Heiner Müller was born in Eppendorf, eastern Germany, in 1929 and died in Berlin in 1995. He was one of the major East German writers and indisputably the most important German dramatist (some would argue European dramatist) in the latter half of the twentieth century. His 30 plays helped reconfigure the notion of modern theatre in European and Anglo-Saxon venues and a number of his most important works (Hamletmachine, Quartett, Medea Material, The Mission) have been translated and staged in many parts of the world. Alexander Kluge was born in Halberstadt, Germany in 1932 and after earning a law degree has gone on to distinguish himself as a leading writer, cultural theoretician, film maker and public intellectual. In addition to 14 feature films, three of which became classics of German New Wave Cinema in the 60s and 70s, he has made a number of documentaries and short films. More than just interviews, the stature of these two figures and the level of their discourse document unique cultural and philosophical contemplations on German and European history of the 20th Century.
The interviews/discussions took place between June, 1988 and November, 1995, shortly before Müller's death at the age of 67 on December 30th of that year. What is important about the starting date of the interviews was the fact that it occurred one year prior to the collapse of the Wall on November 9, 1989. That is significant in that no other East German writer or intellectual was ever able to appear on West German television and then be able to return to his country. Given the momentous events that were occurring during the eight years of the interviews, it comes as no surprise that regardless of subject matter, all of the discussions are explicitly and implicitly suffused with the historical context in which they occur. For instance, a discussion of Heiner Müller's thirty year Hamlet project, which included his translation of Shakespeare's Hamlet and the writing of his own masterpiece Hamletmachine, focuses its conclusion on Müller's staging of a seven and a half hour Hamlet montage that he put on during and after the period of 1989 -- a production that stressed the relevance of the crisis enacted in Shakespeare's play and time to the crisis of change involved in German unification some three hundred and fifty years later. Another later interview deals at length with Müller's role in the political developments in East Germany: his relationship to power, his acknowledgment of his own privileges and weaknesses, etc. The playwright's trust in Kluge allowed him to explore self critically his own very complicated relationship to the ruling Party. Kluge also gets Müller to speak at length about his own role in the pivotal demonstrations of November 4, 1989 in East Berlin, where he spoke to a crowd of some 500,000 people.
Both Kluge and Müller have long been known for their use of the interview as a form of dialogic philosophizing. What is unfortunate is that 98 per cent of their interviews are available in print form only. Having the Müller-Kluge dialogues accessible visually provides an absolute unique opportunity to experience all that is being communicated beyond verbal articulation. In this case, it goes beyond the gestures, sounds and facial expressions of the interviewee. In addition to the discussions, Kluge is famous for his editing into the tapes at various points figural drawings framed by oddly delineated hieroglyphics and accompanied sometimes by music. What is innovative about Kluge's now legendary televised "Kulturmagazin" is the extent to which he has expanded the horizons of the TV medium through an intriguing set of montaging techniques, which are absolutely vital for him as a form of visual and acoustical estrangement.
This collection has been made available by Alexander Kluge to Dr. Rainer Stollmann, a leading authority on Kluge's work and a Professor of German and Cultural Studies at Bremen University. In collaboration with David Bathrick, a Heiner Müller scholar and Professor of German Studies and Theatre at Cornell University, and Cornell University Library, these interviews are now publicly available with transcripts/translations and commentary for each film.