Artists and artworks in the films of Jürgen Böttcher

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


As one of DEFA’s most significant documentary filmmakers, Jürgen Böttcher directed and co-directed more than forty films. Active as an artist, using the pseudonym Strawalde from the late-1970s onwards, Böttcher returned to artists and their artworks as subject matter for his films throughout his filmmaking for DEFA between 1961 and 1990. This thesis examines a range of these films and follows a trajectory from the filmmaker looking at other artists and their work to the artist-filmmaker producing art himself in front of the camera. The thesis argues that both the production and reception (or perception) of art, as presented in the selected films, is shown to involve work (or labour). Im Pergamonmuseum (1962) observes museum-goers studying ancient sculptures; in Jahrgang 45 (1966/1990) the spectator learns about art and art production through the protagonist’s friend, an amateur painter. In Ein Weimarfilm (1976) art history is translated into the present, while Kurzer Besuch bei Hermann Glöckner (1984) engages with a contemporary abstract artist. In Verwandlungen (1981) then, the artist-filmmaker is seen making art himself. Employing a close reading of these five films, which are at the focus of the analysis, the thesis also refers to Böttcher’s Die Mauer (1990), In Georgien (1987), Im Lohmgrund (1977) and Drei von vielen (1961). Adopting a cultural historical approach, this thesis explores the traditions of documentary as well as feature filmmaking and artistic practice which Böttcher embraced, and the guidelines he disregarded or rejected. The thesis thus locates the filmmaker within the cultural-political context of cultural production in the GDR between the 1960s and 1980s and simultaneously, not least through his links to international avant-garde practice, underlines his subjective approach to filmmaking in the examples discussed. The thesis thus argues that Böttcher holds a special position within DEFA documentary film, namely that of an auteur whose work falls — sometimes light-heartedly, sometimes poetically, sometimes ludically — between the customary categories of affirmation and dissent.
Date of Award1 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMartin Brady (Supervisor) & Erica Carter (Supervisor)

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