of stability, that subtly nuanced wavering between intense anguish and half-resolution which is so characteristic of Erwartung . The simplest and most localized device for achieving this is described by Schoenberg himself at the end of the Harmonielehre , but with a certain hesitation as if he did not himself quite understand the technique he had invented. It concerns an implied resolution that does not in fact take place. In a discussion of the attenuation of the harshness of dissonances by spacing the dissonant notes far apart, Schoenberg gives a chord from Erwartung , of thirteen notes, which embraces eleven different notes of the chromatic scale plus two octave doublings. He observes that a resolution of the two upper notes into consonances according to the rules of tonal harmony appears to be implied by the structure of the chord,


and that this allusion to older forms seems to have a satisfying effect even though the resolution does not actually occur. Schoenberg himself realized the important role that the older style was to play in his work.[49]

A parallel to Straub/Huillet and Brecht emerges here. There is no "resolution" in their work, according to the hierarchical rules of traditional organization of meaning, but the relation of the organization of its materials to these traditional forms implies a resolution outside the work itself. As noted in regard to History Lessons , the subject of this "resolution" is outside the work of art but implied by it—is its utopian aspect.

The two most important aspects of Introduction in this regard are the heterogeneity of its material elements, parallel to musical "saturation," and its arrangement of and its existence in time. Heterogeneity of elements is one of the aspects common to Schoenberg's music and to the Straub/Huillet film that is stressed by Martin Walsh. Contrast, as opposed to transition, was found by Adorno to be Schoenberg's formative technique. "The 'separation of elements,' a materialist articulation that resists homogenization—and hence resists the appeal to any single universal 'truth'—is common to Straub/Huillet and Brecht, as it is to Schoenberg."[50] But Walsh fails to include "politics" as an element not to be homogenized. If the work appeals to no "single, universal 'truth,'" must it then appeal to a single, particular political truth? Walsh cites the separation of art and politics in Schoenberg's view but places Adorno and Brecht side by side without reflecting on their philosophical differences. Therefore, my analysis of the film will refute his conclusion that "this conscious desire for total separation of music and politics is precisely opposed by Straub/Huillet's structuring of Introduction ."[51] On the contrary, the separation of music and politics is intrinsic to the film.

As Walsh has said of Bridegroom , this short film, too, is almost a summary of film history, a chromatic scale of cinematic possibilities. Walsh compares the elimination of tonal harmony in Schoenberg's music with the "elimination of perspectival illusionism" in Introduction .[52] Although I would argue that the elimination is not absolute, the flatness of the images throughout the film is indeed striking and crucial to its structure. On the one hand, this flatness increases the relevance of time as a tool of visual composition, since there is virtually no movement within the images in most of the film. On the other hand, this flatness does lend the film an added level of "unreality," as desired by both Brecht and Schoenberg.[53] The shots of the film have a "still-photo quality,"[54] which Walsh locates as the distinction between "document" and "documentary." Each shot is in some respect a document, in addition to its content, of an aspect of film history and film's material possibilities.

On the material level, the film very simply runs through a broad range of possibilities, without organizing them in a traditional hierarchy. The film begins


Jean-Marie Straub in Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's
"Accompaniment for a Cinematographic Scene." 
Courtesy New Yorker Films.

with shots in color, with live sound, although most of the shots are in black-and-white or in color but of black-and-white subjects. The final shots of the film are entirely two-dimensional: the newspaper columns, announcing the acquittal of concentration camp architects; then the credits, white letters on red, the color of film leader, a nonverbal way of saying "the end" and perhaps a political statement. The only exterior color panorama, behind Straub in shot 2, is complemented at the end by the most extreme flatness of which film is capable. The live sound is complemented by the music, which is mechanically dubbed onto the film, like the printed titles, having no spatial relationship to the camera's presence. Even the number of shots, thirty-four, is supplied by the opus number of Schoenberg's work, a parallel to the composer's earlier Pierrot Lunaire opus 21, a setting of "thrice-seven" poems.

Between these two extremes are variations. For instance, although Straub/Huillet always use live sound, Schoenberg's letters to Kandinsky or Brecht's speech read by Straschek and Nestler are also "studio sound," since they were filmed in a studio of the broadcasting station that commissioned the film (Süd-West-Funk in Baden-Baden). The definition of this is therefore ambiguous because we "see" the recording of this studio sound; it is not dubbing, but if this very sound track were used to accompany another image, the event here recorded might still have looked the same.


Günter Peter Straschek in Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's
"Accompaniment for a Cinematographic Scene." Courtesy New Yorker Films.

Visually as well, the film runs through a chromatic scale of possibilities. It begins with the fountain that ends History Lessons, but this time with only peaceful water sounds and not the Bach oratorio. The well-known diagonal composition is here, in shot 2 of Straub speaking from the Giannicolo, for instance, and in the shots of the studio. The two shots in the studio stand out, most prominently the empty movie screen in the background, spilling over the upper right corner of the image, leading away from this image; then the microphone, the reading lamp, and the readers' shirts and faces, which appear almost white. The rest of the image, a study in black and gray, is dominated by the tilted horizontal (black) line of the desk and the vertical but angled (gray) plane of the wall. In the second shot of the studio, which involves camera movement and a cut, the lines end up in a less diagonal and more "resolved" arrangement. But in a rare occurrence in a Straub/Huillet film, a person—Danièle Huillet—speaks squarely facing the camera. Of course, this extreme is mitigated by the unpredictable motion of the cat on her lap. Also, for further ambivalence, this shot, too, is in color, but it is very hard to remember it as such; it is very flat because of the angle, and the cat, as well as Huillet's dress, is black and white.

Although the entire film naturally consists of photography, variations are explored here as well. Photographs are seen, such as Man Ray's portrait of


Danièle Huillet in Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's "Accompaniment 
for a Cinematographic Scene." Courtesy New Yorker Films.

Schoenberg or that of the murdered members of the Paris Commune "framed" by their coffins ("the first mass murder victims of modern capitalism").[55] Schoenberg himself is represented in four ways: in the quotations from his letters, in the photograph, in his self-portrait from the expressionist exhibition of "Der Blaue Reiter," and in his music. In addition to a sound studio, including the recording engineer, the film also documents the "documentary film": the sequence near the end shows bombs being constructed, loaded onto planes, and dropped, then exploding in flames. Film's two extremes are present in the black frames spliced in and the empty white screen in the studio. Camera movement is used sparingly, merely documenting its possibility. The camera pans in shot 16 from the engineer to Nestler reading the continuation of the Brecht text into the studio microphone. The camera tilts only twice, first over Schoenberg's self-portrait and second to allow the audience to read the newspaper excerpt in the final shot, 34. Now at the end of the film, the viewer either takes over the role of the actors, reading, or simply listens to the music (the eyes follow the camera movement in shot 34 in a way unlike the three-dimensional pan in shot 16: it cannot be "read").

Thus the film cites many of the major art forms of the twentieth century without homogenizing them. Further significance of this "separation of elements" derives from the content of the text. In a rare departure from their usual


practice, Straub and Huillet here include words they have written. Hence, two shots actually contain "narration" in the strict sense of the word. It is another indication of the "material" significance of this, that when Straub and Huillet intervene between text and audience in words of their own, they film themselves. The only presence of the "voice" of Straub/Huillet in their work is also accompanied by their image. And here is a third ambivalence: the people who "narrate" in these two shots are and are not the filmmakers. They relegate themselves to a past by appearing on screen, while the role of filmmaker remains present to the whole film. When I quote myself, I am splitting my existence into two locations in time, and, of course, both are "past" in regard to the time and place in which I truly exist. On the one hand, this contradiction of past and present identity corresponds to the loss and re-creation of the subject called "suturing" in psychoanalytic term.[56] On the other hand, it is a historical contradiction as well, as Franco Fortini discovered in the film in which he and a book written by him are the center of attention, Fortini/Cani . As Fortini wrote, "Now it is clear that the main character in The Dogs of Sinai [Fortini/Cani ] is not exactly the author of that book, and also does not correspond to the person writing to you now. [ . . . ] The words that main character will say will stand in conflict with the real impotence . . . and with the countenance of the character himself."[57]

Straub's narration, aside from providing sketchy biographical information on Schoenberg, serves two purposes. Straub introduces the letters to Kandinsky as Schoenberg's response to an invitation to join the Bauhaus in Weimar. The letters themselves contain the reasons for Schoenberg's refusal, a refusal to accept an exceptional status above anti-Semitic discrimination against others. The letters read later in the film by Straschek reveal strongly Schoenberg's insight into the implications of the social forces that define him as a Jew in the first place, then grant him privileges as such.

The introduction, however, only mentions Schoenberg's exile and the reason for the letters. The main argument of Straub's speech is against the proposition that the "Accompaniment" can be dramatized. Straub quotes the reasons for Schoenberg's detailed stage directions in all his dramatic works, the desire "to leave as little as possible to the new rulers of the theatrical art, the producers."[58] The fact that the Begleitmusik has no such directions, other than the heading "Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe," proves that the work is not meant to depict directly the events described or foreseen in the letters. The work has only an abstract relation to reality. Hence Straub's last assertion, before more neutral biographical narration continues in shot 3, "Otherwise unrepresentable, the cinematographic scene consists only of the so-called accompaniment."

Here, at least, the separation of music and politics is still maintained. The contents of the letters, too, although prompted by political realities, do not connect music and politics, or even suggest political action. Schoenberg drew the conclusions necessary for him from anti-Semitism, accepted the Jewishness


society assigned him, and went into exile to survive. But he did not see political causes of these events or how things could have been otherwise. "To be against war is as pointless as to be against death," he writes.

The only other third-person narrator in the film is Danièle Huillet, and her narration introduces the quotation from Brecht just as Straub's introduces the Schoenberg letters. But now the narrative stance is limited to its simplest possible form. Huillet's speech begins, "'Aber,' fragt Brecht . . ."—and her position as someone talking about a Brecht text is defined only in these two words, "fragt Brecht." Clearly, only the two narrators, Straub and Huillet, are in the position to say the names Schoenberg and Brecht, for it is only they who are "quoting." Here the presentation of the texts they cite merges with their role as filmmakers. The other readers—Straschek and Nestler—remain as speakers on the same material level as the words they speak. They too are "quotations" made by the filmmakers and introduced by them. The status of the reader is clearly not "representing" Brecht or Schoenberg in reading their words, but he is also not simply representing someone who could say "I will now quote Brecht or Schoenberg." Only the filmmakers say this, as the continuation of Huillet's "Brecht asks" in Nestler's reading makes explicit. The process of quoting merges with the process of filmmaking, as it does in all Straub/Huillet films made only of preexisting texts. Filming themselves, they quote themselves.

The political argument of the film can be located between Schoenberg's indignation in response to anti-Semitism in Straschek's reading and Brecht's connection of fascism to capitalist property relations in the reading by Nestler. This argument between the two quotations also hinges materially and temporally on the word "but" (aber ) spoken by Huillet in the connecting shot. The argument between Schoenberg and Brecht (a fiction) is thus imagined; indeed, a "story" has been generated by a single word.

All this says nothing about the relation between music and politics, as Walsh supposes. No indication is made that Schoenberg should, with more political consciousness, have made his art more political. Indeed, Brecht's argument in 1935 was not for political art but for political politics—addressing the real problem. He was not making an aesthetic point when he urged anti-Fascist artists to "talk of property relations." If anything, he was urging that art not be seen as a substitute for politics, because they are separate and distinct realms of activity. This stance is implicit in his exhortation, "Let us have pity for culture, but let us first have pity for humanity. Culture is saved only when humanity is saved."[59]

The achievement of Introduction has nothing to do with conveying a political message. Rather, it is its structural refusal to confuse politics with art, art with reality. The music of Schoenberg, as Straub insists, is not meant to generate images of "the world" or even an imaginary world. The film also does not present the music as a direct result of historical, political, or even narrative


events. The music joins the film at its most abstract, material level, while the screen is black, an arrangement of sounds in time, just as the film is a temporal arrangement of sounds and images. The film thus is partly constructed out of and sustained by the Accompaniment ; it is not superior to it, it does not quote it. There is no voice to say, "And now, here it is . . ." The music is the only sound in the film that is not produced before the camera.

To oversimplify the relationship between the two, one might say that politics belongs to the fiction of the film, while the music makes up a part of its material reality. Peter Nau has pointed out the central importance of the manipulation of time to generate film fiction, to assert the real distinction between art and reality. The reading cadences of Straschek and Nestler are broken at points not corresponding to those of natural speech. These breaks (Zäsuren ), combined with the next larger temporal break, the cuts in the film and black frames, make it possible for film time to distinguish itself from real time. The inserted title card dating the two letters also contributes: it steps out of chronology and locates in time both the letter it follows and the letter it precedes. Here again, the film reveals its relation to and its distance from reality in the nature of its construction. It does not represent a memory of events for the viewer; instead the consciousness of its own kind of time allows it to become an event itself. As Nau puts it, "Through the gaps created by the unfamiliar rhythm of speech the time of the film penetrates the text. Separated as fiction from the materials of reality and giving it meaning, the distinctiveness of the film expresses itself in the conscious perception of its duration."[60]

The imaginative activity of a spectator to affirm an ideological representation of reality requires an unconscious acceptance of the whole structure of the work as past, not as passing. The material separation of a work from reality makes it possible to perceive its existence in time and to give it meaning, rather than to get a meaning out of it. The temporal structures of Introduction have no meaning to transmit, and this they share with the structures of music. Here is where the relationship between the film, the music, and reality is most subtle and complex. Because the time of the film has separated itself from the "pastness" of narrative identification, it is able to move backward and forward among the documents of human history just as the renunciation of conventional narrative enables new arrangements of film materials to appear, or the renunciation of harmony makes new musical expressions possible.

The "history" with which the film began (the fountain from History Lessons ) seemed to be confined to German fascism and anti-Semitism but is gradually expanded to include history of artistic forms as well. The documents from Schoenberg's lifetime are complemented by earlier and later evidences of capitalist barbarism—the victims of the Paris Commune, the bombing of Southeast Asia. As Benjamin put it, all documents of culture are documents of barbarism as well. And finally, a contemporary judgment of Schoenberg's time is also documented in the newspaper accounts in the final shots: con-


centration camp architects are found innocent. It is ironic that the textual narrative described earlier is complemented by visual narration in the bombing sequences; cause and effect, steps in a process, are shown, but not meaning. The final shot of the newspaper text is indeed a push out of the realm of art and into reality, for the viewer is at the same time watching a (two-dimensional, "unreal") film and reading a newspaper article of political significance. The political significance exists in the real world of the spectator but not so clearly in the fiction of the film. The link to the fictional structure of the film is now only provided by the carryover of the music. It is able to link present and past, art and reality, precisely because it does not explain that link. Its otherness, both in regard to the film and to the world, makes the spectator-listener capable of imagining a process of change in reality that does not exist, that has not been represented, "an implied resolution that does not in fact take place," a "liberation by default."[61]


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