PETER LIECHTI (1951-2014)
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Christian Wulff

Tracking Peter Liechti’s cinematic journeys


From the start, Peter Liechti’s films injected a new mood into Swiss documentary film-making. Already his first pieces, produced in the second half of the 1980s, convincingly demonstrated how productively Liechti, born in eastern Switzerland in 1951, was able to interweave documentary material with products of the imagination. His Ausflug ins Gebirg (A Trip to the Mountains, 1968) points the way: in characteristically quirky language, this film essay appears, at first, to be chronicling a melancholy trip to the Austrian mountains, but gradually unfolds into a complex reflection on film-making itself. In Ausflug ins Gebirg, Liechti is both collector and commentator of images: his rough Super-8 and video images engage with clichés (which the viewer is expected to know) surrounding the Alpine landscape and with personal experiences in the mountains. Liechti translates his critical perspective on “having to enjoy” the nature experience, his spontaneously anti-sentimentalist response, into wonderfully cantankerous narrative (“The mountain destroys my thoughts. The mountain saps my brain.”). And the mood is mirrored in the weather (rain, fog, hail), the monotonous landscapes (“Nothing to write home about”) and the dreariness of everyday life (the gloomy hotel room, the raspberry gateau he has to eat). Ausflug ins Gebirg is a sketch and at the same time a first cinematic stroke of inspiration: a passionate search for “an individual perspective”, a kind of “autoethnographic study” composed by combining direct observation with ironically distanced criticism of what he sees.


His approach in the short, polemic, political essay Théatre de l’espérance (Theatre of Hope, 1987) is similar. But this time Liechti’s cinematic excursion offers an angle, not on mountain summits but on a summit conference: in the mid-eighties, Geneva was the scene of an encounter between two powerful heads of state, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. With the benefit of hindsight, Liechti confronts Super-8 glimpses he himself caught on the spot with other visual and acoustic found footage: with the stereotypical television images of the event, a selection of musical numbers and several repetitions of an art action by Roman Signer (whose “Suitcase Action” becomes the actual fulcrum of the piece). Théatre de l’espérance is a montage film that glaringly demonstrates the monstrousness of this kind of media event (the smiling masks of Nancy and Ronald Reagan!) through radical juxtaposition of material. Where Ausflug ins Gebirg still uses spoken commentary as a powerful vehicle of opposition, this time round the purpose is served by music and allusions to the art world: central axes of Liechti’s further work, with the help of which he will continue to develop his cinematic poetics of resistance.


In his next film, Kick That Habit (1989), music, audiovisual performances and filmic movement form a fascinating whole. Going out from the dark trash sound of eastern Swiss electro-musicians Norbert Möslang and Andy Guhl, Liechti charts sound and noise worlds, not only documenting or illustrating them, but allowing them to communicate with his own visual worlds. Though there is a tendency to describe Kick That Habit as the “music film” in Liechti’s oeuvre (in part to distinguish it from his “text films”), there is far more to it than that. As we might expect from Liechti, Kick That Habit is a sort of travelogue: a wondrous stream of images and sounds, of riskily complex montages once again taking us on a roam through eastern Switzerland, and giving us a chance to watch and listen to like-minded artists at work. The forty-minute film immensely expanded Liechti’s cinematic range, attaining a resoluteness of expression that anticipated much that would be so admirable in his later “big” motion pictures.


Shortly thereafter, Liechti put out a piece seemingly located at the other end of the documentary spectrum: Grimsel (1990). Originally conceived as a militant polemic against the planned construction of a new power station in the mountains, the parameters of the project changed shortly before shooting began: the project was cancelled, for economic reasons. Nonetheless, as the subtitle “Augenschein” implies, Liechti (and the initiator of the film, Res Balzli) embarked on an on-site inspection of the scene, patiently questioning the locals, documenting the austerity of the surroundings and approaching the natural environment from a variety of perspectives. Although Grimsel does not differ significantly from comparable pieces in its methods, the results of its enquiry extend far beyond the film’s political intentions. Instead of propounding theses, Grimsel turns into a critical reflection on the politically committed cinema per se: in its own amazing way, the film demonstrates how the landscapes, language and perceptions of the affected population give rise to ideas and attitudes.


Liechti’s quest for timely forms of expression and his interest in cinematographic experiments ultimately led to his first internationally acknowledged masterpiece: Signers Koffer (Signer’s Suitcase, 1996), a portrait of the eastern Swiss artist Roman Signer, who is exceedingly important to Liechti’s oeuvre (and not only because of his frequent appearances in the films). Far more than a traditional artist portrait, Signers Koffer is the outcome of fruitful complicity between portrayer and portrayed. Signer’s art actions, which are staged as surprising cinematographic moments, form the point of departure for a polyphonic composition virtuosically amalgamating the acoustic and the visual in a breathtaking synthesis. Created over many years and in the course of extensive travels, Signers Koffer fits in perfectly with Signer’s own world of art and artifice and can be regarded as emblematic of Liechti’s entire body of work: a film that documents a thoroughly independent spirit.


Liechti continued to pursue this path in his subsequent cinema documentaries: in Hans im Glück (Lucky Jack, 2003) the film-maker tells of his attempts to give up smoking by taking crosscountry hikes. His efforts to break the habit are presented as autobiographical journeys between Zurich, his current home, and St. Gall, where he was born: three times he takes different routes through eastern Switzerland and each time the “narrating I” cum “film-making I” returns (home, the cutting room) with a plethora of images, sounds, events and thoughts. Hans im Glück takes up a variety of ideas touched on in Ausflug ins Gebirg: the connection between the physical strain of walking and the (equally physical and palpable) work of filmmaking itself; critical reflections on the meaning of “Heimat”, the feeling of rootedness (by way of everyday observations); ironically melancholy self-questioning as cinematic method. Hans im Glück is an image-filled travel diary that continually draws energy from the friction between obstinate wilfulness and social norms. And, like Ausflug ins Gebirg, which ends in images of sick fish (“Everywhere in the green water, the white blooms of disease”), the structure of Hans im Glück, too, is shaped by progressive thematic concentration on basic questions of life and death.


Like all of Liechti’s films, Hans im Glück is also a multifaceted story about the relationship between the individual and society. This confrontation moves centre stage in Namibia Crossings (2004), his most recent cinema film, for which Liechti accompanies the Hambana Sound Company, an ensemble of musicians and singers of widely diverse national origins, on their concert tour of Namibia. Namibia Crossings documents an ambitious music project (which grew out of a local workshop) that not only aims to bring together a variety of musical styles, from jazz and classical to traditional African music, but is designed to initiate basic encounters between cultures. Against the backdrop of magnificent scenic views and numerous travel impressions, Liechti captures the results of this art laboratory – both the successful, usually musical moments, and the mounting conflicts among the members of the heterogeneous ensemble – in his typically laconic way. And yet, the film is not a document of failure. On the contrary: it merely brings out where the boundaries lie, and must be respected, or where they can possibly be transcended. And perhaps that is the common denominator of Peter Liechti’s film oeuvre: cinema understood as an art form that allows boundaries to be transcended in a multiplicity of ways.


Constantin Wulff, Vienna 2004
see also the interview: Peter Liechti in conversation with Constantin Wulff  

 

Index Texts


 Books, Editions 
»Peter Liechti – DEDICATIONS« (Scheidegger&Spiess Zürich, 2016)
Peter Liechti: »Klartext. Fragen an meine Eltern« (Vexer Verlag St.Gallen, 2013) *)
Peter Liechti: »Lauftext - ab 1985« (Vexer Verlag St.Gallen, 2010) *)
Peter Liechti: Waldschrat. Sechsteilige Fotoserie (Vexer Verlag St.Gallen, 2011)

 By Peter Liechti 
Carte Blanche Peter Liechti (Jahresbericht ARF/FDS 2011; deutsch)
Carte Blanche Peter Liechti (Rapport annuel ARF/FDS 2011; français)
«Viel zu wenige Künstler stürzen ab» (Peter Liechti im Gespräch mit Marcel Elsener)
»Kinodokumentarfilm – Fernsehdokumentarfilm« – Text zur Rencontre ARF/FDS 2006 von Peter Liechti
«Le documentaire de cinéma – le documentarie de télévision» – Texte pour la Rencontre ARF/FDS 2006 de Peter Liechti
Es boomt um den Schweizer Film, von Peter Liechti, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 30.Juni 2000
Dunkle Stirnen, helle Geister, von Peter Liechti, Tages Anzeiger, September 1997

 About Peter Liechti 
Von Menschen und Hasen (Alexander Weil in www.literaturkritik.de)
Im weitesten Winkel (Bert Rebhandl in FRIEZE)
The Wanderer (Bert Rebhandl in FRIEZE)
Die Kunst des Abschieds (Christoph Egger, Ansprache Gedenkfeier St.Gallen
Konfrontationen mit dem innern Dämon (Christoph Egger, Nachruf in der NZZ)
Der Einzel-, Doppel- und Dreifachgänger (Christoph Egger, Filmbulletin 1/2014)
Im Luftschiff mit Peter Liechti (Tania Stöcklin, Katalog Solothurner Filmtage 2014)
En dirigeable avec Peter Liechti (Tania Stöcklin, Catalogue Journées de Soleure 2014)
Open-Ended Experiments (Matthias Heeder, Katalog DOK Leipzig 2013)
Offene Versuchsanordnung (Matthias Heeder, Katalog DOK Leipzig 2013)
Peter Liechti, Sismographe (Bernard Tappolet, Le Courrier, 3 septembre 2011)
Laudatio auf Peter Liechti (Fredi M. Murer, Kunstpreis der Stadt Zürich)
Landschaften, befragt, mit Einzel-Gänger (Christoph Egger, Laudatio Kulturpreis St.Gallen)
Kino zum Blättern? Jein! (Florian Keller)
Das grosse alte Nichts heraushören – und es geniessen (Adrian Riklin)
«Sans la musique, la vieserait une erreur» – Collages et ruptures pour Peter Liechti (Nicole Brenez)
Tönende Rillen (Josef Lederle)
The Visual Music of Swiss Director Peter Liechti (Peter Margasak)
A Cinematic Poetics of Resistance (Piero Pala)
Aus dem Moment heraus abheben – Peter Liechtis Filme (Bettina Spoerri, NZZ, 19.8.2008)
Sights and Sounds – Peter Liechti's Filmic Journeys, by Constantin Wulff
Letter from Jsaac Mathes
Passage durch die Kinoreisen des Peter Liechti (Constantin Wulff)
Gespräch mit Peter Liechti (Constantin Wulff)
Tracking Peter Liechti's cinematic journeys (Constantin Wulff)
Interview with Peter Liechti (Constantin Wulff)
Interview zu »Namibia Crossings«, in: Basler Zeitung, 23.9.2004
Dokumentarische Haltung. Zu »Hans im Glück«, in: NZZ, 2004
Jäger, Forscher oder Bauer, Interview von Irene Genhart mit Peter Liechti, Stehplatz, April 1996
Excursions dans le paysage, de Michel Favre, Drôle de vie, numéro 8, Dezember 1990
Duckmäuse im Ödland, von Marianne Fehr, WoZ Nr.21, 23.Mai 1990

  Diverses 
Gedenkanlass im Filmpodium Zürich -- in Vorbereitung

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*)
 Inhalt Peter Liechti: «Lauftext – ab 1985» 

Sprechtext zum Film AUSFLUG INS GEBIRG, 1985
Zwei Versuche aus dem Jahr 1987
«Unrast», Arbeitstexte zu MARTHAS GARTEN, 1988 ‑ 1989
Reisenotizen aus den USA, 1990
Logbuch 1995 ‑ 1997
Logbuch 1998 ‑ 1999
Reisenotizen aus dem Südsudan, 1999
Recherchen Namibia, Rohtexte zu NAMIBIA CROSSINGS, 1999
Erstes ungekürztes Marschtagebuch zu HANS IM GLÜCK, 1999
Logbuch 2000 ‑ 2001
Zweites ungekürztes Marschtagebuch zu HANS IM GLÜCK, 2000
Drittes ungekürztes Marschtagebuch zu HANS IM GLÜCK, 2001
Logbuch 2002
Logbuch 2003
Logbuch 2004
Logbuch 2005
Logbuch 2006
Logbuch 2007
Logbuch 2008
Logbuch 2009
Logbuch 2010 (bis Mai)


Details zum Buch

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© 2003-2018 : www.peterliechti.ch : Top of page : Konzept Claude Brauchli / Programmierung+Entwicklung Mathias Knauer