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Antigone incorporates in many ways the return to mythic origins suggested by films such as Moses and Aaron or From the Cloud to the Resistance . It returns to the aesthetic origins of contemporary film and theater in its use of the visual simplicity of the silent cinema and the staging of Sophocles' play in a Greek theater of his era. It also returns to the mythic origins of civil society in the death of the heroic individual: Antigone's voluntary self-sacrifice parallels Moses' sojourn in the desert and Empedocles' plunge into volcanic fire. And its visual images, like its language, straining to be both German and Greek, mark the border between Europe and the other continents: the "African sun" shines on Sicily, as Huillet has put it.

Danièle Huillet's love for the light and landscape of Sicily, the fascination with the Teatro de Segesta (a Greek theater in Sicily dating from the fourth century B.C.E. and one of the best-preserved Greek theaters of antiquity, discovered by Straub/Huillet some twenty years earlier while scouting locations for Moses and Aaron ) led her and Straub to conclude their ten-year consideration of Hölderlin while returning to Brecht's political aesthetics. Brecht's version of the Hölderlin Antigone translation is rather obscure among his works and seldom performed, but Straub has emphasized that the text is "very much Brecht," including some of the strongest writing he ever did for the theater.[1] The lack of scholarly or critical work on Brecht's adaptation probably arises from its political and production history rather than its intrinsic quality—a situation not irrelevant to Straub/Huillet films as well.

Strangely enough, some of the most positive responses to the film reject its politics (or at least and especially Straub's polemical political position adjacent to the film) and do so partly by downplaying Brecht in favor of Hölderlin. This


Antigone  (Danièle Huillet's hands). 
Courtesy Edition Manfred Salzgeber, Berlin.

is partly true in the case of the positive French reception of the film, building on an already more favorable view than in Germany of the "pure" Höderlin texts in the previous films. Peter Handke's political argument with Straub/Huillet leads him to emphasize Hölderlin's formal modernism and Greek tragic forms over Brecht's more political concerns.[2]

This even leads Handke to a disregard for the facts: He writes of Antigone as if it were very little changed by Brecht's adaptation, when in fact the opposite is the case. He describes the paradoxical balance among the various levels of text as "Sophocles in the language of Hölderlin brought into suspicious motion by Brecht's rhetoric and brought down to earth again by strophes of Pindar inserted by Straub."[3] In adapting Hölderlin, he notes, "Brecht was modest for once," when in fact Brecht kept only 20 percent of Hölderlin's text without change, "modestly" adapted another 30 percent, and freely transformed the remaining half (not to mention the cutting of about one hundred verses).[4] The insertions of lines from Pindar, not to mention from Goethe and others, are all Brecht's, not the filmmakers'.

By leaving Brecht out of the picture to this extent, Handke can dismiss Straub/Huillet's political statements about the film as a perhaps quaint but silly personal tic of theirs. Handke accuses Straub/Huillet of "trying to close in or prop up their wonderful old militancy, which works freely in every shot of their film language, in the sloganistic framework of antiquated class struggle."[5]


Astrid Ofner as Antigone. 
Courtesy Edition Manfred Salzgeber, Berlin.

Handke is most upset by the impact of the "moralizing-prophesying" Brecht quotation at the end of Antigone . The text placed at the end of the film and connected to the Theater of Segesta only by the sound of a military helicopter recorded there is the following, delivered by Brecht at the Peoples' Congress for Peace (Völkerkongress für den Frieden) in Vienna in 1952.[6]

The memory of humanity for sufferings borne is astonishingly short. Its gift of imagination for coming sufferings is almost even lesser. For humanity is threatened by wars compared to which those past are like poor attempts, and they will come without any doubt if the hands of those who prepare them in all openness are not broken.

For Handke, the "petty spirit of explicit thinking" runs counter to the openness of the rest of the film. We will consider the political import of the Brechtian aspect of Antigone later on, which Handke is clearly avoiding here by emphasizing the formal impact of Straub/Huillet's work and their closeness to the power of Greek tragedy: "The Straubian cinema and ancient Greek theater are for me virtually one in the same, of like form."[7] We will also see that where he does stress the connection to Greek drama, Handke does indeed identify powerful effects of the cinematic simplicity of Straub/Huillet's treatment of text and space. But at this point, in objecting to the explicitness of the


printed text at the end of the film, Handke is excluding one of the "textual levels" of the film: its place in the postwar history of Germany.

The printed Brecht text and seemingly extradiegetic sound fit with the opening of the film as a frame that places the action in the archaeological layers of its development. On the screen at the beginning of the film are seen the titles along with the logo of the Theater of Segesta (with its age)—the only image in the film revealing its full shape. The title of the film spans all four levels of its history, Die Antigone des Sophokles in der hölderlinschen Übertragung für die Bühne bearbeitet von Brecht 1948 (Suhrkamp Verlag) . Beyond the references to Sophocles, Hölderlin, and Brecht, the contemporary intervention of Straub/Huillet and the film's material conditions of existence appear in the words "1948 (Suhrkamp Verlag)" appended to the title used in Chur, Switzerland. The date places the Brecht adaptation in historical time, while the naming of the publisher both gives them credit and reminds the audience that the Brecht rights had to be bought. In interviews, Straub has made a point of mentioning that, as with many other films, it was not easy to get the rights to this text: it took the personal help of the publisher Unseld to get Barbara Brecht Schall's approval, for which she demanded DM 50,000.[8]

Over these titles is heard an excerpt from the Musique pour les soupers du roi Ubu (1966), composed by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918–1970) and conducted and recorded by Michael Gielen. Zimmermann also composed the opera Die Soldaten , which is, according to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , "widely acknowledged as the most important in German since those of Berg."[9] Like Straub/Huillet, Zimmermann worked with collage from a wide variety of sources, with a dose of atonality added, and maintained his "roots firmly in history" rather than associating with the avant-gardism of "the fashionable schools of the 1950s and 1960s."[10] The excerpt introducing Antigone is particularly ominous with its atonal weavings around Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" driven by an unremitting tympani rhythm against the trills of the flutes. The music has been ignored by the German critics, however, with the exception of one who ridiculed it (without reference to Zimmermann) as "Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' intercut with the 'Symphonie Fantastique' by Berlioz," as if it were the work of a studio sound technician.[11]

The music embodies both similarity and difference to Brecht's production: Brecht had used rhythms and music (e.g., recordings of rhythms struck directly on piano strings)[12] during the performance to accompany the text and movement, while Straub/Huillet avoid movement and rely solely on the language for rhythm and music. However, one aspect of Brecht's adaptation was to smooth out the flow of the play, and in this Straub/Huillet have followed him: as Straub noted in the program for the stage version, Brecht's pace was very fast, and the structure of the film is also one of a single ineluctable arc of destruction.[13] The race with time as the warnings turn into messages of devastation is almost


increased by the interruption of the dark poetry of the choruses, which bear the fewest changes in Hölderlin's verse.

Brecht's adaptation of Antigone was significant to his transition back into German culture after being "hounded out of the U.S. by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee."[14] Waiting for opportunities to be solidified in Berlin, Brecht adapted Antigone in the winter of 1947–1948 for a small theater in Chur. Brecht chose Antigone from a number of plays suggested by Hans Curjel, who was in charge of the theater, and used Hölderlin's translation at the urging of his stage designer, Caspar Neher. The play was also a favorite of Helene Weigel, for whom the role was a preparation for Mother Courage and Her Children and a reintroduction to acting in German after more than a dozen years in exile. Ruth Berlau has asserted that the Antigone production might never have been done had there been a role for Weigel in Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti , one of Brecht's first projects on his return to Berlin.[15]

Brecht's attitude toward Hölderlin was anything but reverent, as it was for all that is "classical"[16] : "Even if one felt obligated to do something for a work like Antigone , we can only do that by letting it do something for us."[17] But he had come to admire some of Hölderlin's work that Hanns Eisler had set to music in California, "chiseling the plaster off it," as Eisler put it.[18] Brecht found Hölderlin's translation the "most forceful and amusing"[19] of those available (Straub also cited the "amusing," ironic quality of Hölderlin and, like Brecht, contrasted him with Goethe and Schiller, who he thought "deadly serious."[20]

Most important to Brecht was Hölderlin's language, as he wrote in his work journal: "Hölderlin's Antigone language would deserve deeper study than I could devote to it this time. It is astonishingly radical."[21] Curjel stresses that Brecht's changes deal with the narrative flow and the nature of fate in the play but that he kept Hölderlin's rhythmic arrangement, even intensifying it in its "mercilessness."[22]

The aspect of Hölderlin's language that he expanded on even as he adapted it is the Swabian folk influence. The examples he cites from Hölderlin include "Und die Sache sei / nicht wie für nichts"; "Denn treulos fängt man mich nicht"; and "Hochstädtisch kommt, unstädtisch / zu nichts er, wo das Schöne / mit ihm ist und mit Frechheit."[23]

An example of this kind of language, added by Brecht, is Antigone's "paratactic" retort to Creon's "hypertactic" question about the reasons for her stubbornness: "Halt für ein Beispiel (As an example)."[24] Brecht shortened Hölderlin's longer speeches somewhat and made the stychomythic exchanges more complex, for example, where he has the elders enter into the debate between Haemon and Creon.

DIE ALTEN: Doch frißt's viel Kraft, auf grausam Strafen denken.

KREON: Den Pflug zu Boden drücken, daß er pflügt, braucht Kraft.


DIE ALTEN: Doch milde Ordnung, spielend schafft sie viel.

KREON: Der Ordnungen sind viel. Doch: wer ordnet?

HÄMON: Wäre ich auch nicht dein Sohn, ich sagte, du.

KREON: Doch wär's mir auferlegt, müßt ich's auf meine Weis' tun.

HÄMON: Auf deine Weis', doch sei's die richtige Weis'.

KREON: Nicht wissend, was ich weiß, könntest du's nicht wissen. Bist du mir Freund, wie ich auch handeln mag?

HÄMON: Ich wollt, du handeltest, daß ich dir Freund sei.
                                                                                        (ll. 640–648)[25]

Here we see one result of Brecht's substantial changes in the plot and emphasis of the play. With Hitler and Stalingrad in mind,[26] Brecht has made Creon's motives for the war with Argos into imperialistic ones in search of metal ore. He orders victory celebrations before victory is assured and turns weapons against his own troops to drive them into hopeless battle. One of these, not a traitor but a deserter in the senseless effort, is Antigone's brother Polyneices. Through the series of messengers who arrive on the stage, including Antigone and Haemon but also Tiresias (the seer become acute observer), the messenger from the front, and the maid, Creon is faced with a single series of truths about the disastrous effects of his actions: a threatened rebellion among his own people, the death of his entire family by his unwillingness to hear reason, and ultimately the destruction of the entire city of Thebes as the consequence of his militaristic obsessions.

The "topical" situations introduced by Brecht into the play provide some of its strongest poetry. For instance, there is Antigone's refusal to be swayed by Creon's appeal to Heimat , one of the most emotionally charged words in German (to say nothing of New German Cinema):

Falsch ist's. Erde ist Mühsal. Heimat ist nicht nur
Erde, noch Haus nur. Nicht, wo einer Schweiß vergoß
Nicht das Haus, das hilflos dem Feuer entgegensieht
Nicht, wo er den Nacken gebeugt, nicht das heißt er Heimat.
                                                                                        (ll. 447–450)[27]

Antigone's call to the citizens of the city to resist tyranny illustrates Brecht's further secularization of Sophocles, begun by Hölderlin.[28] Hölderlin had given the specific gods named in the original more general names, indicating people's metaphysical predicament: "Vater der Zeit" for Zeus, for example. Brecht's Antigone urges a return to naming names but this time under the rubric, "The fate of humanity is humanity." Brecht's thinking of Weigel and the pain of exile (a kind of death, like Antigone's) is revealed by the echo between Antigone's rejection of "fate" and a similar rhetorical twist in "The Jewish


Wife." Antigone says at the beginning of her last speech before "fleeing into the grave,"

Nicht, ich bitt euch, sprecht vom Geschick.
Das weiß ich. Von dem sprecht
Der mich hinmacht, schuldlos; dem
Knüpft ein Geschick!
                                  (ll. 834–837)[29]

In "The Jewish Wife," performed by Weigel in Paris in 1935 (directed by another exile, the maker of the film Kuhle Wampe , Slatan Dudow), Judith Keith rehearses an "honest" reckoning with her non-Jewish husband before she leaves him to flee Nazi Germany. Concluding the last of these "honest" speeches, which she never says to him in person, are the words, "Reden wir nicht von Unglück. Reden wir von Schande" (Let's not talk about misfortune. Let's talk about shame).[30]

The poetry of the two reports of defeat and destruction that seal Creon's downfall is also some of Brecht's most powerful. The speech by the maid, delivered by Libgart Schwarz (Therese in Class Relations ), is partly adapted from that of Eurydice, whom Brecht has replaced. Instead, the speech is able to add to the compression of events and text, relating all the deaths one after another from the viewpoint of one who lives on. The messenger who tells of the disasters of war does not live on but "is glad to be gone" as he dies at the end of his speech. In this speech, in almost unbearably bitter German verse, are the "explicit parallels" to Stalingrad Brecht had recorded in his "working notes."[31]

Und, Herr, das Argosvolk focht abgefeimt.
Die Weiber fochten und die Kinder fochten.
Eßkessel, lang schon ohne Eßbares
Von ausgebrannten Firsten wurden sie mit kochendem
Wasser auf uns gestürtzt; selbst heilgebliebene Häuser
In unserm Rücken angefeuert, so als dächte
Keiner mehr jemals wo zu hausen. Denn zu Schanzzeug
Und Waffe wurde Hausgerät und Wohnung.
                                                                 (ll. 1143–1150)[32]

Brecht here creates a counterpart to Antigone's willingness to die and to side with the enemies of Thebes rather than bend to tyranny; the Argives risk annihilation of all domestic foundations for life in order to ward off the invasion from without.

In the example of three-way dialogue cited above, one can observe a significant departure from Hölderlin, and no doubt Sophocles: the isolation of


characters and the power of language in itself to embody action is altered to a degree. George Steiner has emphasized the complete separateness of Creon and Antigone, despite their dialogue.[33] Hölderlin's abyss threatens to swallow up both words and characters. This "tödlichfaktisch" power of the word in isolation for Greek drama is emphasized by Hölderlin, in a passage cited by Straub in the Antigone program for Berlin: The word "collects what poetry wishes to say, not lyrically or hymnically, but rather it moves in real actions and conflicts [Zwisten ], like fate itself. But in Greek tragedy this factic word is deadly, it is physical death."[34]

The separation of the worlds of Antigone and Creon is in part achieved by their long, lyrical speeches juxtaposed with passages of verbal sparring where each speaks one line at a time. Brecht complicates the effect by shortening the longer speeches and weaving the elders as well as the political plot into the dialogue. The separate "semantic codes" Steiner speaks of become a difference in diction, with Creon preening himself with the elaborate rhetoric of power and Antigone confronting him with harsh, almost vulgar phrases.[35] As in other films, Straub/Huillet have also separated the roles in the diction of the actors: Antigone is played by a young and inexperienced actor, while Creon's role is taken by a "Schmierenschauspieler wie er im Bilderbuch steht" (a picturebook version of a hammy, provincial actor).[36] Werner Rehm's prowess in pulling out the rhetorical stops corresponds to "the professionalism of power."[37]

Brecht's goal here was to increase the flow of the play, whereas the effect of Hölderlin that Straub/Huillet rediscover is one of stasis, where the action exists in the words themselves. This is one of the Greek qualities in their work that Handke so much admires, the shock of their incomparable editing in concert with the text so that "each and every transition of image and sound has the fineness and electricity of the end or beginning of a film."[38] Because each of their compositions has such sovereignty, a cut does indeed bear in it an intimation of the abyss (remembering "narrative space" and the need for some "unreality" in order for editing to be possible).

Straub/Huillet's method for achieving these eye- and ear-opening shocks is quite simple: they rely only on the text to motivate an edit, rather than a "theatrical" perception of action. The result is a shock caused by the simultaneous appearance of speaker and word that can only be achieved by the cinema. In the text, the approach of a character is often anticipated by a few lines from someone on stage. When this is done in the conventional theater, unless there are special lighting or stage effects, the person's approach is visible as it is being described. But in the Straub/Huillet film, the cut only occurs when the approaching figure begins to utter words, so that it seems as if the preceding text, as an incantation, had caused this image to appear. Because the speakers are usually isolated in space as well and do not share the frame, this apparition quality of cinematic space is ominous, even violent. As Giavarini writes, "The


millimeter-fine practice of shot-countershot reproduces the agonistic logic of tragic dialogue, a shot-to-shot [plan à plan ] that rediscovers the exaltation of stichomythia, this verse-to-verse, verse-against-verse. What one sees and hears very well in Antigone is that the unresolved opposition is equivalent to a midpoint where life and death merge."[39]

Since the norm in the film is the separateness of the compositions, emphasized by the cuts from character to character, the few gestures within the frame become all the more powerful. The shift of the eyes with a gesture in the text, a special concern of Huillet's direction, also takes on deadly force of the words. The few pans of the camera in the film, which are done with wrenching speed, also have the effect of revealing some horrible result of violence or guilt; Handke compares them to Hitchcock.[40] One pan follows the threat Creon poses to the hesitant messenger as he spits out the line "Gibst du mir Rätsel auf, du durchsichtiger?"[41] while another turns to the arid emptiness of the ground before the chorus as they ponder the "monstrousness" of mankind: "Ungeheuer is viel. Doch nichts / Ungeheurer als der Mensch" (ll. 268–269).[42]

Handke has asserted that the action of the film is all the more powerful, more rhythmic, more filmic, even "hallucinatory," because it is invisible—"threatened by Creon, retold by messengers, commented on by the chorus, prophesied by Tiresias."[43] It exists only in the words.

The gradual effect is a physical one, however, which moves from Brecht back to Hölderlin and the Greeks' belief in the corporeality of language. Steiner emphasizes this "presence" of language for both the Greeks and for Hölderlin's period, since "we speak organic vestiges of myth when we speak."[44] Whereas they were able to synthesize such concepts as truth and beauty, subject and object, Steiner writes, "nothing is more taxing for the modern reader than to seek to recapture the substantive intensity, the almost carnal presentness which these abstract terms carry for the thinkers and poets of the Revolutionary period and nineteenth century."[45] The corporeal and mythical quality of words becomes evident in the "event" of their being spoken. For this reason, Steiner further argues, "we do not experience, except metaphorically, the 'athletic, plastic' (Hölderlin's adjectives) immediacy of physical destruction through an act of speech."[46] In writing about the film Antigone , Handke describes how the actors, as a result of the editing and statuesque mise-en-scène, "increase wonderfully . . . in massivity, physicality, presence, volume, purely through their exaltedly fervent speaking, so that in the end . . . one has seen an athletic film."[47]

Here again we are reminded of the significance of the actors' physical struggle with the text and the act of breathing as part of the production of the meaning. Straub/Huillet carefully set the caesuras in Antigone , and a caesura for them is connected with the act of breathing. Hölderlin furthermore believed, "The caesura makes out of the mere alternation of tones the actual tragic law."[48] The idea that a filmic documentation of an actor's breathing, producing words and meaning, would carry intimations of life and death brings Straub/Huillet


also a bit away from Brecht. Indeed, Straub has recently distanced himself somewhat from the Brecht quotation at the outset of Not Reconciled that describes acting as Zitieren (quoting, citing). In any case, Straub is categorical in his statement, "I do not believe that the so-called alienation [Verfremdung ] is transferable to the film."[49] He stresses instead that Brecht, like Straub/Huillet, was trying to develop a mechanism to deal with the limitations of his medium. Like their cinematic investigation of the relation of text and speech to space and time, Straub argues, Brecht's theories were "a concrete reflection about a concrete piece of craftwork."[50] John Fuegi has also noted that the late 1940s brought Brecht again somewhat closer to the Aristotelian theater.[51]

By concentrating on the specific manifestations of supposed theoretical precepts, Straub/Huillet are indeed bringing an aspect of Brecht in proximity to the radicality of Hölderlin's translation. Steiner has already asserted such a connection, where the Shwabian Volksgestus is concerned: "Coercing German into a word order and pace as close as possible to Sophoclean Greek, Hölderlin gives to the famous 'unwritten laws' . . . a tremendous physical weight. Throughout, Antigone's diction, so elevated in the original, is on the borderline of a rough and populist colloquialism. It invokes ultimate values in a key of almost perfunctory, vulgate speech. The turn of phrase, 'Das eins der sterben muß ' (A creature, an anyone, which must die), is already Brechtian."[52] And Paul de Man, in his discussion of Benjamin and Hölderlin, has even argued that popular speech shares the corporeal metaphor of myth.[53]

Handke cites two examples where the description of unseen, disastrous events takes on the most physical weight. In both cases, near the film's conclusion, Straub/Huillet add to the mise-en-scène a physical signal of this life and death force. When the military messenger speaks, then collapses in death, it is at the border between proscenium and stage. As Giavarini observes, "No crossing [franchissement ] is possible, nothing but the entering and leaving of the field [champ ], which reaches an incredible violence in this absoluteness."[54]

The case of the maid telling of the suicides of Antigone and Haemon, with Creon powerless to stop them, is the inverse of this. As she tells of the unseen horrors, her entire body and head are shrouded in a brown garment. But when finally her head is revealed, Handke notes, this "has all the more the effect of an event."[55] With Brecht's transfer of this role from the queen to a humble woman, the messenger of war has a counterpart. But he spoke only of senseless death and defeat and falls forward to die as soon as the words are out. The maid speaks of voluntary deaths, however, with dignity and meaning; the revelation of her face as she speaks recalls the images of the defiant Antigone and rekindles hope.

In his admiration for Straub/Huillet, while ridiculing their politics, Handke values most the "originary" force by which their films redeem the presence of the world. He speaks of his walks home after the films, "which rejuvenate—me and the world."[56] But the mythical force of Antigone does not evoke


a world without history, and myth itself is always also a form of history. So the depoliticization of Antigone is both false and unnecessary.

A final example of this is found in the comparison of Antigone to the myths of origins typified by the American Western film. It is certainly true that Antigone relates such a myth, and Hölderlin saw it as such. For him, Steiner writes, it was "a play set in and representative of a moment of 'national reversal and revolution' [vaterländische Umkehr ]. The hour is that of a dramatic revaluation of moral values and political power relations."[57]

It is appropriate, then, that Antigone be discussed along with such films as Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven , which continues the tradition of the mythic West. The Cahiers du cinéma did just that with the cover feature in the summer of 1992. Citing Louis Deluc's 1927 article "From Orestes to Rio Jim," Giavarini observes that both Westerns and myths "tell of the origins, the beginnings of civilization, the birth of nations."[58]

Both Antigone and Unforgiven present a frontier where the laws of civilization have lost their credibility. The borderline between civilization and barbarism traced by the Western is seen in both spatial and linguistic terms. In a Western, this boundary is represented by the boulder behind which a man with a gun might shield himself. In Antigone , Giavarini writes, "the break with an old order, the antagonism of two worlds, is marked by the limit represented by the line of stone separating the ancient chorus from the actors." Compared to Unforgiven , Giavarini finds Antigone the more violent, where words are the weapons, "naked and lacerating." "There is nothing of a resolution."[59]

But Creon's courting of disaster, in Brecht's interpretation of it, is both a transgression of civilization and an extreme of the logic of capitalism. Tiresias sums up the connection in the lines

Mißwirtschaft schreit nach Großen, findet keine.
Krieg geht aus sich heraus und bricht das Bein.
Raub kommt von Raub, und Härte brauchet Härte
Und mehr braucht mehr und wird am End zu nichts.
                                                              (ll. 1010–1013)[60]

Creon's whipping up of war until it brings destruction home recalls another precedent in film history to which Straub/Huillet often return, D. W. Griffith's A Corner in Wheat . Griffith's film has very few camera positions—at the end of the farmer's wheatfield, at the farmer's barn, and theatrically framing the bakery, the grain trading floor, and the office and granaries of the grain speculator. The capitalist, after trying to corner the market and thereby ruining the farmer, is in the end accidentally buried under a flood of that self-same wheat. Like words, the "staff of life" can also become a weapon of retribution.

The temptation to depoliticize Antigone gains some support from the idea that such myths of origin attain a resolution. Steiner writes, citing Heidegger,


that each classical variant is "a literal homecoming: to the Lichtung [the clearing] in which Being made itself manifest."[61] This evocation of origins does have its hopeful, forward-looking, utopian element, since "in myth there is always an 'awaiting' of meaning, messianic or antimessianic."[62]

In addition to the juxtaposition of poetic language, myth, and politics, the placement of the drama in cinematic space is the most striking connection between Antigone and Empedocles . As we have seen, the progressive experimentation in regard to framing and camera placement (for which Empedocles represents a major step) was a search for the "elect position" from which all characters could be shot.

In Alain Philippon's analysis, this method of surgically dividing up the space rather than creating the illusion of space consists of treating space as something sacred. The space is divided to reveal the actors, but it is not divided according to their points of view. And above all, the space where the camera stands can never be shown: it is the fundamental taboo in the structure. Philippon uses the example of the exchange between Delia and Panthea at the opening of the Empedocles film, where Panthea looks left and is also framed left. Contrary to convention, no "air" is left in the direction of her gaze, with the result that the two women appear not to be looking at each other. "What could have been a classical shot-countershot . . . introduces what is to become the stylistic law of the film: less the arrangement of the characters in space than a veritable partition . To each, her/his frame, in an impossible seaming of the narrative fabric and of the spatial continuum."[63]

Both the concept of a sacred space, which was so central to Hölderlin's poetic criticism of the modern world, and the narrative division of space among characters become the "law" of the film Antigone . Straub/Huillet here again step into new cinematic territory by constructing the entire film from a single camera position, at two tripod elevations: one at approximately eye level on the ground and one on a platform four meters straight above this point: "That developed out of our earlier films, but we're doing it this way for the first time, and this has never been tried by anyone else."[64] The camera is placed near the border between the stage and theater in the Teatro de Segesta, dating from approximately the same period as Sophocles' play. All the drama and composition of the film are thus based on the options available from these positions: change of lenses and camera motion on its stable footing. The result is again the construction of an artistic tension between narrative and space that returns self-consciously to the powerful discovery of cinematic space in the silent cinema. As Hans Hurch has put it, "Perhaps the Straubs are the last great primitives of a cinema that began with Griffith and Stroheim. Further than that, says Jacques Rivette, we have never come."[65]

As in Empedocles, each character or group of characters has their own space. They are connected only by the work of the camera, never by theatrics until the few dramatic moments of Antigone's dispatch to the tomb or Creon's


Antigone : The single camera position in the Theater of Segesta, with Antigone's 
positions in each act (A1–A3), that of Creon in Act I (C1), and that of the elders (E). 
Based on Huillet's screenplay sketch. Graphic: Andrew Reich.

presentation of the sword of war to the elders. The camera divides the theater into three views, somewhat more than 180 degrees, which correspond to the three backdrops that had been used in the stage version. Creon is almost always seen at the left, on the stage portion of the ruin with the landscape behind him. He enters from the left and below, from a space that is not seen. Antigone and allied characters enter from the path onto the stage between the stage and amphitheater, seen from a longer shot with more detail: to the left is a view of some of the landscape; to the right are the huge stones rising at right angles into the amphitheater; straight ahead is a small nettle tree (nearly the only living thing in the film) and to its right a path gently sloping up the hill behind and away from the theater. Between the camera and this edge of the theater is a straight line formed by stones set in the ground, separating the theater/stage area from the "public" area. Creon and Antigone are always to the left of this line; the chorus, representing the citizens of Thebes, are always to its right. On the long stone dividing line an elder places the wine and millet that Antigone is to take to her living grave.

The single point of view across or down onto the "stage" of the ancient theater is also a liberation from the long history of photographic framing and "theatrical" staging in the cinema. Both the narrative implications of per-


Straub/Huillet directing  Antigone  (Lars Studer as the guard). 
Courtesy Edition Manfred Salzgeber, Berlin.

spective produced by framed still photographs and the "naturalist" sense of distance from conventional film compositions imitate the position of the spectator in the theater that has been the norm since the Renaissance. The proscenium and the photographic frame enclose the film image in a box and confine the viewer to a position corresponding to a theater spectator. In Antigone , the camera takes up a position that no spectator in this theater could have, thus placing every shot of the film at an oblique angle to the sight lines suggested by the theater itself. Indeed, only the logo seen at the outset reveals the complete, rounded shape of the theater, and no shot is directed from the camera position to the seating area to inscribe the returned gaze of an implied theatrical spectator. Only the knowledge that this is a classical theater identifies the stones behind the elders as risers for seating or the vertical dividing line formed by rocks on the ground as the suggestion of a proscenium.

The result is that each shot has two perspectives: that of the camera and that of the implied spectator in this theater. And the second is entirely imaginary and without visual support from the camera. The result of this separation from visual expectation is to underscore the "thereness" of the space we see: as Straub puts it, the point is not to create space but merely to show it.[66]

There are three spaces, then: Creon's, with his own entrance to the theater and the wide majesty of the landscape behind him (in one of the most shocking


shots of the film, near the end as the destruction of his obsession with total victory becomes clear, a modern, curving highway bridge is revealed gleaming behind him); the chorus's, which has no open background and no entrance or exit and consists only of the sun-baked stones of the amphitheater, "which attest to the luster of old Thebes but are also an eloquent indication of the fall of Creon and the city";[67] and Antigone's, which is a combination of the two, with a more flexible space for entrance and exit, a more flexible array of compositional elements: mountain, sky, tree, path, gateway, amphitheater, and ground. The most significant part here is played by the nettle tree (French: micocoulier ), a "thoroughly Mediterranean tree" [Straub] also common in France but now being replaced by plane trees, which are more economically useful.[68] The tree not only frames "those who do not bend to power,"[69] it also provides color and shadow, reveals the movement of light and wind, and frames the view toward the sea, the "hole in the hills" that had attracted the filmmakers in the beginning. "Antigone is not abandoned, as long as this tree is near her," writes Dietmar Schings.[70]

Schings claims the filmmakers see this tree as "one with the stones" that make up the amphitheater,[71] and Handke writes that the wind in its leaves near Antigone evoke the Verschwindenstod that she has in common with Empedocles.[72] But Narboni has pointed out that Straub/Huillet films deal not only with those who vanish, or with the ill-buried dead (such as From the Cloud to the Resistance, Fortini/Cani , or the Mallarmé short), but also with those who live on, the young people in Empedocles , but already in Not Reconciled (or the Bach and Kafka films).[73] But here, since again "the people" are absent, the tree acts as a mediator between the audience and the extremes of the film's composite parts: the dramatic action, the language, the ancient stones are all quite distant, timeless, and abstract. But this tree is not very old: in photographs of the theater taken in the 1950s, it is not even there. Its time is our time.

But if Antigone refers to a myth of origins, Brecht's time reminds us that, for European culture, the destruction wrought by Nazism is the "common crime" that marks the historical border-crossing into identity.[74] After this point, and also in the light of Stalinism, there is no homeland anymore.[75] If one refuses to make propaganda, as Straub asserts an intellectual must, then the "journey homeward" is a journey into exile.[76] Along with reminding of the destructive threat of fascism, Straub also raises doubts about the belief in "progress," especially in Marxism. The working class has been bought, he argues, by the promise of technical progress. Such faith in progress is there in Sophocles' choruses, too, he notes, which "all have the tone of the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto." "For me," Straub goes on, "industrial society is barbarism. For Hölderlin, too, I believe."[77] But once such evil is launched, there is no stopping it without exile to the desert: "For Schoenberg, the idea was nomadism. An absolute nomadism without the possibility of


Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Berlin, 1990. 
Photo: Ekko von Schwichow.

property."[78] For Straub/Huillet, Moses, Empedocles, and Antigone turn toward a utopian future with no hope of progress and no security of meaning. They face what Steiner calls in Antigones "the third, most terrible, alternative: that the gods are unjust or impotent, that mortal man [sic ], if he insists on acting ethically, according to reason and conscience, must leave the gods 'behind.'"[79] Steiner also quotes Schelling on tragedy in a similar vein: "But man's [sic ] defeat crystallizes his freedom, the lucid compulsion to act, to act polemically, which determines the substance of the self." "The fate of humanity is humanity."[80]

Here Straub/Huillet have placed alongside each other the utopian force of myth and the "Communist utopia" Straub finds best described in Hölderlin, a description Brecht would not have been capable of: "reach one another your hands / again, give the word and share the goods"—"you are born to the clear


day."[81] But the step into this utopia means leaving all constraints of the past behind.

You have thirsted very long for the unusual,
and as from a sick body the spirit
of Agrigent longs to leave the old track.
So venture it! what you have inherited, what you have acquired,
what your fathers' mouth has told you, taught you,
law and custom, the names of the ancient gods,
forget it boldly and raise, as newborn,
your eyes to godly Nature

Although one would suspect that Brecht also leaned toward the "productivism" of Sophocles and Marx, Straub sees in him a gesture toward doubt when he includes in Antigone such lines from Pindar's "Bacchanal Utopia" as "verwüstet / Nicht das Erdreich mit der Gewalt der Hände" (ll. 739–740).[82]

"What intellectuals must introduce is doubt," Straub concludes. And the Brecht text that concludes Antigone , which Handke sees as too explicit, can actually be seen as a signal of doubt. For it is a document of Brecht's misgivings not many years after Antigone , and after the foundation of the two German states. The mistrust of the powerful has a utopian element equal to the self-destruction of the tragic figures of Empedocles and Antigone. It is "business as usual" that gives real cause for pessimism. As Brecht remarked in 1949, "It's this continuity, this going-on, that makes for destruction."[83] With the unification of Germany has come a reassertion of continuity, to which the film Antigone responds. Or can we trust the planet to the care of those who have power?

The ending of the film is another example of the "suspension" of meaning and form that marked Hölderlin's translation: Brecht's warning bears the date 1952, making it already historical, yet the helicopter noise forces us to imagine a contemporary threat as well. But the terms of the Brecht text are reminiscent of Tiresias's last lines, where he bases his dire predictions merely on his witnessing of past events and leaves it to others to "shudder" at the thought of the future: "Und hab ich so zurückgeschaut, und um mich/Schaut ihr voraus und schaudert" (ll. 1014–1015).[84]

The terms of Brecht's description of Tiresias's powers are only "looking back" and "looking around," which in the film's epigraph become "memory" and "imagination"—powers the films of Straub/Huillet strive to activate. The suspension of hope and dread, looking forward and looking back, equalizes the elements of the film one last time to prevent a sense of resolution. While reading the text and hearing the helicopter, the audience is denied the beauty of the images that had gone before, which had projected a future


for the world. Hurch describes how the Maid's report embodies this concrete utopia.

A dress fluttering in the wind, a voice bemoaning the death of an innocent woman, a wall of stone with a broad plain stretching deep below it toward the sea, a hand straightening a veil, sunlight on the sandy ground. It is all there in this wide nonhierarchical ensemble of forms, shaped and unshaped, free and equal under the heavens. Nothing need mean more or stand for something else. It is the anticipatory glimpse of a world where "nothing is done for acquisition." That is the concrete dream that moves this film, and all films of the Straubs to this day.[85]


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