May 31, 9:00 pm, Zeughauskino

FI/DE/AU 2012, D: Timo Vuorensola, S: Michael Kalesniko, Timo Vuorensola, C: Mika Orasmaa, with: Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto, Udo Kier, 93‘, 35mm OV w/ German subtitles

Along with fantasy, science-fiction is the one film genre most deeply rooted in Wagner's operatic aesthetics. The famous quote “I am your father!” from STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (USA 1980) can lay claim to a comparable weight in the collective memory of pop culture as Wotan's “Forward then! I cannot stop you!” (“Siegfried”, Act Three) for opera audiences. Timo Vuorensola's science-fiction parody IRON SKY, financed through crowd funding, is equal parts introspection on and exploitation of the pop-cultural canon of myths. It is the story of a Nazi colony which lays hidden on the dark side of the moon and whose leaders are mobilizing to take over the Earth. With relish, Vuorensola dips into the arsenal of cinematic Nazi clichés. Here the references to Wagner naturally can't be left out. So, every single one of the “moon Nazis'” fighter spaceships is named after a Wagner opera. The globe dance from Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR (to the tune of the prelude to “Lohengrin”) is shown in the Nazis' school classes as an expression of hope that Hitler might carry the entire world “in his strong hands”. The US President's PR-Agent turns out to be a veritable Valkyrie named Vivian Wagner. Vuorensola scored a big coup with the soundtrack to IRON SKY. The music is based almost exclusively on Wagner motifs, in variations and re-arrangements by the Slovenian industrial art-rock collective “Laibach”. While the film generally cultivates a rather “nerdy” brute-humor, the musical references display a humor of sometimes even superlative subtlety. At its premiere during the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, the film was amongst the biggest hits of the year.

Musical Introduction: Kevin McCutcheon, Co-Coach and Conductor at the Deutsche Oper Berlin
special guest: Timo Vuorensola




Interview with Director Timo Vuorensola (IRON SKY)
Questions: Kristina Jaspers and Steffen Vogt
Location/Time: Marriott Hotel, Potsdamer Platz, February 9, 2013


Wagner-Kino It was exactly one year ago that your movie IRON SKY premiered at Berlinale. The film establishes a science fiction story about a Nazi settlement which is located on the dark side of the moon. It is a story about their mission to return to Earth and to conquer the world. The film uses a lot of motives originating in Norse mythology and deals with Nazi stereotypes. An important part is the musical score. It was composed, arranged and performed by Slovenian industrial rock veterans Laibach, who adapted a wide range of musical material originating from Wagner’s operas. Wagner is also present in other parts of the movie, like the names of the battleships and so on. Did you decide at a very early stage of the project to use mainly Wagner’s music?

Timo Vuorensola I knew from the beginning that Wagner would have some sort of influence on the music – but at first I thought it a bit too straightforward to go for Wagner. You know, more Nazis, labor – these things, they say it is something Wagner. We were tossing around a lot of different ideas but always came back to the basic Wagnerian melodies and the basic Wagner themes. I found myself writing a lot of little hints towards Wagner in the script itself, like the names of the ships are “Tannhäuser”, “Walküre” and “Rhinegold” and all that stuff. Then at one point, we were sitting there with Laibach and we said: You know what? I think it is going to be the best possible solution we’ll ever come up with. We just go full Wagner, take Wagner and mold him into the whole thing.

Wagner-Kino Laibach were part of the project before you finally decided on the character of the musical score you were intending to use?

Timo Vuorensola Yes, it was sure that I wanted Laibach. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted with Laibach. I think we first started talking about just jazz. We thought about jazz and then then we listened to some sort of Wagnerian jazz. They had just created a very interesting presentation called “VolksWagner” and we started to think, maybe we could find that tune over there but we were just tossing around a lot of different ideas, and actually ended up with Wagner.

Wagner-Kino That means at first you developed the project of the film with the idea of doing some kind of Nazi persiflage or to make something ironic about Nazis and about science fiction and it turned out to be a genuine part of this idea to say: In today’s pop culture Nazis are always connected with Wagnerian music, so we have to use this music as well. Moreover some of the Nazi aesthetics can also be related to Wagner.

Timo Vuorensola In Finland we say “torta po torta” this is like "a cake is a cake"; but when we started talking with Laibach we realized how we were going to go. It would have been too straightforward if we would have just used a Wagner theme score without any new arrangements. Having Laibach there, with their electronic brack, brack, brack – they quirked away to approach melodies and themes that made it fit. I have to admit, I didn’t know too much about Wagner’s music before the making of this film. Now, I know much more and I realized how amazing our chances of volumes there are. To be honest, I didn’t know it that much; I just knew that it was going to be good. But when Laibach started to introduce me this thing, “Parsifal”, here, It was like: “This is just so absolutely beautiful and cinematic”!

Wagner-Kino It was the guys from Laibach who introduced you more to Wagner's music?

Timo Vuorensola Yes, definitely.

Wagner-Kino Would you say that they are Wagner experts?

Timo Vuorensola Partially yes, but they like to present themselves not as individuals but as a sort of a movement. Some of them were much more versatile and understood much more about Wagner, and some of them really were like: “I didn’t listen to it too much”. So it was also an interesting way for them to find out more about it. There was one guy who really knew inside-out the whole Wagner topic. I think that is one of the reasons we were able to find quite a fresh way to look at the Wagnerian score, and it is funny how many themes were included into the final score. Step by step, I started to go more into the stories of the operas, and I realized that there are many things which are connected to this film or films in general.

Wagner-Kino We were wondering if the audience really understands the Wagner subtext in your film, and especially in the music. We were laughing a lot when we were watching the movie, and especially when listening to the score, because it’s amazing to notice all the hidden musical quotes and to see how they were manipulated to fit into the film. The arrangements and the orchestration of some of the tunes is very, very elaborate. You really have to know Wagner very well to notice these allusions, that’s why we were wondering whether this was intended to be more of an inside joke.

Timo Vuorensola It turned out to be one. We realized that no matter how clear our things are, they are still going to escape most people. But this is very much what Iron Sky is about, on other levels as well. You know it is an action thing as such but will always be not just the music but with hidden little things, tips, notes to hear, which many people are going to miss. I would say that normal viewers will get only ten percent of the references we put in the film, whether they get: “Oh, there is 'Ride of the Valkyries',” everybody knows that – “Oh, that is like, maybe this was that German guy, Wagner,” you know? And then there is “Oh, this from that one Hitler movie, this one scene” – and that’s it. But then, there are some viewers, and this is the kind of people who I like the most, who see the film and say: “Wow! This is interesting!” They watch it again and then they start actually spotting those little references to popular culture and sort of non-popular culture – what do you call it, opera culture? – I mean the classical music background. I wanted to make a film that keeps on giving in a way per viewing…

Wagner-Kino Do you feel there is a difference if you present the movie in different countries? A German audience for example, might have a completely different reaction than people from other countries who are not so familiar with German culture and history. People from different countries would laugh at different points in the movie.

Timo Vuorensola Well, maybe not completely different, but there are definitely big differences., Some jokes work, and some things are just much better, and in some areas it just doesn’t work at all. Like some jokes, there are some things that you didn’t even think are jokes; they are completely hilarious to some people. It is an interesting experience to watch the film with different national audiences – but I don’t like to do that, because I don’t like to watch my films with audiences anyway. It is horrible! It is the worst experience I can have. It is like two hours of workout. I hate that, so I always sneak out whenever I go to screen the film: I never watch it. I only watch it alone. In the premiere last year, exactly one year ago here at the Berlinale, this was when I watched it with the audience, but never after that. I watch it myself, I mean I have seen it like a hundred thousand times, but never with an audience.

Wagner-Kino Were you afraid of the reaction of the audience?

Timo Vuorensola It is not that. The audience reaction is, you can hear it right there whether it works or not, and if they laugh it works, if they don’t then it doesn’t – it is not like a normal drama, where you don’t care: You watch it in silence, nobody says anything or reacts anyhow. But this is a film where you have to hear the reactions, if not then you will go: “Oh god! They hate it!” You know, one joke misses, next joke goes by and nobody laughs, and – sweat starts to come. And then, there is a scene, everybody laughs and it is like: “Ah!” But then, another joke comes and nobody laughs, and it is a continuous drama – it is a horrible anxiety for me, and I don’t like that.

Wagner-Kino There is one character in the movie which has a strong allusion to Wagner, it is the lady called “Vivian Wagner” who is the PR Assistant of the American President.

Timo Vuorensola I would definitely call her a Wagner character. Her name “Vivian Wagner” is actually another cultural reference to a very obscure Finnish cartoon, where there is a pig called “Wagner” and a woman called “Vivian” – Vivi – and they live together: The pig is the man and she is the woman. It begins there, and then we thought that she is kind of a warrior character, that she is a Valkyrie. Obviously, her musical theme is “Ride of the Valkyries”. Whenever she is going nuts or when she attacks, you can hear the “Valkyrie’s” doodle-di-doo.

Wagner-Kino We have the impression that nowadays Wagner is coming back in a pop cultural context. There are Hollywood movies like THOR by Kenneth Branagh, which have a strong connection to Norse mythology. Mythology has become very popular in blockbuster movies recently. I was wondering why people worldwide are so interested in mythology these days, and whether they have a quite deliberate connection to Wagner.

Timo Vuorensola Fantasy is a genre that is definitely coming back and many of those mythological stories told in the movies have been influenced by Wagnerian backgrounds, in one way or another, starting with LORD OF THE RINGS and going on with NARNIA. You walk around at the European Film Market in Berlin, and you see that there is a lot of a fantasy film here, sort of mythological films. HERCULES and whatever there is, gods fighting men, and all that. But still, I am hoping to find somebody who would really take a Wagner story and actually mold it into a film.

Wagner-Kino IRON SKY was partially financed by crowd funding and people could also bring their ideas into the movie script. Did people also come up with suggestions that related to the Wagner subtext?

Timo Vuorensola Yes, there was a lot of that actually, especially in the beginning when we started to do it. There were a lot of suggestions like “You have to use Wagner here and Wagner there.” These suggestions focused mainly on the music not so much on the stories of Wagner’s operas. But then again, I had fantastic discussions with this opera singer woman who is an IRON SKY fan, and she specializes in singing Wagner – and she actually brought in a lot of things and her thoughts and ideas, which I respected. We had some good discussions. She was telling me about the stories of Wagner’s operas and the passion that she has for his work and that she carries with her, and I think it somehow transported the film itself.

Wagner-Kino What about the rumors that you are planning a sequel to Iron Sky?

Timo Vuorensola IRON SKY II is coming up, sure. I don’t want to go into details at this early stage but Laibach for sure will participate again. Our collaboration was such a fantastic experience, and we are talking a lot about where to go from there. We did a big job with the music in IRON SKY. How would it be when doing it a second time? We can go for something even crazier or bigger now. But I am going to make another film in between, before I actually do the sequel. One day it will come.

Wagner-Kino We heard that Laibach performed the score from IRON SKY during their show at Tate Modern last year?

Timo Vuorensola Not completely. They had a kind of retrospective on Laibach at Tate Modern in April 2012. They were presenting selections from the score but also obviously other selections from their whole career, starting from 1984.

Wagner-Kino Do they use video clips from IRON SKY for their shows?

Timo Vuorensola Yes, they did a big IRON SKY tour last year, and they were actually using video material exclusively from the movie. We gave them the film, and they had a video artist who used it to prepare the videos for the background of the show. It was one of the most amazing shows I have seen in ages, obviously because it is my film, but not only for this reason. When you see Laibach and hear their music, I think it is always much more relevant than a lot of other music out there. It is a good thing, but it is not really just about the music. It feels funny that Laibach is still much more relevant than many of today’s artists.

Wagner-Kino Can you explain the fascination that Laibach has for this kind of monumental aesthetics?

Timo Vuorensola I don’t want to speak for Laibach because they have very strict ideas on that, so I can only assume what is their point of view. They are always big and pompous, sort of monumental, something that is just a sort of steamroller-kind of approach to things, and they like things that can be taken too seriously to become part of their…– but what do I know? I don’t know, and I am just saying this. You should rather ask them.