“He was the same as everybody else in all his actions; but there was an appalling void within him; he no longer felt any worries, any desires; he viewed his own existence as a necessary burden…”
We hear the regular, precisely spaced footfalls of the guards on the square flagstones on the bank of the dried-up riverbed, as the two guards patrolling the outer wall of the penal institution move steadily apart from each other; meanwhile we first indistinctly and then gradually ever-more distinctly see the wall of the penal institution and on that wall we see at three-second intervals and for no longer than a second each time the title KULTERER; the title appears on the wall IN CAPITAL LETTERS, and is visible first in the upper-left corner of the screen, then in the upper-right one, then in the lower-right one. Little by little the wall becomes recognizable as a wall, from which the camera now retreats with great rapidity. The camera is positioned directly facing the wall, so that it begins by showing a piece of it no larger than a square meter, and it pulls back all the way to the far side of the riverbed, from which spot the penal institution in its entirety can be seen. The camera is now completely stationary; between the two of them the patrol-guards have compassed all but the last third of the perimeter of the institution; once they have completed the circuit, there is a switch to a view of the ground beneath the camera, and from there the view proceeds slowly along the ground towards and past the riverbed in a straight line, until it pans upward to face Cell 38, in which Kulterer is incarcerated; the windows of the cells along the outer wall of the institute and the numbers under the windows are all clearly visible; through the open cell windows we suddenly hear some institutional crockery breaking and some shouting. Then silence. The actor doing the narration, who is also the actor playing Kulterer, says, “The closer he drew to the day of his release from the penal institution, the more Kulterer dreaded returning to his wife.” The camera suddenly cuts to the left-side patrol guard, who is looking up at Kulterer’s cell, then to the right-side patrol guard, who is looking up at Kulterer’s cell, then to a view from above of both guards, who now turn around and head back towards the lookout tower, which is sited at the midpoint of their circuit. The camera now looks down from the roof of the institution at the guard on the right; the junior baker is coming around the corner on a bicycle with a bag full of rolls; the guard stops him, and, after a brief exchange of words that we do not hear, points him back in the direction from which he came; the baker gets back on the bicycle and rides off. The guard resumes patrolling. Now voices and the clatter of crockery can be heard from the open windows as the camera motionlessly and all the while from high above them films the two guards approaching each other; suddenly it is directed at a boy dressed in black who is blowing a train conductor’s whistle; he gazes over at the hills, then blows again and gazes over at the penal institution and starts running, the whole time he is running along the dam bridging the riverbed; he runs for at least seven or eight seconds, then stops and blows another short blast on the whistle. His large, puffy face. The face of Kulterer, who is gazing out the window of his cell. The inmates are eating their breakfast. As though his three fellow inmates had asked him something earlier, Kulterer pensively says: yes, yes. After he has eaten a bit of bread, he says: yes, yes, I know. The camera shows the three inmates as they eat, shows Kulterer, as the narrator says, “But he really never spoke unless he had just been asked a question, and he would immediately stand to attention upon the appearance of the warden, which was at first merely intimated by the clattering of his truncheon, which seemed to echo through the corridors, then by his booted footfalls, which grew ever louder and more portentous and finally overpowered the sound of the printing-machines.” At first the images on camera are not at all distinct or obviously correspondent to the state of affairs being commented on; then, after the narrator has said “intimated,” everything finally becomes distinctly visible and recognizable. Kulterer is standing at a printing machine and counting forms, the camera shows a completely apathetic Kulterer who is performing mechanical movements that are the mechanical movements of the printing machine, as though Kulterer were a part of the printing machine; the camera is stationary; the narrator says, “The warden was very well-disposed towards Kulterer—who had to count, pack, and cord up the forms as they fell out of the printing machine—because in contrast to the other inmates he was a quiescent individual who, it seemed, had no aspirations of any kind and strictly followed all rules and instructions and was even in actual fact quite satisfied with everybody, apart from himself.” As the narrator is saying the word “himself,” the camera cuts to Kulterer’s face, which is looking into the face of the warden, who is suddenly standing next to him; Kulterer is looking up at the warden; his manner of looking up at the warden makes it plain that the warden is standing next to him even though the warden cannot be seen. Kulterer: a letter and a package? Warden, whose mouth is shown: Not only a package, but also a letter. Kulterer rests his hands on his thighs and says, “Yes, yes, I know, Mr. Warden!” “All right!” says the warden, whose mouth alone is being shown. Kulterer, of whom one is now likewise being shown only the mouth: a letter! The warden’s mouth: all right! The camera shows the warden from the mouth downwards then pans down to the floor and up Kulterer’s body as far as his mouth; once the camera has reached his mouth, Kulterer says: yes, yes, I know. The printing machines are now all making a great deal of noise; the camera shows the head of the warden, who is now gazing over and beyond Kulterer’s head into the spacious print shop, in which there are inmates stationed at all the machines, inmates who are performing the same movements as Kulterer; here everything is automated and quickly attains a deafening volume. The warden passes by one man after another, inspecting the work as he goes. Suddenly the machines shut down with a jolt; the warden has drawn to a halt; he asks: who has been assigned latrine duty? Three inmates at the back of the room raise their hands. The warden notes the identities of the men and strikes himself on the right calf with his truncheon, as he has fallen into the habit of doing. Then he looks over the entire print shop one more time and exits. The rattling and stamping of the printing machines are once again deafening, the movements of the inmates once again mechanical. The camera cuts to the face of Kulterer, who is eating his breakfast. Narrator: “He led an existence that was completely withdrawn and completely unheeded by his fellow-inmates, and during his free time, which was often much too long, because in accordance with regulations they worked only five or six hours a day at the printing machines, he would write down his ideas, or as he termed them, trifling thoughts, which preoccupied him almost uninterruptedly. Out of boredom, and because otherwise he would inevitably have succumbed to despair, he would often read aloud to himself tales and stories of his own invention and composition—‘The Cat,’ for example, or ‘The Dry Dock,’ ‘The Hyena,’ or ‘The Landlady of the Inn’s Manageress,’ or ‘The Death Bed.’” Beginning at the word “printing machines,” the camera shows the hands of Kulterer and his cellmates as they perform the movements involved in eating; this scene must be one of absolute tranquility and continues until a good two or three seconds after the narrator has uttered the word “deathbed.” Narrator: “The ideas for these stories came to him mostly at night, and in order not lose them he had to get out of bed in the dark and, while his cellmates were sleeping, to sit down at the table, and, in the midst of that terrible darkness, to jot down what had just occurred to him.” As this sentence is being spoken the entire breadth of the cell underneath the table at which the inmates are eating is shown, and specifically the camera pans from right to left until it has arrived back at the inmates and is showing their legs underneath the table. Upon the re-stationing of the image, hence upon the stationary image of the inmates’ legs under the table-top, appears a caption reading: BUT OVER TIME HE HAD DEVELOPED A METHOD OF GETTING UP FROM HIS PALLET AND SITTING DOWN AT THE TABLE SO SOUNDLESSLY THAT THEY NO LONGER PERCEIVED HIM EVEN WHEN THEY WERE HARDLY FAST ASLEEP. Once the text of the caption has been read, the caption disappears; there is movement under the table; Kulterer rises, but only the legs of the rising Kulterer are shown. The din attending the inmates’ ejection of the remains of their breakfast through the windows of their cells is heard as the camera gives a view from the window of Kulterer’s cell, a view of the landscape on the other side of the wall of this cell. A truck driving by in the distance, at the weir. The clamor of children, as though they are flying a kite. The woods at the horizon as the narrator says, “One could be transferred from one work group to another. One could be conscripted into a tougher or grubbier sector or a tougher and grubbier sector if one were found wanting in some way, if one failed to fulfill the expectations that had been set for one by the administration. But initially, on the day of admission to the penal institution, everyone was always assigned to the more pleasant work sectors.” As this passage is being spoken the camera shows by turns one work group gathering potatoes on the far bank of the river and another one sawing wood on a trestle in front of the shed. Suddenly one sees the façade of the church, from which eight or nine inmates are emerging with a warden. The square in front of the church is empty; the camera shows the group of inmates first from the vantage point of the building across the square from the church, then from above, from the church steeple. No sounds but those occasioned by this group of inmates can be heard. The narrator: “It was owing less to his skill than to his sheer incapacity to rebel or to participate in any of the plots, the conspiracies against the administration, that everybody was pretty much constantly hatching, that Kulterer had managed to keep working in the printing works from the very beginning onwards.” The camera remains stationed at the steeple after the group of inmates has crossed the square and exited the frame, until the narrator has finished uttering the preceding sentence. Kulterer’s face, as though he were observing from the cell window a scuffle involving his fellow inmates on the square below. Narrator: “When they bandied blows, it seemed as though brutishness alone would prove viable, and everything else turn out to be sickly and obscene. Then he would gaze into the profundities of this bunglery that was hopelessly, in the most barbarous fashion, incapable of coping with itself.” The camera now tracks the footfalls, in other words, the trousered legs, of the guard patrolling the right side of the outer wall of the penal institution; once the guard has reached the end of the wall and hence the last flagstone, crows are heard cawing; the guard turns around. The guard on the left side turns around. The left-side guard suddenly halts; the camera cuts to a young man in a butcher’s outfit who has half a pig slung over his shoulder. The guard (both guards are wearing a black fur cape) rebuffs the junior butcher; the young butcher turns around, vanishes. The two guards, now standing at the foot of the lookout tower, simultaneously light a cigarette. Smoke, laughter, their profiles, the backs of their heads. They crane their heads skyward, but the camera shows nothing but a completely lifeless gray. Narrator: “It was remarkable, they treated him as if he were not quite worth taking seriously, and at the same time they felt a high regard for him whenever they came into contact with him.” The heads of the guards move away from each other as the guards’ militaristic footfalls begin to be heard. The sound of crockery being eaten off of emanates from the windows of the institution. The boy dressed in black is standing on the square in front of the church and blowing into his train conductor’s whistle. Two cyclists in black Sunday clothes looking at the penal institution as they ride very rapidly across the dam bridging the riverbed. An inmate in a cook’s apron emptying refuse from a bucket into a large vat at the outer wall of the section of the institution devoted to the kitchen. The director of the institution behind his desk in his office, explaining something with upraised forefinger to an off-camera warden, laughing. Denying something with a gesture involving both hands. Rising and explaining something about the map of the institution affixed to the wall. Two nuns on the square beneath the director’s office crossing the square, entering the church. The head of a peasant-woman on the dam bridging the riverbed, turning in the direction of the institution, the head of a boy, of a girl, both of them with schoolchildren’s rucksacks slung across their backs, gazing over at the institution. A tractor with a trailer in which five or six inmates are crouching. The striking of the clock in the lookout tower within the sound of the tractor. The left-side guard abruptly halts and looks up at the window of Kulterer’s cell. In the cell one of the inmates presses another violently down on to his pallet, while the third inmate is washing himself at the washbasin and looking at the two brawlers. Kulterer in the opposite corner of the cell observing the scene with wide-open eyes. In contrast to the others’, his uniform is well-pressed and spotless. As the camera remains pointed at Kulterer, the narrator says: “All the while that amid their mentally unhinged unconsciousness, amid the forgone certainty of their defeat, they were impulsively scheming at the destruction of the elements, he would stand [agonizing] on the sidelines.” The inmate at the washbasin dries himself off and spits into the washbasin. A large black beetle on the floor is shown. The inmate at the washbasin grins ear to ear; he throws his towel into the washbasin and steps on the beetle; the sound of the beetle being stepped on and crushed can distinctly be heard. Kulterer turns around and looks at the wall underneath the cell window, climbs on to the bench under the cell window and peers out. The camera shows him from behind and then shows the landscape outside, which is drab and lifeless. The drabness and silence of the landscape is suddenly broken by the screams of a sizable bunch of schoolchildren. The left-side guard polishes his shoes with a piece of sackcloth, pockets the piece of sackcloth; the right-side guard with abrupt hand gestures drives away the boy dressed in black, who runs away and halts amid the bushes towards the weir and blows his train conductor’s whistle. The institution’s curfew bell rings, is shown. A handcart full of institutional laundry; the cart is being pulled and pushed by four inmates trailed by a guard; the sound of a gate opening is heard. The camera cuts to the cart disappearing into an open gateway. The director of the institution goes to the window of his office and looks down at the courtyard. He takes a canister of pills out of his coat pocket and hastily sticks three, four pills into his mouth. Then he takes off his coat and hangs it on the coat tree in one of the corners of the room. He stretches his suspenders with his thumbs, gives the suspenders a couple of tugs, lets them snap back into place, etc. The boy dressed in black, who all this time has been sitting in the grass amid the bushes, jumps up and runs away. The left-side guard is shown, one sees how precisely timed the footfalls of his patrol are, sees his fur cape from behind; suddenly one hears the boy dressed in black blowing his whistle, and the guard abruptly turns around, looks over at the boy, as if momentarily transfixed, then resumes marching. The camera cuts away from the rear-view of the guard to a pan from one end of the institution to the other. Dogs, cars, a train, can all be heard. It is striking with what reposefulness the camera is handled; the locales and incidents of the film are completely isolated from a surrounding world that is probably always anything but reposeful. The film is an incidence of reposefulness amidst the lack of reposefulness, as well as an incidence of the lack of reposefulness amidst reposefulness. The film is not irritated by its surroundings; those surroundings are not irritated by the film. From the steeple of the church the camera shows the church square, which is completely empty; after four or five seconds a group of inmates with a warden crosses the square from the left at the same as a group of inmates crosses it from the right. As the inmates are crossing the square, the narrator says: “In the last few days before his release, days that weighed very heavily on his heart and on his intellect without managing to overwhelm him, and that found their inhumane expression on his face, he tried to establish contact with the inmates, and often in ways that were moving, as he wished to make this contact firm and lasting, for ever and always.” Kulterer with the warden in the corridor en route to the printing works; he addresses some unintelligible words to some inmates who are cleaning the floor of the corridor. Kulterer sits down on his pallet and holds up the four fingers of his right hand, as if he wanted to signify four of something to his cellmates. He polishes his shoes in a corner of the room. He sits down at the table and writes. The narrator says: “The invention of thoughts in the human mind seemed to him the most precious gift in existence.” He lies down on the pallet and pulls the blanket up over his face. The whistling of a train can be heard from outside. One of the cellmates says: tell us a story about somethin’; he says it in a menacing tone, but Kulterer does not tell any stories; he has exposed his face and suddenly pulls the blanket back over his head. Accompanied by the warden, a barber in a barber’s coat enters the cell. The cellmates jump to their feet; the warden points at all three of them, signs to the barber that their heads are to be shaved clean, then, turning to Kulterer, the warden says: leave this ’un be. He’s goin’ home. The oldest of the cellmates sits down in the chair in the middle of the cell, and the barber begins to shave his head while Kulterer looks on. The man being shorn by the barber, to Kulterer: “’sfunny, your waya lookin’ at that. Barber: what? The inmate: ’at thar bit with the beer mug. The third inmate: Ah don’ unnerstannit, but it’s gooood. The second one: gooood? The second one: the ape, what’d he do next? Kulterer: he fell dead out of the tree. The man with the half-shaved head, under his breath: dead. And again: dead. The narrator, while the camera shows the head of the inmate who has just said dead: “He wrote only sad stories. Sometimes extremely happy ideas would occur to him, ideas that he himself couldn’t help laughing at, but he was unable to write them down.” The camera is centered on the cell window, looking outwards. An old man who could be a scissors-grinder standing on the dam with a wheelbarrow and looking over at the institution. Suddenly the printing machines, loud; the print shop; Kulterer counting forms. The camera successively shows each of the inmates stationed at the printing machines. The imposing figure of the warden standing in the doorway of the entrance, surveying everything; suddenly he looks at the clock. It chimes stridently. End of the work shift; the inmates coalesce into a group at the center of the print shop and exit together. The camera remains centered on the group of inmates until the entire print shop is empty, yielding a view of the darkened doorway of the exit. The director in the courtyard. He walks up to the branch of a rose bush and plucks a rose and sticks it in the lapel of his coat. Looks up at the cells. All is calm. Then he takes a couple of steps and suddenly pulls the rose out of his buttonhole and throws it on to the ground; once the rose has fallen on to the pavement, he picks it back up and flings it against the wall, from which it falls on to the grass. He beckons the warden over. The warden comes, and the two of them exit the courtyard, discussing something as they walk. The camera shows them once from behind—they both have their hands interlocked behind their backs—and once from the front. The director hands the warden a slip of paper; one realizes that it is in fact a list of names. The warden pockets the list. A sudden burst of laughter from two nuns who are entering the courtyard; the director and the warden follow the nuns with their eyes as the nuns traverse the entire breadth of the courtyard. The director and the warden draw to a halt. The director says: Wiesmayr, Neumann! Pauses, says: Kulterer. Kulterer also goes on Saturday. The warden says: a package, a letter. The director: a package, a package. Kulterer is sitting at the table in the cell while the other three now shaved-headed inmates squat on the floor and play chess; no chess pieces are visible, but it is clear that they are playing chess, and three-handed chess no less. Kulterer has paper with him at the table, but he is not writing. Slowly, sedately, and starting from the center of the table, he traces circles on the table-top with his right index finger. Once he has traced the seventh circle, and hence the largest of seven circles of ever-increasing size, he suddenly stands up looks out the cell window. He goes to the washbowl, in which a towel lies, folds the towel, and hangs it up. Blows into the washbasin, from out which a butterfly takes wing. The narrator says: “How clear to him in this darkness, in the middle of this suppressed humanity that in virtue of its regimentedness scarcely dared to breathe, were the contours of concepts! How clear to him here were even the utmost limits of the remote, the repulsive, the impulsive, the inconceivable!” As the narrator is speaking these words, the camera shows the face of Kulterer, who is observing the butterfly, which flits agitatedly about the room and then flies out the cell window with Kulterer’s eyes still fixed on it. Kulterer sits back down at the table. A loud burst of laughter from his cellmates on the floor signals the end of the chess game. One of the three stands up and goes to the washbowl and spits into it. Takes his socks off and begins to wash his feet. At the same time one of the others is relieving himself in the lavatory, but this is not seen; the only sign of it is the sound of the toilet flushing at the end. Outside in the corridor several inmates run past in their shoddy shoes, which arouses the attention of the inmates in the cell. The group of running inmates is not shown, but one can hear them running along the corridor once in each direction. Kulterer has walked up to the door, is listening out. Suddenly the cell door is opened. The warden appears in the doorway, calls out: Kulterer. Kulterer, who is standing to one side of the doorway, snaps to attention. The warden hands him an envelope and says: read it through carefully. Read it through carefully. The warden exits, shuts and locks the cell door. Kulterer sits down with the envelope at the table. The oldest of his cellmates says: his walking papers. Kulterer takes a large sheet of paper out of the envelope, unfolds it, and begins reading it. The camera shows the dam across the riverbed in its entirety; several nuns are walking along the dam towards the right side of the frame, towards the hills. From the right side of the frame emerges a truck carrying a pen of livestock. Over this scene one hears the oldest cellmate saying: study each and every word. Fill out each and every blank. Kulterer repeats: fill out each and every blank. Fill out each and every blank. As Kulterer is saying fill out each and every blank twice in succession, the camera shows in quick succession the dam across the riverbed, the left-side patrol guard, the right-side patrol guard blowing his nose, the left-side guard polishing the toes of his shoes, the gardener in the garden, the butcher at work in the kitchen, inmates peeling potatoes in the kitchen, inmates stirring large pots in the kitchen, inmates scrubbing the kitchen floor. As the oldest cellmate is saying: you must fill out every blank on the sheet, every blank, do you hear me?, the camera shows the tailoring shop, in which inmates are cutting fabric, stitching, sewing on buttons, stacking finished garments; the paper bag-manufacturing shop, in which inmates are gluing paper bags. You must study each and every word and fill out each and every blank, repeats the oldest cellmate. Someone is heard loudly spitting into the washbasin. Suddenly the camera shows Kulterer at the table, studying the piece of paper. The chess-players are gathering up the chess pieces and throwing them into the box in which they are kept, but this is not seen; the bodies of the cellmates are shown, but the chess pieces are not. Somebody’s always won, says the oldest cellmate. A view of the back of Kulterer’s head; he is becoming ever more deeply immersed in his perusal of the sheet of paper. The narrator says: “All words had the same signification for him, but a good many of them plunged him from the very beginning into a mysterious gloom, into the paradise of a primary color and into numbers and numerals, into a prerequisite for the written.” As this sentence is being spoken, the camera shows nothing but Kulterer studying his walking paper. Suddenly, from the washbasin one hears the second cellmate saying: fill it out, why dontcha. Fill it out. The sound of the toilet being violently flushed. Kulterer’s face at the cell window; the camera, filming from outside, shows the dam across the riverbed as seen in the distance from the window; on the dam a wind-band is playing, as if in celebration of some holiday; as the direction of the wind changes, the sound of the band first increases and then decreases in volume. Over this scene the narrator says: “He was afraid that once he had been set free and stripped of his prisoner’s uniform he would no longer be able to write anything, no longer able to think anything; he was afraid that in that savage state of imposed exposure, he would no longer be able to exist at all.” A train pulls into the railway station, stops; the ordinary passengers detrain and board; only afterwards do the newly arrived inmates detrain from the carriage at the very end; on the platform they are assembled and counted. Three wardens lead them into the station, where they are handed over to three other wardens; this second group of three belongs to the institution. The camera shows the inmates en route to the institution. The newly arrived inmates vanish into the gateway of the penal institution. Kulterer sits down at the table and fills out the walking paper; the warden, heralded by his loud footfalls, unlocks the cell, enters; Kulterer jumps to his feet and hands him the filled-out sheet of paper. The warden quickly reads it through, says: something’s still missing!, goes to the table, picks up the pencil there, and corrects something. Right! he says and goes to the cell door and turns around and says to Kulterer: to the director’s office at eleven, exits and locks up the cell. Regarding Kulterer, the oldest cellmate says: he done got a lucky break, gettin’ to go home lahk this.” Shrill laughter. Silence. Footfalls in the corridor. Neiche, says the oldest cellmate. In front of the mirror Kulterer combs his hair, parts it. The oldest cellmate says: mir san glatzad, glatzad san mir. While the camera remains stationed on Kulterer combing his hair, the narrator says: “Not the least of the benefactors of his thoughts, and indeed of every part of him, were the deprivity and depravity of the penal institution’s system of deprivation.” Having combed and parted his hair he sits down on his pallet and gazes motionlessly at the cell door. The narrator says: “Now he took leave of the buildings. How beautiful and perfectly obedient did he all of a sudden find the lineation of the walls, a lineation much stronger than all those years.” The entire time that the narrator is speaking his commentary, Kulterer is staring at the cell door and paying no mind to the activities of his cellmates, who are wholly preoccupied with cleaning and tidying up the cell. Behind a frontal view of Kulterer staring at the cell door, photographs of various parts of the institution are projected. The narrator says, “One can see very distinctly that this is a cloister,” and a cloister is shown, etc. The narrator says: “There is of course no difference between a cloister and a penal institution, he thought; the only difference perhaps is that the cloister is a voluntary and the penal institution an involuntary prison; the cloister is something one imposes on oneself and that one can leave whenever one chooses, whereas one is incarcerated in the penal institution compulsorily and cannot leave it whenever one chooses.” As this text is being spoken, images centered on the architectural beauties of the penal institution that was formerly a cloister are projected behind Kulterer, whom one continues to see sitting on his pallet and staring at the cell door. The narrator comments on what is being projected: “He discerned the harmoniousness of the irregularities in the masonry, the characterful antiquity of the gables and ledges, the noble munificence of the stairways, the gentle buoyancy of the edges of the windows,” says the narrator. And he says (as the thing he mentions is being shown): “The chapel, which he had repaired to for mass every day of the entire year-and-a-half, he now suddenly beheld with his new eyes.” Now, behind the Kulterer sitting on the pallet and staring at the cell door, one is actually shown another Kulterer casting his eyes around the interior of the chapel; this second Kulterer catches sight of the other Kulterer; Kulterer observes himself, and the narrator says: “And above all he noticed the work tools that hung on the walls of the courtyard, that lay on the floor of the shed; the multitude of old-fashioned rakes and gables and ledges! He had always used to enjoy heading for the meadows and fields.” Now one sees Kulterer observing himself as he heads for the meadows and fields, watching himself as he crosses the dam across the riverbed, clad in only a pair of trousers, with a shovel and a rake, his prisoner’s cap on his head, with several other prisoners. The narrator says: “But he always found the warmer season here more oppressive than autumn and winter. One cuts too vile a figure under the warden’s knout when the sun is out!” the narrator says and adds: “And the laughter of the countrywomen that one hears wafting over from the farms is a terrible abyss.” As the word “terrible” is being spoken the background images vanish; by the time the word “abyss” is being spoken the camera is showing nothing but Kulterer still sitting on the pallet and staring at the cell door. The camera looks through the cell window at the dam across the riverbed, on which a large group of inmates can be seen walking from the right to the left side of the frame. The narrator says: “He had never worked in the woodcutting crew; he was too weak to do so. The young people were naturally always worming their way into the woodcutting crew; they were hoping to escape.” In the background behind the Kulterer staring at the cell door the other Kulterer descries a steel trap in the shed, and the narrator says: “They’ve been catching beasts of prey with such steel traps for centuries, he thought. How did this steel trap get here?" While the camera continues to show Kulterer sitting on his pallet, it also shows the warden swinging his truncheon in the courtyard, in the center of the courtyard, during the midday walk; he shouts: “C’mon, c’mon, Kulterer!” which causes Kulterer to quicken his pace. The narrator says: “The warden is tall and fat and strikes as quick as a flash. They all call him ‘the rubber sausage’ because he often uses his truncheon to get attention, to get legitimacy.” “C’mon, c’mon!” shouts the warden; all the inmates start to walk faster; eventually they are running; the warden yet again shouts: “C’mon, c’mon!,” whereupon the inmates run even faster; the camera is stationary, and the running inmates are scarcely even any longer recognizable as running inmates. Yet again the warden shouts: c’mon! c’mon!, then the narrator says: “Short, muttered utterances—that is his style.” At the file of running inmates the warden bellows: incorrigible beasts! and: this is indeed a grave misunderstanding, you bastards! Kulterer, still sitting and staring at the cell door, now sees himself unpacking the package that has been sent to him by his wife, and the narrator says: “these packages always contained the same items—meat, butter, paper, socks, a letter. He always dreaded unpacking the package, along with reading the letter; he had always been fearful of this, fearful of the distressful state into which the unpacking of these packages and the reading of these letters had always sunk him, fearful of this recrudescence of shame within him.” He sees himself arranging the contents of the package in front of him on the table. The narrator says: “During the night he had surprisingly written a story entitled ‘Logic,’ a meditation. Now, as he was unpacking the package, he asked himself, what sort of word is this word logic anyway?” The camera, stationed at the opposite side of the square, is pointed at the church, at the church bell, which is being struck by its clapper. From the clock a view of the square below; an inmate with a music book, accompanied by a guard, enters the church through the right-side door. Then the two of them as seen from above, as they ascend the spiral staircase. The inmate sits down at the organ, places his hands on the keyboard, plays the beginning of Bruckner’s AVE MARIA while the guard sits in profile in one of the pews and eats a snack. As if for fear of being observed by the inmate, the guard turns to face the inmate. The camera is pointed at the hands of the inmate, who is playing calmly and in the manner of a trained organist. A nun at the altar, watering flowers. In the right-side rear doorway of the church appears the boy dressed in black with his train conductor’s whistle, which he blows without making a sound that anybody hears. The camera is stationed on the church square, at the imposing church gate, and is pointed at the slaughterhouse across the square, where a cattle truck has just arrived. Two patrol guards who are wearing white butchers’ aprons and white butcher’s caps, but who are still immediately recognizable as patrol guards, yank open the rear door of the cattle truck and goad the cattle that come rushing out, four cows and calves, into the slaughterhouse; the sound of this cattle being unloaded from the truck and goaded into the slaughterhouse is now audible through the cell window; the camera is stationed at the cell door and pointed at the cell window, below which Kulterer is standing and holding in his hands the paper in which the package his wife sent him was wrapped. He folds up the packing paper and stuffs it under his mattress. Read us something, says the oldest cellmate, and the two of them, the oldest and the other one, sit down on their pallets and wait for Kulterer to read something to them. Kulterer begins to read to them; he announces the title of the story he is about to read to them: Logic, he says, and the camera exits the cell and heads to the dam across the riverbed, moves far into the countryside, and then, as if it has been away as long as the time Kulterer has taken to read his story, it returns to the interior of the cell, where Kulterer is now folding up the sheet of paper on which is recorded his story entitled “Logic.” The moment Kulterer has finished reading, the narrator says: “He did not allow himself to be tempted into believing that they had been impressed, but he was very happy.” Kulterer looks up from his piece of paper and says: there is absolutely no such thing as injustice! His cellmates curl up on their blankets on their pallets. The narrator: “In his own case no detectable injustice had been done. He had done what one was not permitted to do, and he was being punished for it. Where does the border of freedom lie and whence is it arrived at? he asked himself.” The camera is now in the cellar; inmates shoveling potatoes are shown. So are inmates shoveling coals. A group of inmates on the railway embankment. One sees inmates cleaning a railway car at the freight station, from which the rear façade of the penal institution is shown. “He never thought of escaping,” says the narrator as the camera shows the inmates cleaning the railway car and behind them the entire penal institution. The cell door is slammed shut; Kulterer is alone in the cell. The narrator says: “Initially he had trembled whenever the door of the cell was shut and locked behind him; although he had not had a rebellious bone in his body, he nevertheless found himself in an enormously downtrodden condition on every such occasion. On such occasions, the word backtalk had used to be written all over his face as a matter of course, but he never uttered it.” While the narrator is speaking these lines, Kulterer is standing perfectly still at the cell door that has just been slammed shut behind him. The sound of the door being locked and of the warden walking away is distinctly audible underneath the narrator’s voice. Kulterer goes to the cupboard and takes out a loaf of bread that his wife has sent him and breaks off a piece of it and puts the loaf back into the cupboard and sits down at the table as he eats the piece of bread. Now footfalls are heard; the cell door is unlocked; the cellmates enter; behind them the door is immediately shut and locked by the warden. The narrator says: “In the penal institution there were a large number of more primitive, much less endurable work sectors. It was not quite clear what the criteria were for assigning a person to one work sector rather than another. His cellmates had suddenly been assigned to work in the tannery.” While the narrator is saying this, the newly arrived cellmates are taking off their jackets, then their shirts. The narrator says: “In all but a tiny minority of cases, the privilege of remaining in the printing sector or in the kitchen could be but of the briefest duration.” The camera cuts to Kulterer, who observes the three returnees from the tannery from his seat at the table as the narrator says: “If it had ever occurred to him to reflect on the matter, he might have realized that he was the only person who had survived as long as a year-and-a-half at the penal institution’s printing works.” The camera cuts to the cattle truck in front of the slaughterhouse. The two patrol guards in long white aprons shut up the loading bed of the truck, jump into the cab of the truck, and take it on one complete circuit around the courtyard. As the truck is driving around the church square, the organ begins to be played; it is the beginning of Bruckner’s AVE MARIA. The camera cuts to the hands of the organist, to his forehead, to a view of his prisoner’s jacket that makes it easy to count the buttons on the jacket, to the forehead of the judicial officer who is guarding him, to a view of his jacket like the one we have just had of the inmate’s, a view that likewise makes it easy to count the buttons on the jacket. The closed eyes of the guarded man and of the guard in succession. The camera cuts to a bird’s-eye view of the nave of the church. Suddenly the organist slams shut the keyboard of the organ; the prisoner jumps to his feet in a mechanical fashion, as if he has just received an order to do so. The prisoner and the guard peer into the interior of the church; then they descend in single file from the upper to the lower level; the camera follows the two of them as they pass through the full length of the nave and through the vestry, then across the church square, and then vanish into the same place that the cows and calves were goaded into earlier. The face of the director of the institution, who says directly to the camera: a complete absurdity, this ordinance is a complete absurdity! As he is placing a document on his desk, and speaking into the camera, addressing the warden: a complete absurdity. Reality is a different matter. The camera cuts to the warden, who is facing the director. A close-up first of the warden’s face, then of the director’s face, the of the warden’s face; a close-up of the director’s face, as he says: intelligence knows nothing, my dear man, intelligence knows nothing. Infamy. Insecurity, my dear man; as he says this, he leans back, taps his desk with his pencil. Interesting, very interesting, says the director. Infamy, insecurity, absurdity, you understand. After a pause he says: ignore it, just ignore it, you understand. The camera is always pointed at the warden’s face when the director is speaking and at the director’s face when the warden is speaking. The organist’s permission to play was granted by me, not by the Monsignor, you understand, says the director, and hands a document to the warden. The warden stands up, makes as if to leave. The director says: next time you go to Steyr, bring me back some dog lard, so that I can use it as an ointment, you hear me. Two large cans. He laughs. The warden by way of reply: two large cans. Exit the warden; the director looks at the door, which the warden has just shut. Then he delves into Document No. 340697, which bears the heading of KULTERER, FRANZ, and which the warden has self-evidently just delivered to him. The camera shows Kulterer naked from the waist up as he washes himself at the washbasin; his cellmates at the table observe him. As Kulterer stoops over the washbasin, the narrator says: “Without knowing himself how it was possible, he was often the one person who was capable of relieving the often considerable tensions between the inmates and the administration, and indeed of subduing the outright open hostility that would sometimes break out between the two power blocs.” The camera cuts to the inmates, who are playing a game on the floor. The cell door is unlocked, yanked open; the warden enters and stations himself at the door; he leans against the door and in alternation observes Kulterer washing himself at the basin and the cellmates playing chess on the floor. Kulterer leaves off washing his upper body, dries himself off, and says to the warden: yes, yes, I know, Mr. Warden. He puts on his shirt and goes up to the warden, who along with him vanishes from the cell. As he watches Kulterer leave, the oldest of the cellmates on the floor says: two mo days; then he goin’ home. The camera remains pointed at the cell door as the footfalls of Kulterer, who is walking down the corridor with the warden, grow ever softer, and as the narrator says: “During that entire time there had not been a single complaint lodged against him, nobody at the penal institution, among either the administrators or the inmates, had ever expressed any grievances against him. Nobody had ever been less than well-disposed or even rudimentarily ill-disposed to him.” The camera shows the waiting room of the institution’s doctor, in which three inmates and one warden are sitting the moment Kulterer enters with his warden. The warden knocks on the door of the surgery, hands in a slip of paper, and sits down with Kulterer on the one unoccupied bench. The camera cuts to a view of the dam across the riverbed, a view extending all the way to the weir, as seen from the waiting room; it is half-past five in the afternoon; the workers are heading home along the roadways on the dam. The camera cuts to a bird’s-eye view of the two patrol guards, who, having just looked over at the homeward-bound workers, are just beginning to move apart from each other. The gardener stops working. Two nuns enter the church. From two directions groups of inmates arrive at the church square and enter the penal institution. The camera cuts to Kulterer who is now jumping to his feet because he has just heard the nurse call his name; he enters the surgery; the, warden, walking behind him, halts at the door of the surgery. A train pulls out of the railway station. As the camera shows the departing train as seen from the roof of the penal institution, the narrator says: “Despite the matter-of-factness that at the very moment of his sentencing had come into being within him like an elemental transmutation of the structure of his brain, that had set to work, had begun to dismantle and assemble at a radical level, had begun meting out justice point-blank, he had found it terribly difficult to submit himself to the new powers that be, to the facts, to the state of being a prisoner, a lawbreaker, a fellow destined for a well-nigh immeasurable stretch of time to be a criminal, a penitentiary preparation.” Dusk. Four or five workers are working in the rubbish dump, unloading rubbish; the rubbish is visibly reeking; the car from which the rubbish is being unloaded is of primitive manufacture; one can tell that these are the last inmates who are still working today. Once the car has been unloaded, the inmates remain standing amid the rubbish and button up their jackets, then they get into the car and drive to the penal institution. As the camera is showing the corridors, in which supper is being apportioned, cell doors are opening, troops of meal-distributors busying themselves, distributing bread, a large refectory in the background, so to speak, of this scene, is filling with inmates; these are evidently the prisoners who have been assigned to the outside work crews. These two settings, the corridors and the refectory, blend into each other, and masses of inmates are shown, masses of inmates who are being fobbed off, a gray voracious crowd of men is shown, a crowd that is in the midst of eating and that moves about in the corridors and in the refectory and in the cells as it eats; eventually, hundreds of eating inmates—their mouths, jaws, hands—are shown; eventually, there seems to be nothing in the world other than eating, than the slurping and gulping of the hundreds of inmates in these scenes. Crowd shots of men eating and slurping, biting, guzzling, alternate with close-ups of mouth and tongue and chin movements. The camera cuts to the two patrol guards at the front exterior of the penal institution at the edge of the riverbed as they both move away from the lookout tower and apart from each other; they halt; look up at the cells, from which the sound of eating can be heard; the rubbish dump is shown, the boy dressed in black is shown standing in it, and he blows on his whistle; it emits a shrill, brusque tone; immediately afterwards the two patrol guards at the edge of the riverbed turn around, they halt and turn around and immediately resume walking; their black fur capes contrast starkly and continuously with the gray evening landscape across the riverbed. A shrill chiming sound is heard in the corridors, is heard outside coming through all the windows. The camera cuts to a hearse, which is driving across the church square; it eventually crosses the dam across the riverbed and drives past the weir. The doctor walks across the church square in the company of the nurse. An old-fashioned stethoscope is stuffed in the pocket of his doctor’s coat. An inmate can be heard screaming in a cell in one of the upper stories; the nurse turns to the doctor as she continues walking alongside him; the doctor takes no notice of the screaming. Now the immediate environs of the penal institution are shown; first the dam across the riverbed and the landscape behind it in a single reposeful take; then, moving to the left, the camera shows the town of Garsten; it soars over the town’s roofs then descends into its streets and squares, which at this time of day present a soothing aspect; shopkeepers are shuttering their windows, the taprooms of taverns are filling with customers; workers in boiler suits are heading homeward. A few junior bakers and baker’s apprentices are brawling in one street. Guild signs. Windows. Portals. Suddenly one sees that the penal institution is in a town that is a so-called heritage architectural site. A barman rolls a beer barrel into the doorway of a tavern. Suddenly the camera cuts to the wall of the institution facing the railway station, with its barbed wire fence, then to the lookout tower, with the railway station in the background; freight trains are moving this way and that. Railway men whistle, tap on the brake blocks. Old women at the windows. A railway man hangs his uniform up on a nail with a brisk, expert movement of his hand, stretches out his legs, takes a footbath in a sheet metal washbasin. These tableaux are shown quickly in succession, over a matter of seconds, and indeed throughout the film all the scenes in which neither Kulterer nor the reposeful landscape is seen must follow each other very rapidly. Several railway workers, track repairmen, go into the bar of the railway station; the barmaid is shown; she is standing as if impaled on the two brass taps and staring into the barroom. A view of the crowded barroom, packed with diners, drinkers; in the left corner, next to the bar, a table at which prison officers in full dress uniform are seated.
Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson
Source: Der Kulterer. Eine Filmgeschichte (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1976), pp. 7-91.
As Márta Hortaványi used to say, "I AM NOT YET COMPLETED."