A film by Bruce LaBruce
A film by Bruce LaBruce
55 min, DE 2017
World Premiere at Berlinale 2017 - Section Forum Expanded
Whatever happened to Ulrike Meinhof's Brain and to the ashes of gay Neo-Nazi leader Michael Kuehnen, who died of AIDS in 1989? Why is Dr. Julia Peiffer carrying Ulrike's Brain in an organ box through Hamburg on her way to a conference on the Undead? And what will happen when she is confronted there by her arch-rival Detlev Schlesinger, a far right ideologue who is in possession of Kuehnen's remains?
Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert
Written & Directed by Bruce LaBruce
Cinematographer Bernd Schoch & Haiko Alberti
Editor Jörn Hartmann
Original Music Score BunnyCat Productions
Costume Katja-Inga Baldowski
Make-Up Maria Trifu
Production Assistant Julia Huebner
Jürgen Brüning Paula Alamillo Rodriguez
Sonja Klümper Bruce LaBruce Jonathan Johnson
The idea behind “Ulrike’s Brain” is not so far from science fiction. After Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jean-Carl Raspe, the four main members of the RAF, were suspiciously found dead in Stammheim prison (Meinhof first, by strangulation; the others over a year and a half later, the men by gunshot, Ensslin also by strangulation), their brains were removed by the authorities to be examined by neuropathologist Dr. Jurgen Peiffer of Tubinger University. Peiffer’s examination of Ulrike Meinhof’s brain led him to the dubious conclusion that an operation to remove a benign tumour in 1962 caused damage significant enough to have contributed directly to her subsequent terrorist behaviour. Supporters of the RAF, who refused to believe that the actions of the left wing revolutionary were the result of a sick mind, vigorously opposed this theory. The examinations of the brains of the dead revolutionaries, who some believed were murdered by the state, also conjured visions of the grotesque medical experiments conducted during the Third Reich. The subsequent revelation that the four terrorist brains had mysteriously disappeared and were unaccounted for added a further level of science fiction to the entire spectacle. Only Ulrike’s Brain was finally located and returned to her daughters to be interred with her body in 2002. Or was it? In an even more bizarre twist, the brains of the remaining three RAF members have mysteriously disappeared, their whereabouts unknown to this day…
Referencing sixties B-movies like “They Saved Hitler’s Brain” and “The Brain That Would Not Die,” “Ulrike’s Brain” finds Doctor Julia Feifer (Susanne Sachsse) arriving at an academic/scientific conference with an organ box containing the brain of the real Ulrike Meinhof, which was saved by the authorities along with the other three brains of the leaders of the RAF after they all died in Stammheim prison. It soon becomes apparent that Doctor Feifer can communicate telepathically with Ulrike’s brain, which is directing her to lead a new feminist revolution. To that end, Doctor Feifer is searching for the ideal female body to transplant Ulrike’s Brain into. At the same time, her arch-rival, Detlev Schlesinger, an extreme right wing ideologue, arrives at the conference with the ashes of Michael Kuhnen, the former German neo-Nazi leader and infamous homosexual who died of AIDS in 1989. Through mystical practice and occult ritual, Schlesinger intends to raise the spirit of Kuhnen from the dead, reincarnating him in a body he has robbed from a grave as a kind of zombie, to challenge Feifer’s left wing insurgency. When the two Frankenstein’s monsters of the extreme left and the extreme right meet, chaos ensues.
Ulrike’s Brain, the movie, began as a performance/installation at the conference Die Untoten: Life Sciences and Pulp Fiction, an event curated in 2011 by Hannah Hurtzig at Kampnagel in Hamburg, the largest independent production venue for the performing arts in Germany. Hurtzig commissioned LaBruce to create a performance event to run parallel to the conference, which concerned researches and speculations about the zones of indeterminacy: the intersection of life and death. LaBruce decided to make a film for the event referencing pulp science fiction movies of the sixties, foregrounding the making of the film, which was performed in front of live audiences during the conference. Susanne Sachsse, who plays Dr. Peiffer, gave an actual lecture at the conference, posing as a “real” academic, adding an extra layer of obfuscation to the proceedings. Shooting extra material on location in Hamburg, LaBruce has now turned the performance/installation into an experimental film. The result is a delirious meta-narrative, a meditation on the intersection of the far right and the far left, and a definitive proof that life is, indeed, stranger than fiction.