Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 7:30pm
Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann's The Laughing Man
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Introduced by Eric Baudelaire
The Laughing Man, Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann, 1965/66, digital projection, 65 mins
“In times like these, it's helpful to think about how, exactly, the enemy should be filmed. That's why I thought we should screen The Laughing Man.” - EB
In 1965, East German filmmakers Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann posed as a West German television crew in order to secure an interview with Major Siegfried Müller, aka “Congo Müller,” a former Wehrmacht officer who had become notorious in the European press for participating in the violent Congolese civil wars. Put at ease after a few cocktails, Müller expounds at length on his time as an international mercenary after World War II, and how he was recruited to provide military support to Mobutu’s forces in the Congo. There, as Müller relates, he and his fellow Europeans tortured and slaughtered countless local rebels. Ostensibly operating under the banner of NATO in an effort to curtail communist influence, Müller’s wartime actions reveal themselves to be more akin to the neo-colonial atrocities of the Vietnam War. Proudly sporting his swastika-emblazoned Iron Cross, Müller details how some of his compatriots saved the skulls of their victims as ghastly souvenirs.
Heynowski and Scheumann were arguably the most influential documentarians to work in East Germany, well-known internationally for behind-the-scenes reports from Cold War hot-spots like Chile, Vietnam, and Cambodia, investigated from a socialist viewpoint. The duo also became infamous for obtaining footage undercover; in The Laughing Man, their guise allows them to catch Müller decisively off his guard. “Continually smiling or laughing,” Amos Vogel wrote of Heynowski and Scheumann’s subject, “this man, a self-acknowledged Nazi, proudly reveals that he went to the Congo to save Western civilization from Bolshevism—to complete the work of the Nazis...It is not often that one can see and hear a real, ‘live’ Nazi in action, talking (more or less) freely because he presumed himself to be among friends instead of with two of the most clever political propagandists of our time, working for the other side.”
Eric Baudelaire is a visual artist and filmmaker. His films Letters to Max (2014), The Ugly One (2013) and The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years Without Images (2011) were shown at the FIDMarseille, Locarno, Toronto, New York, and Rotterdam film festivals. Recent solo exhibitions of his work were held at the Fridericianum in Kassel, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, Bétonsalon in Paris, the Bergen Kunsthall, the Beirut Art Center, Gasworks in London, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and Witte de With in Rotterdam. His films are currently being screened as part of the 2017 Whitney Biennial.
Tickets - $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.