As the man responsible for scenes of public sex on a boat adorned with a giant head of Karl Marx in Sweet Movie (1975) and of a Soviet soldier abandoned in Germany attempting to clean bird shit off the head of a giant statue of Lenin slated for dismantling in Gorilla Bathes At Noon (1993), Dusan Makavejev has helped the world survive the Cold War and its aftermath with his playful and subversive filmmaking. This filmmaking has also undoubtedly helped Makavejev himself deal with the complications and vicissitudes of a nomadic life which he has followed from his early days in Yugoslavia during World War II, through his forced exile in the ’70s, to today, where he lives in France but cautiously ventures occasionally to post-Communist, post-Milosevic Serbia.
Makavejev answers his phone with a gruff “hello,” entertains visiting film critics with long nights of drinking and story-telling, surfs the web, and continues to plan adventurous multi-media projects. He remains the consummate satirist, always openly examining how the structures of power in the world around him operate, and exposing how funny they are.
I spoke with Makavejev in the fall of 2000, while preparing material for a video re-release of six films he directed through the company I work with, Facets Multimedia in the United States. Our conversation focused on the six films I was working with, but as one might expect when speaking with the writer and director of WR (1971), which juxtaposes the love life of a Soviet figure-skating champion with an exploration of the life and work of radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, our conversation happily segued into numerous related and unrelated topics.
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Ray Privett: Let’s talk about your background – where you’re from, and how you became involved with cinema.
Dusan Makavejev: Oh my God. That happened many, many years ago. I already forgot. One thing is where you are born and when. Another is, after awhile, say half a century later, when you have made a lot of movies, you ask yourself where you are from. It raises the question as to whether where I was born is the same place as where I the filmmaker am from.
But I guess I’m from Belgrade, in Yugoslavia, which is a city that, with the recent change of government, finally after thirteen years I can again be proud of among other people. I’ve always been proud of the city, but for thirteen years I haven’t been able to persuade anyone else about its value. About 68 years ago, I was born there. I was born in the street that appears in my film Hole in the Soul (1994). This is King Milutin Street, named after one of the famous kings of Old Serbia from the 12th century or something. They say that he built forty monasteries for his forty years being in power, trying to repent for all the sins and murders he committed. He must have done a lot of bad things because forty churches is a lot. Just yesterday on the internet I found something about him being one of the first kings who coined his own money, from some silver mines he had in Kosovo. Dante put him in the 9th Circle of Hell in The Inferno because he was the first one to put his own face on the money he produced. Another story that I have found says that in fact the money was partially counterfeit. It did not have as much silver as promised. So he was one of the first known counterfeiters in history. It seems the pope accused him, and wanted to put him in court. He cheated his own population and the world population as well.
Across the street from where I was born, before the war, was the Soviet embassy. And, until just recently, when it moved to the place where it was bombed by NATO, the Chinese embassy was there as well. But during World War II, it was the headquarters of the German Chief Command of the South East, the base of a General whose liaison officer was Kurt Waldheim. So as a kid I watched German officers going in and out of this building, and one of them was the future Secretary of the United Nations.
When Frank Moorhouse, the Australian who wrote The Coca-Cola Kid (1985), came to Belgrade in 1975 or ’76 or something like that, we went to the military museum. There we discovered that Belgrade had lived through thirty wars. The place was full of history. But when you grow up there you don’t have this sense of history. You just have the sense of fruit markets and flower markets.
I grew up just as World War II was getting underway, in the late ’30s. In 1937, the first feature-length cartoon was produced. It was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, made by Disney. I was five-years-old at the time, and this made me very proud. It made me feel this was made for me, for my generation. One strange thing I remember that I’m still trying to figure out whether it really happened has to do with my seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves speaking German. The war came to Yugoslavia in April 1941, and they took us to a school to watch Snow White. America was still on friendly terms with Germany, because Pearl Harbor had not been bombed yet. There I saw a German-dubbed version of Snow White. I suppose they sang “hi-ho” in English, but the rest was probably dubbed. I should write to the historical department of Disney to find out if this was possible or if it is just a false memory.
RP: Do you think this affected your later decision to become a filmmaker?
DM: Well, as everything else did. Then the next year or so, after I first saw Snow White in ’37, I went to an English kindergarten nearby, and the first film I remember seeing there featured Felix the Cat, projected on the wall from a 8mm projector. It was this little cat jumping from roof to roof.
It’s very difficult to say what makes you get involved in movies. You just see so many movies that at some point it becomes part of your life. As soon as you see ten, they become part of you. Movies always follow us as reference material or as some kind of dreamlike material for dealing with things we don’t understand in our lives. Movies give us solutions, or provide a whispering commentary on what is happening around us.
RP: Some time after this you received a degree in psychology.
DM: I studied in a good psychology department. Some of the early professors in the first years were old, German educated people. It was all about sensorial feelings, about when you feel cold and hot, about memories, about how many words you can memorize. It was endless tests in memory and sensorial sensitivity. But then later it became more interesting. We got Gestalt psychology, then later some Freudian stuff because we had a Professor who studied in Vienna with one of Freud’s pupils. I discovered Wilhelm Reich in the early ’50s, and tried to read him, but I could not find anything. I didn’t know he was in jail at the time. I tried to order his books from the States, but was told the publishing company does not exist anymore. Eventually all his books went under a court indictment to be burned. Erich Fromm was also important for me in this era, particularly things like Escape from Freedom, The Sane Society, and so forth.
RP: Around this time you became involved with the novi film movement.
DM: We were lucky because there was a great catastrophe in American cinema. In the ’50s they tried all these new processes like Cinema Scope and Vista Vision, and these processes that made the theatre tremble. These were attempts to make larger and bigger films to attract back the audiences. You had loudspeakers all around the cinema, and sometimes you would listen to actors speaking quietly and suddenly you would hear birds or cars very loud behind you drowning out what was more important. At that time there was also a financial crisis in American cinema. I think the government had just made the studios sell off their theatre chains.
RP: Yes, the Paramount decision.
DM: So the producers behind the studios went all over the world to make movies cheaper. Hollywood was too expensive. They started coming to Yugoslavia to shoot in our studios. They did films in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Yugoslavia. The governments would give lots of soldiers cheaply as extras. There were still a lot of horses that were not killed as in the States. And there were cheap carpenters, and things like that, too.
This affected the atmosphere around my first film, Man is Not a Bird (1966), which was all shot on location. The studios were all filled up by gigantic productions like 55 Days at Peking (1963) and Long Ships (1963). My films were produced by local money, but all the studios I might have shot in were busy working with Hollywood, in particular the producers Carlo Ponti and Dino de Laurentiis. Hollywood gave money to these Italian producers, and they would produce films in Belgrade or Zagreb for very cheap.
When I wanted to make my second film, Love Affair (1967), they said: you will make your next film, but maybe in springtime. It was autumn. By springtime we will have collected enough money from theatres and your film will be next. At that time they were not producing too many films. Later they were producing ten or maybe fifteen films a year. But at that time they were producing two or three or maybe four.
I had asked if I could do my next film, and they said sure. But what is it about? I don’t know, I said, I’ll figure it out. So I went home and I wrote a few pages about eyes. Flies have many eyes. Chickens have two eyes – one to the left and one to the right. Horses have eyes that see everything magnified. And there was something about human eyes – the eyes of criminals, the eyes of lovers. There was a choir of blind men, and I think I also had a choir of blind nuns. It was all about eyes. I had jokes about eyes, stories, proverbs, and so forth. It was a collection of things about eyes crammed into two or three pages. It was probably very difficult to read, like a crazy, surreal poem about eyes. They said, look, that’s interesting, but we need a little more – say twenty-four pages. He said this just to get rid of me. So I went home and I wrote twenty-four pages. When I started breaking up my little stories and putting them in order, I started getting a larger story. The story was about two people who meet, and what happens between them. In the meantime I also went to the local police and asked if they had some sensational case. They told me about this case about a boy who drowned during a school fieldtrip, and when the department went to fish him out, they also fished out this woman’s body. It was an anonymous corpse that had been there for like three months. It took them six months to a year to find out who killed her. Nobody was looking for this woman. She was the wife of a construction worker in Belgrade, but had come from somewhere far away, and he pushed her in this well. So I got this case and I started combining my eye stories with this case. Finally I gave them sixty pages, filling in some dialogue and so forth.
So I finished the script and the producers said to come in the springtime. I got my cinematographer and my set designer and we moved through the building, and we said, why don’t we start now? In the basement we found three empty rooms. Some crew had recently left the place. We said, let’s call the film Love Affair, and the set designer wrote “Love Affair Film Crew” on the door. We were there, just talking about anything. It was an empty room with just a few tables. Somebody knocked on the door, and it was a middle-aged guy in a white shirt and tie. We were all in our 20s and he was in his 40s. He said: what are you doing here? We said we were preparing a film. He asked if we needed a production manager. And we said, um, yes, we don’t have anyone yet. We were totally caught occupying the room. The guy replied: can I see the script? He was retired from the army; he probably wasn’t competent enough there, and he found a job in film production. They told him he could be a production manager but that he should wait a little until the job comes. For the moment we have nothing for you. But he was a workaholic, so he found us. He took the script, and the next day, on the wall there was a whole breakdown of the film. We were very happy, and we didn’t have the heart to tell him that the production was not yet approved. But he said, look, there is stock for us. He asked the cinematographer how much was needed, and he went to the lab and reserved the stock. We started listening to him and following him and suddenly we found we were able to start shooting. It was made and was successful, but it was never officially produced. They were too busy shooting this gigantic Hollywood movie that they either didn’t realize or care what we were doing. We got a camera from the camera department, and we went to the lab and got our film developed, because we told them we worked for the company. The people who did realize what we were doing loved us. We were young guys who were doing something interesting.
RP: Do you think production circumstances like this affected why you put the film together in the collage style that is characteristic of your work?
DM: We all came from the Cinémathèques. I had seen hundreds of underground movies, and they’re always using clips and excerpts; and documentaries and propaganda films do as well. This technology has always existed in movies. It has always been used in social and political films. But it is rarely used in fiction films.
While I was making my short films, we went to this fantastic short film festival in Oberhausen in Germany. We saw this porno film disguised as an educational film. The film starts with a doctor who makes a speech about different cases and different shapes and different ways sex is practiced. Then suddenly you saw this big, round bed, and it swings around and there is this naked woman, and a naked man comes, and they start making love. It is all very ascetic. And you hear the voiceover of the doctor saying, “now they’re in the missionary position. But they also can move into this position.” And they change position. It was like marionettes controlled by the remote voice of the doctor. Whatever was happening on the screen was totally vulgar, but the doctor was speaking totally academically. This discrepancy was unbelievably fantastic. I immediately perceived it as a great quality. Normally people just laughed. But I realized the great potential in discrepancy between voiceover and image.
Russ Meyer was using the same technique at the same time. If you remember Mudhoney (1965), and films like that, there was always a Protestant preacher talking against sin and against women. But at the same time you had these fantastic, voluptuous women everywhere. He had these preachers who were very powerful, Southern fundamentalist, Jesus-whatever – quoting the Bible and so on. But the whole thing was actually promoting sin in a convoluted way.
RP: This had a big effect on you.
DM: It impressed me with its transparent hypocrisy. It was not really hypocritical. It was pretending to be hypocritical. It was not only pretending to be moralistic, it was pretending to be hypocritical. It was much worse. It was purely exploitative. On the other hand, being so blatant, there was something intensely creative in it. What was creative was in fact all these strategies put together. Russ Meyer is a man of considerable talent. He is a good cinematographer. He is a hustler-level intellectual. He was in the signal corps during the war. I met him once in Chicago during the Chicago International Film Festival. It was wonderful. The whole evening I listened to Roger Ebert and him talk.
The third film was again started under similar circumstances. After my first film, with which I was immediately successful, I was told: look, the second film will be a failure. But, they said, don’t worry. Everything you had in yourself was in your first film, so your second one has to be weaker. But don’t worry, the third one will be better. But the second one was much more successful than the first one. It played all over Germany in big theatres, and was invited to film festivals all over the world – to Montreal, to the New York Film Festival, all over.
Then they said if you’re successful with your first and second films, then the third one cannot be better. But don’t worry. So I said, okay, I’m not going to make a third film. I’m going to make “2B.” I did not dare to call Innocence Unprotected (1968) my third film, because it would fail. I said, I’ll make some kind of documentary. We put ads in the paper saying we were looking for people with extraordinary mental and physical qualities. We got a thousand letters. Half of them were from fire-eaters. And half of the other half were from people who would hit a ball with their head and keep it in the air for a long time. Things like that. It was totally uninteresting, except for a very small few.
Then I decided to try to find this film that was very well-known but that no one had seen, which had been called Innocence Unprotected. It was the first Serbian talkie, made during the Nazi occupation by a semi-literate acrobat. But the film was never shown after the war. They were afraid because anyone who had more money at the end of the war than before was suspicious. This was not de-Nazification, but it was a way to investigate profiteering. A lot of houses and properties were confiscated. But the director, Aleksic, was clever. He earned a lot of money with this film during the war. He was a self-made man making a handmade film in someone’s apartment. The producer was a garage owner. The only professional was a cinematographer. Then there were some theatre and cabaret actors. Aleksic earned a lot of money, in part by cheating everyone else.
During the liberation, he sold the house that he had bought during the war, and then bought a new house. So if they asked him, he said, no, I bought this house after the war. He didn’t talk about the other house. He was a clever guy. When I met him I was surprised and impressed by him. He was ten times more interesting than the film. But the film was interesting itself. And I liked it so much that I decided to quote it almost completely in its entirety. The film was probably one hour and ten minutes. But everything they shot was in the film, from the beginning to the end. All the whites and things like that between shots were included. The song was almost ten minutes long, and I cut like half of that. So when I trimmed the film from this excessive length, I got something like forty or fifty minutes long. And then I brought in footage from the same period done by the same cinematographer, and I added some new footage with Aleksic. We produced this film in just a few months. It started as my “2B” movie, was produced inexpensively, even less expensive than my previous films. And the film won two prizes in Berlin, both a critic’s award and the Silver Bear, and in Chicago, and all around Yugoslavia. I won this Golden Head of Pallanca prize somewhere in Mexico. It was named after some Mexican god.
Innocence Unprotected was even more successful than the previous two films. We even sold the film to television. Love Affair couldn’t go on television because of the nudity. In England it was banned for almost two years. It played all over Germany, though they trimmed it a little. But this didn’t happen with Innocence Unprotected, which had no nudity, just a handsome young man with lots of muscles.
Then the strangest thing happened. I made my fourth film, W.R. (1971), and this was even more successful. I was clearly on the way to self-destruction. But let’s not talk about W.R. because it is a very long story. You could write three books about it.
RP: There is one book about it, by Raymond Durgnat.
DM: Yes, and there was another book of scripts published that dealt with it. But you could write one book about how it was conceived, and the second about how it was produced, and the third about what happened afterward. These would be three big books.
RP: But the short story is that it caused you many problems.
DM: It wasn’t released in Yugoslavia until sixteen years after it was made. It was banned for sixteen years. When it was produced, they banned it by a kind of fiat. It was not banned by a court or by censorship. We got a censorship license, and local production approved of it. But we were not allowed to show it. But because the film was successful and played everywhere else, the local press translated everything that was published in ten or fifteen different countries. Finally, to defend the film, we produced a 500-page book of material supporting the film. Out of 500 pages there were probably ten to twenty negative statements about the film. But it didn’t help. The courts banned the book immediately. But fortunately we had already distributed the book. Then a policeman came and said: you have to get the books back from whoever bought the book, because they are not allowed to read the book. Not only was the book banned for sale, but whoever had it was not allowed to read it. It was quite something, and it got worse and worse. Finally it ended with me, about two years later, leaving the country.
RP: You have been in many places since then.
DM: I was four films into my career, all in less than ten years. Then I made my fifth film, Sweet Movie (1975) that in many ways was even more successful than the previous four. But in some ways it was less successful. It became sort of taboo in many places. It is still banned in Ontario and throughout English Canada and in England, and it is probably still banned in South Africa. In most other countries there were other troubles.
In a few countries it was extremely successful, countries that start with “i,” such as Italy and Israel. The Italian version was made by Pier Paolo Pasolini. He chose the voices for the dubbing. And he participated also after it was immediately banned. We showed it in a place where there was a liberal, socialist judge. It was immediately banned by the district attorney, then the liberal judge watched the film and said it was a work of art and is alright. Then we were free from censorship. Pasolini had written a letter to the judge and made a public statement. That helped. A few months ago, Espresso Magazine, which is a weekly, like Time Magazine of Italy, packaged the film in cellophane with the magazine, and sent it out to 600,000 people. This means that 600,000 people in Italy have tapes of Pasolini’s version of Sweet Movie. I didn’t get a penny from it, but I was very happy. As for Israel, first they bought it for seven years, then after seven years they bought another license, then again for another seven years. So the film was regularly available there for 21 years. I don’t remember what’s happening right now.
After all this, I was wiped out. I was persona non grata in Yugoslavia, and I had moved to Paris. Sweet Movie was made between Canada, Holland, and France. And some money came from Germany and Sweden, too. These governments gave me money. I kept my passport from Yugoslavia, but I was not allowed to work there. I got support from foreign governments for my film. That was a nice feeling. I had a Hollywood agent, and had all sorts of invitations, and everybody talked to me. But for seven years I did not make a film. So I was rewarded for my five successful films. I was asked to disappear. No one in the West would let me do my next film the same way I did those five.
I would show them these films, and they would say, yes, we like these films; do another one! And I would say, okay, can I get some development money. They said, no, we have to have a script first. I said that if I have a script first you cannot get this kind of film. A script is a verbal attack on a visual world. Potentially a film has a universe of visuals to deal with. Once you tame it and restrain it within a script that means you have a hundred pages of dialogue. It is heavily cut off in terms of visuals. Blah blah blah. But of course this is how popular films work. I was unaware of this. All my previous films were very popular in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, and I thought the way I worked was fine.
RP: The production circumstances surrounding you changed in a very profound way.
DM: Yes, but it was not only things changing for me. I think also this was the time when the world was trying to forget the year 1968. ’68 was a year of explosions. The world was without borders. It was the time of Marshall McLuhan, and the global village was really established. There were these two black guys at the Olympics in Mexico City, and everything was connected but split apart. So they weren’t so sure about letting me make films my way.
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RP: Tell me about the making of Gorilla Bathes at Noon (1993).
DM: It started with Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany, who long ago had supervised the construction of the Berlin Wall. There was this big concert when people on one side of the wall played rock music for people on the other side to listen to. People would communicate without seeing each other, in effect challenging the Wall. Honecker was furious, and he said that everyone should know that this Wall will stay around for fifty or maybe even one hundred years. This guy, in his youth, was a musician and a leader of young people, and now he believed that he would keep his miserable German nation restrained within this wall for another 50 or 100 hundred years.
I was so furious that I wrote a script about the Wall. The Wall was actually two walls, and between them was a field packed with mines, and a tiny track for motorbikes. All these rabbits lived in this space, because they could jump around the minefields without making the mines explode. There were tens of thousands of these rabbits, and there were also like six hundred German Shepherd dogs. The Wall was really something. It moved mostly through the city, with parts in fields and suburbs and across rivers. I thought it was a monstrosity, and I wrote a script about it. I got some money from the city of Berlin, from the local film fund. It was 260,000 Deutschmarks, which was like $150,000 U.S. dollars or something, on the condition I could find another 140,000 DM elsewhere. I was obliged to do it for 400,000 DM. It could not be more expensive; that was the condition for the funding. We managed to get about 100,000 DM from Yugoslavian television in Novi Sad, and the rest we got from Belgrade television and other little places. We had more than 400,000 DM when we started getting things in kind. My idea was to shoot in 16mm and then blow it up after editing to 35mm, making it into something better.
But while I was preparing this, the Wall fell. Everything became totally chaotic. I didn’t want to try shooting a Wall that wasn’t there. Then I got a letter from the commission that gave me money that told me that if I wanted to change the story, the money is still waiting for me. So I started on the new script with a German partner, and between Belgrade and Berlin we started producing the film.
At this time the war started in Yugoslavia. During the production, the sanctions started in Yugoslavia and my production manager died. It became worse and worse in Belgrade, but we still had money in Berlin waiting for us. In the middle of the battle for Vukovar, the first big battle in the Civil War between Serbia and Croatia, we left Belgrade with a crew of seven. They were drafting people, and people would hide under the bed or in the basement so as not to be drafted. The war was never announced officially, but they were drafting people. The lunacy started.
We managed to get seven men for about two months in Berlin. But then the German producers had some problems about money. They, being inexperienced, said it would be too expensive, and that we should make a documentary. I tried to explain to them that documentaries are more expensive. When you shoot documentaries with a small crew, you shoot all sorts of things, and then you edit them. But when you have actors with the same small crew, your ratio of shot material to used material is much smaller.
RP: This relates to the shooting style in Gorilla and in many other films you’ve directed. It looks like you send your actors into real life situations and shoot them from a distance.
DM: Sometimes we even look for interesting places, and then we figure out what we should do with them. The actor goes into the situation, and we follow him. In some cases it is all arranged – for example, when they feed the tiger in Gorilla. We got in touch with this part time actor who also worked in the zoo, and put him in a costume, and he fed the tiger. We did a lot of scenes combining our story with a documentary ambience, for example in the Turkish market in Kreuzberg. We didn’t try to stop any traffic. Most of the people moving through the shot are regular people. And our actor looks like a regular Soviet officer making a phone call. The guy he buys bananas from is a real guy who refused money for the bananas from him. This just happened in the shot.
Then we got some people to act. We found this young woman who was a street performer. She did some sort of acrobatics in a little troupe in Berlin. So we got her to play his girlfriend. Her husband, the guy with a mustache who finds them and shouts “Auslander aus!” was an actor who played in a little Turkish theatre in Berlin. He told me about this Turkish theatre he was involved in, but he was constantly saying, they do this, they do that. I asked him, why don’t you say “we?” You are the best actor, and the theatre is based around you. He looked at me and said, well, you know, I am a Kurd.
So the film was growing from inside. When we finished the shoot in Berlin, we did some extra shooting with actors in Belgrade, and then we got this actress who plays the Lenin character, and the baby, and so forth. If we had a little more money, it could have been fantastic. We did it for a little around 500,00 DM. But with another fifty thousand bucks it could have been better.
During editing I managed to slip in some clips from a Soviet film, The Fall of Berlin (1949), to help frame the story. During shooting, we weren’t sure about why we should care about this guy. He’s an abandoned Soviet officer in Berlin. So what? Then, during the editing, as we watched The Fall of Berlin, we made it so that, or rather we discovered, that these two people who meet in Berlin in 1945, when Stalin arrives, they were his parents. That was a great moment, because he became something else. He was not born of real parents; he was born of two characters within another film. That was another improvement on our film that builds itself.
RP: It makes him even more of an absurdity.
DM: But it also makes him indestructible. You can’t even discuss his case as something normal in terms of what an actor makes from a script.
RP: This material draws on other films as well; there’s a sequence where German people say where they’re from as they lay down their flags, and it comes verbatim right out of Triumph of the Will (1934), the film Leni Riefenstahl directed for Hitler.
DM: I am very fond of Triumph of the Will. It is one of my favorite films of all time. In The Fall of Berlin I was absolutely surprised to discover that Mikhail Chiaureli, the director, who was one of Stalin’s favorite directors, was directly inspired by two sequences of Triumph of the Will. This was one of Stalin’s top films, about the victory over Germany, but still he gets inspiration from Triumph of the Will, though it is never credited. And this inspiration is not ironic, it is used for heroic, pathetic portions of the film. It’s unbelievable. One example is of Stalin coming down from the sky, which is right out of the beginning of Triumph of the Will, when Hitler comes down out of the sky. And the other part is this fantastic meeting in Nuremberg where people say where they’re from. But this type of public performance in Triumph of the Will was itself stolen by the Nazis from the Communist street theatre. Communists would gather on a corner and one would call out, “Where are you going, comrade?” And the other would respond, “I’m going to take part in the strike!”
RP: That sequence in Triumph in many ways looks like something right out of a Communist newsreel.
DM: It has this kind of ‘lefty’ feeling, a ‘Brechtoid’ feeling. They have shovels and are working people. But it also has Nazi symmetry and iconography. Then there is the “where do you come from?” sequence. In The Fall of Berlin, these guys are dancing in front of the burnt-out Reichstag, and somebody says, “Where are you from?” in Russian. Someone responds “I am from Don,” rather than from Donau as in Triumph, and another says “I am from Volga” or “Siberia” or whatever. This was a pure steal. It was not by accident. You might say Stalin coming down from the sky like Hitler was a coincidence, but this was much more deliberately similar, just translated into Russian. What I added in my film is I took this whole Russian scene, and after that you see several columns of German prisoners of war who are coming and throwing these defeated flags on a pile. Here I added, in the sound room, some German voices saying verbatim what they say in Triumph of the Will.
RP: Stalin and Chiaureli stole from Hitler and Riefenstahl, who themselves had stolen from earlier Communists. You stole from all of them, making fun of them in the process.
DM: You can say that, but you can also say I was inspired by and paid homage to them. They were the best propagandists of their own (horrible) countries. Being in movies, we are all in the same country – the country of movies. You can say it was Russian or German, but in movies it is all the same country. It’s a country of dreams. So I was treating them as uncles and aunts I was borrowing from. Perhaps they were uncles and aunts who I didn’t particularly like. But they still let me borrow the car.