Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't Forget About Bernd Eichinger

Amid all the Oscar hoopla the other day, the news of German film producer Bernd Eichinger’s death at the untimely age of 61 may have understandably fallen through the cracks for some. But it shouldn’t: Eichinger was one of those guys who had an old-school, hands-on approach to producing, especially when it came to some of his pet projects like Downfall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and The Baader-Meinhof Complex. With a filmography that includes Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Hitler: A Film from Germany, Wim Wenders’s Wrong Move, The Neverending Story, and the Resident Evil films, among many other lesser-known titles, his credits are a curious mix of acclaimed prestige epics, sleazy action franchises, and lots and lots of Europudding -- a career of De Laurentiisian contrasts. He had started, interestingly enough, by trying to organize funding for works made by his film school classmates Wenders, Edgar Reitz, and Alexander Kluge. There’s a very nice Der Spiegel obituary here.  Also, an interesting 2005 profile of him here.

I ordinarily wouldn’t post this sort of thing, except that upon hearing of his passing I was reminded of the time I interviewed Eichinger. It was for an oral history of the development of Perfume, a piece that ran in Bookforum but does not appear to be available online. I can’t speak to the end results of the article (it had to be cut down a lot) but talking to Eichinger, Andrew Birkin, and director Tom Tykwer (all of whom collaborated on the script) was loads of fun. I was touched also that Eichinger had felt a lot of loyalty to Birkin, a talented (and exceptionally intelligent) writer and director whose haunting, curious films never quite hit paydirt. You don’t always see that with a producer, especially one who had plenty of bigger moneymakers to keep him busy.

During our chat, Eichinger struck me as an unusually forthright, involved, engaged guy – someone who had little time for promotional bullshit and had a lot to say. But apparently not everybody had that kind of interview with him – apparently he could also be unusually terse from time to time. Maybe it’s because he had been trying to make a movie from Patrick Suskind's ostensibly unfilmable novel of Perfume for years. At one point he compared the project to The Name of the Rose – another cult novel that Eichinger produced for the screen. The two films had similar fates: A mixed-to-negative reception stateside, and huge hits in Europe. I adored them both. The guy knew his audience – and more often than not, I was happy to tag along.

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