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Peter Kern, an Austrian actor who was a major force in the New German Cinema movement of the 1970s and was an out and outspoken gay rights activist at a time when there were few, died this week. He was 66.
In its obituary on Kern, German newspaper the Suddeutsche Zeitung called him “the last of the auteur dinosaurs,” a filmmaker who stuck to the purist cinema concepts of 1970s German arthouse and never went commercial.
At his peak, Kern worked with the best directors of his era, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Fox and His Friends, The Stationmaster’s Wife), Hans-Jurgen Syberberg (Hitler: A Film From Germany) and Wim Wenders (Wrong Move).
He twice won Germany’s top film honor, the Film Prize in Gold, for Wenders‘ Wrong Move in 1975 and, in 1978, for two performances: as the lead in Walter Bockmayer‘s Flaming Hearts and as part of the ensemble in Syberberg’s 7-hour experimental epic Hitler: A Film From Germany. Creatively, Kern was very much in Syberberg’s camp, believing cinema should be a “Gesamtkunstwerk,” a unified work of art from a single creative vision. In his own films as a director – Kern wrote and directed some two dozen features and documentaries, often playing the starring role himself. His final film, The Last Summer of the Rich, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February.
Kern would often quote one of Fassbinder’s film titles: I Only Want You to Love Me, but in life, the filmmaker was often divisive and confrontational. He was famous for his public attacks on politicians and other artists who failed to meet his own exacting standards.
Rare for his time and place – he grew up in a working class neighborhood of Vienna in the 1950s – Kern was openly gay and made sexuality the subject of of his work, with films such as Kiss, Cuddle and Celebrate, a documentary about five elderly gay men reflecting on their lives.
Peter Kern died August 26 in Vienna, Austria.
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