An Encounter with Filmmaker Harun Farocki

The New York Times reported this morning that Harun Farocki died near Berlin on Wednesday. The news took me back to an encounter I had with the filmmaker:

20 May 1989, Tübingen


Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges

(Images of the World and Inscription of the War).

By Harun Farocki. Tübingen Premier.

Harun Farocki will be present for a discussion!


I found this advertisement on the Mensa table where I had lunch. Sure that there would be crowds I arrived early. There were no crowds. When the film began there were only ten people in the theater.

1858. Regierungsbauführer Meydenbauer hangs from a rope in a frail basket as he measures the cathedral in Wetzlar. The task is dangerous, and a near fatal accident stimulates his thinking about alternate ways to measure the high building. The result is the first photographically mediated measurement of a building. “It is dangerous,” the film’s narrator states, “to be physically present in the workplace.”

The film is a series of variations and repetitions on mediation vs. direct confrontation.

Computer imaging. A machine for studying wave motion. A drawing class with a nude model: “Think, draw, think.” SS photos documenting the division of Jews into those who could work and those who would be gassed immediately. Allied photographs of factories that accidently revealed and yet didn’t reveal concentration camps. Photography used for “Aufklärung.” Enlightenment, the film demonstrates, is an ambiguous concept. The film is difficult, confusing, exhilarating, and enlightening. The plot is intellectual. Ideas are the characters.

As the lights went up half of the audience scuttled out. Five of us remained to discuss the film with the director. Together we trailed into an adjoining bar and found a table. Everyone ordered something and then waited nervously for the drinks to come. Farocki too seemed nervous. He must have been disappointed by the tiny audience. Loud music inhibits our conversation. An attempt to have it turned down fails. Farocki laughs uneasily. “If you don’t have any questions,” he says, “I can read some from an interview in Zelluloid.” He opens a package of the film magazine. “They asked me to bring some of these along,” he tells us, apologizing. “They are DM 6, if anyone is interested.”

Finally someone has a question about the soundtrack. “I did that by placing scissors across the tape to break up the sound. I tried to destroy the structure. The film is carefully ordered, so the sound track was meant to introduce chance, chaos.”

Farocki, born in Java, is now a Berliner. His dark hair is pulled back and tied behind his head. Even in the bar he wears dark glasses. A black, armless T-shirt. His jacket is draped over a chair. His Levis are worn. The zipper is half down. Dark socks and worn sandals.

Someone asks about the repetition in the film. “It is the same subject, but in new contexts it becomes new material.” A question about water: “Water is an old substance, little understood. Dikes built in 1961 with the best scientific methods are now ruined. The studies couldn’t take into account the complexity of the ocean. The ocean must still be confronted one on one. The models just don’t work.

The film was shown in San Francisco, in Minneapolis, and in Houston at film festivals. It showed for three weeks in Berlin and on TV. In a year it has earned DM 600 in fees.

I ask about the hands in the film, hands at work reading photos with a lens or flipping through a photo album. Was that you? It was.


“Aufklärung.” Enlightenment. A word with several meanings, including one related to police work. I ask if his use of the term was related to the Poirier’s work with “Spurensicherung.” “Ah, the married couple,” he answers. “Yes, of course.” When I ask about philosophical influences, Derrida perhaps, he claims he’s not interested in Derrida. Vilém Flusser, he says, is a strong influence. I wonder if I am being pedantic and I wonder who Flusser is.

As the discussion turns to other recent films Farocki sees a little girl, maybe eight years old, sitting in the open door leading to a fire escape next to him. She has long black hair and brown skin. She sits and watches us for a long time. Suddenly she is gone.

Someone mentions Wings of Desire, and Farocki explodes: “films like that are like prepared, frozen, conserved, fast food. They have lots of additives, sweeping music, touching plot, awful camera angles, and no substance. What did Wenders think he was doing when he made that film? He though he was making money, that’s what.” The invective “Hollywood” falls repeatedly.

21 May 1989

In a bookstore I find a German Filmalmanach for 1989. I’m not sure how the book can foretell this year, but that’s what it says on the cover. I look up “Harun Farocki” in the index of the thick book. There it is, with a single page number. Excited to read about the man I met last night, I flip through the book to find page 576. I am surprised when it seems that it will be part of the index. In fact it is the very page of the index where I found the name “Farocki.” I read through the page and discover that the index is correct. On page 576 one can indeed find the name “Harun Farocki” — immediately preceding the number 576.

Stimulated by my little adventure I plan a book, an index of an index, a book that is wholly and only an index, with each entry the singular self-referential occurence of the word. Perhaps I will create the words as well. And then, at the end, like a normal index, a number index: the number 1 to be found on page one and on the page of the number index, the number 2 on page two and in the number index, and so on. I will title my book Index “Harun Farocki” in honor of the occasion of my adventure.

I leave the bookstore with Vilém Flusser’s Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie and Michel Leiris’ Das Band am Hals der Olympia.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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2 Responses to An Encounter with Filmmaker Harun Farocki

  1. michael roloff says: tells us
    Early life and education[edit]
    Farocki was born as Harun El Usman Faroqhi[2] in Neutitschein, Sudetenland. His father, Abdul Qudus Faroqui, had immigrated to Germany from India in the 1920s, his German mother had been evacuated from Berlin due to the Allied bombing of Germany.[3][4] He simplified the spelling of his surname as a young man.[5] After World War II Farocki grew up in India and Indonesia[6][7]before resettling in West Germany.
    Farocki, who was deeply influenced by Bertolt Brecht and Jean-Luc Godard, studied at the German Film and Television Academy in West Berlin. He began making films — from the very beginning, they were non-narrative essays on the politics of imagery — in the mid-1960s.[8]
    From 1993 to 1999, Farocki taught at the University of California, Berkeley.[9] He later was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.
    He has made over 90 films, the vast majority of them short experimental documentaries. Farocki attended the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin from 1966 to 1968, and taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 1993 to 1999.
    Farocki’s work was included in the 2004-05 Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania.[10]
    Films (selection)[edit]
    (D = Director, E = Editor, S = Screenplay, P = Production)
    1969: Die Worte des Vorsitzenden – The Words of The Chairman
    1969: Nicht löschbares Feuer – Inextinguishable Fire (D)
    1970: Die Teilung aller Tage – The Division of All Days (D, E, S)
    1971: Eine Sache, die sich versteht (D, S, P)
    1975: Auf Biegen oder Brechen (S)
    1978: Zwischen zwei Kriegen – Between Two Wars (D, E, S, P)
    1981: Etwas wird sichtbar – Before Your Eyes Vietnam (D, S, P)
    1983: Ein Bild – An Image
    1983: Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at work on Franz Kafka’s “Amerika”
    1985: Betrogen – Betrayed (D, S)
    1986: Wie man sieht – As You See (D, S, P)
    1987: Bilderkrieg (D)
    1987: Die Schulung
    1989: Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges – Images of the World and the Inscription of War (D, S, P)
    1990: Leben: BRD – How to live in the Federal Republic of Germany (D, S, P)
    1991: Videogramme einer Revolution – Videograms of a Revolution (D, S, P)
    1993: Was ist los? – What’s up? (D, S)
    1994: Die Umschulung
    1995: Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik – Workers Leaving the Factory
    1995: Schnittstelle
    1996: Die Bewerbung – The Interview (TV) (D, S)
    1996: Der Auftritt – The Appearance
    1997: Stilleben – Still Life (D, S)
    1997: Nach dem Spiel (P)
    1998: Worte und Spiele
    2000: Die innere Sicherheit
    2000: Gefängnisbilder – Prison Images (D, S)
    2001: Auge/Maschine
    2001: Die Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten – The Creators of the Shopping Worlds (D, S)
    2003: Erkennen und Verfolgen (D, S, P)
    2004: Nicht ohne Risiko (D, S, P)
    2005: Die Hochzeitsfabrik (P)
    2005: Ghosts (S)
    2006: Am Rand der Städte (P)
    2007: Aufschub
    2007: Respite – first episode of Memories (Jeonju Digital Project 2007)
    2009: Zum Vergleich (D, S)
    2009/2010: Serious Games I-IV, Video series
    2012 Barbara (S)
    2014: Phoenix (S)
    Images of the world and the inscription of war and Respite were released on Region 0 DVD on 7 June 2011 by Survivance.
    Personal life[edit]
    Farocki’s first wife, Ursula Lefkes, whom he married in 1966, died in 1996. His survivors included his second wife, Antje Ehmann, whom he married in 2001; twin daughters from his first marriage, Annabel Lee and Larissa Lu; and eight grandchildren.[11]
    External links[edit]
    Harun Farocki Official Site
    Harun Farocki at the Internet Movie Database
    Harun Farocki in the Video Data Bank


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