FILMING THE CASTLE WITH THE GYROCAMERA


American Cinematographer, May, 1969
First page of the article on The Castle.


Cinematographer Wolfgang Treu was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1930. He began as a photographer, moved into documentaries, and then spent four years as a operator before making his first feature as Director of Photography. His important films have been Ulrich Schamoni’s Every Year Again and Rudolf Noelte’s The Castle. He has been very active in television work all over Europe.
  Treu, perfectly fluent in English, was interviewed for this article by William Dyckes, an American journalist and filmmaker working in Madrid.
Filming Kafka’s novel The Castle was the idea of two men, director Rudolf Noelte and actor Maximilian Schell. They had collaborated on the stage and had long wished to make a motion picture together. Noelte had extensive experience in both theater and television but had never made a film. Schell was a successful actor who felt that he could do more with his career if he took the initiative of becoming a producer. And when these factors fell into place, Schell and Noelte decided to make The Castle.
    Noelte based the script outline on his own stage adaptation of Kafka’s novel, a classically simple conception that concentrated heavily on the acting. For him there is little difference between the theater and the cinema. “Every medium is basically the same,” he affirms. “It comes from human beings and it goes back to human beings.”
    Schell, who plans to launch his own career as a director soon, provided some balance for this point of view, going over the script page by page with Noelte, pointing out the visually static moments and making suggestions that would help to give it more life.
    The Noelte-Schell analysis of Kafka’s story was pointedly kept minimal: K, the protagonist, is simply trying to get work, to obtain permission from the castle to stay and earn his living. And on the surface, this is exactly what the novel is, its power stemming from the underlying echoes of K’s relationship to the castle: Man and Authority, Man and his silent God, Man and his need to attain a state of Grace.
    To remain as close to the style and atmosphere as possible, they began by searching for their castle in Czechoslovakia, where Kafka had lived. But they were forced to range in ever-greater circles, visiting more than 800 castles in Germany, Hungary, and Yugoslavia before settling on one near Graz, in southern Austria. For the village below, they called in Art Director Otto Pischinger, who promptly created a marvelously authentic-looking town by scouring the countryside for real doors, bricks, fixtures, and other details (an effort that netted him the West German “Oscar” for set design).
   The same formula was repeated with the costumes and minor actors, many of whom were locals with wonderfully weather-beaten faces. In fact, all except Schell were virtually unknown, drawn largely from the stage and chosen for their “anonymous” qualities.
    Once they were ready to film, Schell dropped into the background to perform his twin role of actor and producer, refusing to intrude upon the director's ground. And at this point, the task of balancing Noelte’s stark view of things fell to a third person: cameraman Wolfgang Treu.
    Treu and Noelte were old friends who had worked well together on television productions were anxious to try a feature. They shared, they had discovered, an almost fanatic taste for two elements that are rarely united in contemporary filmmaking: quality and realism. Both desired the maximum possible freedom for the camera, actors, and director. But they also intensely disliked both the wobbly, underlit images of many of the pictures made by young European filmmakers and the slow pace and artificial nature of studio pictures. In The Castle, they would have the perfect opportunity to develop their ideas, for not only was the producer on their side but the demands of the story such that they could not be met without drastic innovations.


Copyright © 1969, 2004  William Dyckes