EN: The interview with Beatrice Behn was conducted by our editor Christina Schultz in German. Christina then translated the interview into English. You can read the original German version here.
DE: Das Interview mit Beatrice Behn wurde von unserer Chefredakteurin Christina Schultz auf Deutsch geführt. Christina selbst übersetzte das Interview auf Englisch. Du kannst die originale deutsche Version hier lesen.
If you missed it yesterday, please read Part One of our interview with Beatrice Behn!
Christina Schultz: So what led you to make the film The Artist & The Pervert?
Beatrice Behn: René Gebhardt and I stumbled upon this story about two years ago because of an article in the The New York Times [featuring Georg Haas and Mollena Williams-Haas]. I thought it was exciting because everyone, including myself, had a kind of ad hoc reaction. They immediately wanted to give their opinion about it. That triggered so much! We wrote to Georg and Mollena and they said sure, come on over, let’s make a film - and we made it right away. Since it all happened to fast, we never had the time or really even cared to think about why we’re making this film. We just made it. Period. Nobody does it like that, but we did.
CS: How did the public react to the film?
BB: Now we have the first screenings behind us and we were surprised because we thought the audience would leave the theater and think oh my God, these perverts! I’m going! I don’t want to see these people naked! They’re old and fat for God’s sake! But the exact opposite happened. Everyone stayed in their seats. The more the film was screened, the more people came to the theaters. The Q&As afterwards were unbelievably long and there were so many questions. We were blown away by this because we, funnily enough, thought that the film would not be received so well. We were not prepared for the film to be received so positively. We are still trying to wrap our heads around it [laughs].
CS: It’s interesting that the film was made so spontaneously. I read that it was financed by crowdfunding. Is that right?
BB: Yes and no. We filmed it without a budget. We already had cameras and when we went to see them we paid for everything out of pocket. When we went broke we had fortunately finished filming. We just had to take care of the postproduction. The good thing is that René and I have enough knowledge that we could do just about everything but the sound design. We needed money for the sound designer and we did it with crowdfunding.
CS: Kudos to you! The couple, Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas and his wife who voluntarily serves him as a slave, the writer and sex educator Mollena Williams-Haas, is pretty unique but also full of contradictions. There is no commentary in the film so that their relationships is shown as authentically as possible. But who are they really?
BB: I think there are two levels. The one as a real life couple and the other as a symbol. And that’s what the film is about because after they outed themselves in The New York Times, most people reacted to Georg and Mollena as a symbol for something. For some it was a symbol for total freedom, for others a symbol for absolute perversion. The symbolic level is bigger so we made this film to find out who the real people are behind the symbolism. A 24/7 BDSM relationship sounded totally exhausting to me. But we wanted to find out how it works and why they do it. How can it be that they both consider themselves feminists and are in a power exchange relationship where the woman is submissive? Where they play out a 1950s household story? That’s very hard to capture. And naturally the whole question of race as well. How can a white man from a Nazi family dominate a black woman? Why does she allow this? Those are the big questions hanging over them and that we are trying to answer on a personal level.
CS: What do you like about them?
BB: There are things they do that I find really great. It’s so radical that they live the way they want at their age - Georg is 65 and Mollena is in her 40s. That personally touched me and got me thinking. And the audience too. They have no choice but to think am I really living my life the way I want? That’s very exciting. There are also aspects that I personally find problematic like the time aspect. She gives up almost all of her time to serve him and that helps him in his daily life and with his art. He can produce so much more than before. But she is also an artist and produces art. They even make art together but she gives up so much time for him. But just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean that I have to judge the two of them. It’s their life and not mine. That’s the most difficult and most exciting part about the film.
CS: What do you think about the accusations that the couple is putting on an act?
BB: I find it super fascinating that Georg has been accused of using it as a PR strategy. But he is so renowned and well-known that he doesn’t need it. If his music was total shit and no one knew him, OK. But he was already established beforehand. I think it’s simply an attempt to deny that two people fulfill themselves in such a radical way. It’s easier to believe that it’s a PR strategy than believing the two of them are serious. And I think that’s really funny.
CS: You mentioned feminism and racism. How does a feminist behave, in your opinion? How does feminism, sexism or racism play a role in the film and in their relationship?
BB: To the first question: what is feminism? That is a personal question. There isn’t one kind of feminism. There are thousands of kinds. For me, feminism is the wish for equality between all possible genders (I believe there are more than two) and that one has all opportunities open to them to live their life the way they want to, regardless of their gender. It’s not against men. It simply means that we want equality. I believe Georg and Mollena would answer this question in a similar way. And if you think about it, you realize there isn’t a big discrepancy between how they live and feminism. Because the whole point of feminism is that one should realize themselves the way they damn well please, regardless of gender or even race. And then everything makes sense. If you reduce feminism to such a narrow pop culture idea that only women can demand equal rights and that they have to be strong and can’t be submissive, then you realize that there is a discrepancy. But to me that’s more a sign that one hasn’t thought out their feminism and not a sign that the two of them are lying to one another.
CS: And with sexism and racism?
BB: This racism, this sexism, this perceived anti-feminism are all in the film but not where most people think they will find them. Instead - and I think this is the most interesting part - these things are all found in the individual prejudices that one holds as members of the audience. And they are somehow confronted with their prejudices, that’s one of things the film does, just by seeing the way these two live out their daily lives. That’s the source of friction the film creates. I think that’s why people have so many questions after seeing the film. And that’s awesome.
CS: It is. I definitely want to see the film! My last question to you is: what would you say to girls or women who are interested in a film career? Do you have any tips or encouraging words for them?
BB: Part of me wants to say, don’t do it. Part of me really wants to be protective and say that it’s very exhausting and annoying because you have to fight against so many things. And if you deal with feminism and film like I do, you are very quickly put into a niche and that’s a struggle. The other part of me wants to say, yes absolutely. We need more women, we need more voices, we need more diversity, especially in film criticism which is dominated by young, white, middle-class men. We also need other kinds of people so we can have different perspectives in the current discourse. And I believe - except for saying that you should realize that it won’t be easy to establish yourself, especially as a woman - I can’t really give any other advice.
CS: It certainly can be a struggle as a woman, whatever field you’re in. Thank you for speaking with us and thank you most sincerely for your wise words.
The Artist & The Pervert is on tour. Check for screenings near you here: http://artistandpervert.com/
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