In Memoriam -  Walter Schmidinger (1933 – 2013)
Walter Schmidinger

Walter Schmidinger is a film actor of a rare tonality who ought to be remembered and his art – consulted. He is able to act in a special manner, which today, when cinema becomes as commercialized as a crossroad with tracks, is as “exotic” as a macaw bird’s song – he is able to act… intellectually. This very concept is out of use, even film critics are afraid to use it not to be named as pretentious snobs who are out of touch with the pulse of the mass viewers with a small change for tickets. Schmidinger is capable not only to depict the situational reactions of his characters, not only to draw their personalities (when “personality” is not just a screen person – a mask recognizable in darkness) but to show the knots of contradictory affects, emotions and feelings. He is able to impersonate thinking in self-reflection and in the perception of the world. And he is able to split this character’s thinking as self-justificatory or as a criticism of the character by director and actor added clandestinely to the character’s self-criticism.

In two of Ingmar Bergman’s films, “Serpent’s Egg” (1977) and “From the Life of Marionettes” (1979 – 1980) Schmidinger plays characters who with all their dissimilarity echo each other from different historical epochs through different stylistic and semantic configurations. There is a strange resonance between the Jewish cabaret owner in Germany of 20s, who brags about his New-Jersey accent he learned in bed (“Serpent’s Egg”), and the sophisticated and intellectually hypersensitive homosexual fashion designer in Stockholm of 70s (“From the Life of Marionettes”). The enigma of two Bergman/Schmidinger’s characters deserves a more elaborative attention. But here we will just touch some points about Schmidinger as an intellectual actor.

To play the role of a businessman (who came to Nazi Germany after making profit in Beirut) parading his New-Jersey accent to feel more protected, was quite a challenge – it was necessary to be able to express the truth of the person despite the fact this truth can be controversial (propaganda/advertisement of ideological/commercial/entertaining messages is much easier and safer for directors and actors). Schmidinger shows that being a victim cannot transform a human being into a saint – that victims of Nazism or any other totalitarian ideology are regular people – not necessarily role-models just because they were persecuted. Schmidinger was able to be on the level of this task. Search for the truth and for its understanding and explanation is much more needed than creation of idolatrous mythology. Schmidinger was capable of making viewers feel that successful business and dream of material success are not the only reason to go to other countries and that exist humanistic, disinterested motivations. We look at and listen to Schmidinger’s character, Solomon, not only with painful compassion but with no less painful criticism.

In “…Marionettes” Schmidinger’s character Thomas Isidor Mandelbaum (Tim), as if, has internalized a posture that provokes psychologically fascist reaction in other people without any intention of doing so. Now, in post-WWII democracy, Tim unconsciously stimulates the same hate towards himself on part of Swedish police and conservatives in general, as Solomon provoked in Berlin in late 20s, in spite of the fact that Tim is objectively much more sympathetic person capable of opening his soul to his friends with rare and self-critical frankness, modesty and intellectual vigor.

Naïve self-confidence of the matter-of-factly projection of himself into the world, and a narcissistic matter-of-factness of the very manner of a business person to treat another people as tools for making profit (typical position of today’s global corporate conquistadors) provoke/challenge the universal traditional conservatives by psychology without his intention to do so. The conqueror via money seduction is perceived by the conservative mind (sensitive to power games) as masochistically despicable, and Tim exposes himself to the danger in the same moment he is buying young males’ bodies to at least temporarily save himself from self-alienation, from the psychological separateness from his own bodyliness.

Tim, having internalized a behavioral style that is like a red fabric for a bull – he is not a businessman, he is just a fashion designer of women’ clothing and a bohemian and sexual invert (what was to be a Jewish businessman for the Nazis is the same like to be a guy occupied with female fashions for today’s people with latent fascist sensibility), found himself as an object of hate and disgust. Tim is not a man of power. He knows that when he wins he loses. And this knowledge stimulates his thinking and keeps intact his humility.

Tim comprehends that to fight for the privilege of being a homosexual lover is not a sustainable destiny. He knows how tormenting his homosexual affairs are (not because they are homosexual, but because they are psychological compensation for being lost in a much deeper sense than sexual orientation, for being impotent not sexually but in his human self-determination and self-realization). Tim is an analyst of human existential deprivation that makes woman banned from the equation of life, and she has lost her breasts, nipples and womb, although Tim himself said about his sexual orientation that “it’s only partially true”. Where homosexuality is reduced to sexual need, love is a rudimentary feeling.

In both films Schmidinger impersonates typical scapegoat figures of both epochs – “a Jew making profit through entertainment corrupting and degrading German people” (“Serpent’s Egg”), and “an effeminate homosexual fashion designer of women’s clothing” (“From the Life of Marionettes”). If in the earlier film Schmidinger, as if, shows to his character the way towards triumphing over of the world – through self-overcoming, in the second film he triumphally acts Tim’s philosophical triumph over himself. The fashion salon in “Marionettes” structurally corresponds to the showbiz hall in “Serpent’s Egg”.

We will remember Schmidinger’s spiritually creative accomplishments on a not easy road of intellectual film aesthetics.

Walter Schmidinger in Ingmar Bergman’s “Serpent’s Egg” (1977)
Walter Schmidinger in Ingmar Bergman’s “Serpent’s Egg” (1977)

Walter Schmidinger in Ingmar Bergman’s “From the Life of Marionettes” (1979 – 1980)

Walter Schmidinger’s Tim “is darkly philosophizing in front of the mirror”

Composition of this shot suggests that human togetherness can take many forms. Here, Tim, as if, occupies the place of a psychoanalyst, and Katarina the patient.

Introspective mutuality between Tim and Katarina

Bergman and Schmidinger are on the set of “From the Life of Marionettes”. Bergman obviously is impressed with Schmidinger’s suggestions. Their reflection in the mirror suggests that they are not only the director and the actor but also colleagues and partners in introspection.