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Max Bill – the master's vision

(Max Bill – das absolute Augenmass)



A documentary feature film by Erich Schmid
Distribution: Ariadnefilm

The film about Max Bill (1908-1994) moves between the dynamic fields of art, aesthetics and politics. Max Bill was probably the most important swiss artist of the 20th century and the most famous student to come out of the legendary Bauhaus in Dessau. He was an ardent anti-fascist and all his avant-garde work as an artist, sculptor, architect and typographer showed a social responsibility and environmental awareness right through his life. His views have become incredibly topical.

Switzerland 2008, 35mm colour, Dolby SR-D, 93 min. Director, Script: Erich Schmid; Photography: Ueli Nüesch; Sound: Dieter Meyer; Editing: Antoine Boissonnas; Collaboration: Georg Janett, Richard Dindo; Distribution Switzerland: Ariadnefilm GmbH; World Sales: Accent Films Montreux

Texts and Sources about the Film 

Short Synopsis

«It is the rebels that will change the world» (André Gide)

Max Bill (1908-1994) was arguably the most important Swiss artist of the 20th century. His background was the blue collar town of Winterthur near Zürich. During his lifetime he was a rebel - today he lives ever present on the upper spheres of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His name stands for a whole avant-garde life-work, which is firmly focussed on the future, which bears a social responsibility and which intrinsically contains an engaged political message. What mattered for Max Bill was the creation of our environment and a green consciousness, which is currently of incredible imminence.

For all those who want to understand Bill's oeuvre in relation to his biography, Erich Schmid has directed documentary film «bill - the master's vision». For six years he has been working at this 35mm documentary feature film, in order to open up eyes and minds for many unknown facts about Max Bill for the big screen. That much can already be said: It's a highly potent mix of arts, aesthetics and politics. Max Bill - the master's vision will be released in cinemas in Switzerland from 11th September 2008. (Please keep checking this website for more information).

Synopsis (medium version)

Max Bill (1908-94) was internationally one of the most famous Swiss artists. He experienced nearly a hundred years of tension between art and politics and used this in his work. He kept to the basic principles of design and social responsibility he had learned as a former student at Bauhaus. Even before the Nazis seized power Max Bill was an ardent anti-fascist. For many anti-fascist publications he created the graphic design. After World War II he continued with the Bauhaus ideals as architect and rector of the legendary Academy of Design in Ulm.
The film shows a life of failure and success. Each time Bill crossed fate he took it as a challenge. He was one of the first people to talk about «environmental awareness». Later he entered politics as a member of parliament for this reason.

Exhibiting in Paris at 17
The earliest recognition Max Bill received was in 1925 as a 17-year-old. He could show the work he had done at the College of Arts and Crafts in Zurich at the renowned «Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs» in Paris. World famous designers such as Le Corbusier and Melnikow were also represented at the same exhibition. Following a slight offence, he was expelled from the College of Arts and Crafts. He then went to the Bauhaus in Dessau.

The most important Bauhaus students
Bill's Bauhaus masters were Kandinsky, Klee and Moholy-Nagy. Today Max Bill is considered the most outstanding student to come out of the Bauhaus.
1933, in Paris again, Max Bill was accepted for the «abstraction création» and exhibited with Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp, Sohie Taeuber Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Vantongerloo and Le Corbusier. Max Bill was 25 years old.

The Academy of Design in Ulm (HfG)
In connection with the Marshall plan following the end of World War II, Max Bill was in a key position (both material and spiritual) for the rebuilding of Germany. As architect he built the new Academy of Design in Ulm, the HfG, and was its first rector. The HfG was financed by the Scholl foundation. Inge Scholl, whose brother and sister were murdered in 1944, was the president.

«Nobel prize for the Arts»
One year before his death he was the first Swiss to receive the so-called Nobel Prize for the Arts, the Praemium Imperiale, in Tokyo; worldwide the most prestigious prize for the arts. On 9 December 1994, on his last mission as president of the Bauhaus archive, he collapsed and died at Berlin airport.

Overcoming setbacks
Max Bill's life was full of setbacks and successes. As a young boy his parents sent him to a reform school because he had stolen a penny romance book from a kiosk, but he had learnt to stand up for himself at an early age. His uncle Ernst Geiger, who was a well-known artist, gave him his first paint box. His very first pictures were painted at the reformatory. He made up for being expelled from the College of Arts and Crafts in Zurich by winning a generous prize in a poster competition. He was able to pay for his studies at the Bauhaus with the prize money. It was also at the Bauhaus that he lost half a tooth in collision with a trapeze artist. The picture he called «Siamese twin acrobats» was his creative interpretation of this act of fate. In 1977 he had to have an eye removed due to a tumour. The day after the operation he was already designing the graphic series «seven twins» in hospital.

Facing a lack of understanding
Looking back on the story of his success may give the impression things came easy to Max Bill. That is not true. He had a hard time and had to keep on fighting for acceptance and his hard-earned laurels. It was thanks to his early unrewarding anti-fascist efforts that the Allies gave him the mandate for rebuilding in Germany. His sculptures in public places met with such opposition that the first version of the most famous statue «continuity» was destroyed by right-wing fanatics in 1948. Nearly 40 years later he was commissioned by the German bank in Frankfurt, possibly as a goodwill gesture, to rebuild the sculpture in granite. The work took three years. The authorities, businesses and some narrow-minded people were up in arms about the «pavilion» sculpture on the Zurich Bahnhofstrasse. However, he got his reward: the «pavilion» sculpture is now so popular there would be an outcry if anyone wanted to remove it

Political no man's land
Bill never told very much about his life. Many people found him mysterious. When he has elected to the National Council in 1967, some of the 68-protesters saw him as a representative of the Establishment, although he was politically independent. They belittled him. For a time there was a real Bill-bashing campaign. They accused him of being naïve, without realizing he had represented the most important demands of the 68-protesters before the student movement existed. They did not know that he was a dedicated anti-fascist who had hidden refugees and helped Italian partisans. They did not realize he condemned exaggerated consumption and a society producing unnecessary goods. They were not aware that in 1965 Max Bill, Sartre, Silone, Max Ernst and Simone de Beauvoir, among others, signed the first European artists' protest against the Vietnam War that appeared in the New York Times. Bill was against nuclear power in the 50s and argued in favour of environmental protection, although at that time there was still talk of environmental design. Viewed objectively, it was impossible to know, because it only came out after the Cold War, that Max Bill was watched by the Swiss National Security for over 50 years. In an emergency during World War II he would have been interred as a «left-wing extremist».
The Bill-Bashing went on after Max Bill was the first to sign the «Zurich Manifesto». The paper was against police intervention during the 68-riots and a protest about the authorities who did not take disciplinary action; whereas the demonstrators were severely punished by the law. A bashing is always popular. Usually people do not reflect they just see their prejudices confirmed. As Max Bill's determination to stand up for his convictions also annoyed the non-socialist parties, he landed in a political no man's land. A popular left-wing politician accused him of being a right-wing conformist. The influential conservatives saw him as an unwelcome left-wing politician. This attitude towards Max Bill has not changed much to this day.

Exploring the mystery of Max Bill
As a film maker I thought that if in spite of his good qualities strong prejudices still exist (even if they are based on ignorance) there must be more to discover about him. I had to concentrate on the unknown Bill in order to present new facts and maybe achieve a turn-around for the public.
This is a challenge for a film maker. I asked myself if it would be possible in this biographic film to show his life in such a way that his deepest convictions would be understandable. He lived on the threshold to modern living constantly fighting for a better and fairer world. Aesthetics and design were the weapons he used.

A perfect eye was the secret
After I had collected all the available film material from Swiss and foreign archives and included my own shooting, there were about 185 hours of picture and soundtrack material. We had to limit the montage to 90 minutes for the big screen, therefore only the footage that had a deeper meaning, often simultaneously on different levels, has been linked. It was in this way that a latticework of symbolic images was superimposed, propelling the film onwards rather like a cogwheel drive. The overriding theme is based on Einstein's theory of infinity and the political claim that beauty lies in reducing design to the simplest possible form.
The secret of Max Bill's success was not only that the future proved him right in his concerns but he also possessed something that very few people have: a perfect eye, which is comparable to a perfect musical ear.

Long Synopsis   Long Synopsis as PDF

Texts and Sources about the Film 

regie, buch erich Schmid
mitarbeitgeorg janett, richard dindo
recherchenangela thomas, erich schmid
kameraueli nüesch
steadycambrian goff, carlos romero, volker kreinacke
weitere kameras erich schmid, pio corradi
tondieter meyer, sandra blumati
beleuchterernst brunner, markus behle
cutterantoine boissonnas
weitere cutter manuela stingelin
cutter prolog und digitizingrené zumbühl
musikandré bellmont, komposition, leitung
daniel schenker, trumpet
christoph grab, tenor-saxophon
adrian frey, piano
dominique girod, bass
elmar frey, drums
jazz-quintett zusammengestellt von daniel schenker
maskeemilie george
stagiairetimo schaub
format35mm farbe, dolby sr-d 5.1
cinema 1:1.85 / tv 16:9
drehformathd ratio 16:9
max bill 
angela thomaskunsthistorikerin und witwe von max bill
gottfried honeggerkonkreter künstler
ignazio siloneromancier
jakob billsohn von max bill
ernst scheideggerfotograf, filmer und verleger
stanilaus von moose.professor für kunstgeschichte uni-zh
karl gerstnerkonkreter künstler und gründer ggk
walter gropiusarchitekt und harvard-professor
max grafehem. student hfg ulm
frauke decurtinsehem. studentin hfg ulm
monica mulderehem. studentin hfg ulm
bertus mulderehem. studentensprecher hfg ulm
alexander neumeisterehem. student hfg ulm
helmut schmidtdeutscher bundeskanzler
jacques chiracfranzösischer staatspräsident
guido cocchiadjunkt chefarchitekt expo 64
rené gonzalezdirektor théâtre vidy-lausanne
hans bisseggerarchitekt und gestalter
peter hahna. direktor bauhaus-archiv berlin
dirk schepervorstand bauhaus-archiv berlin
dagmar comorera
flugabfertigerin tegel berlin
marko blauveloakrobat
Sprechermartin walder, ruedi kaspar
produktionariadnefilm gmbh
postproduktion andromedafilm ag, zürich
leitung postproduktionueli nüesch
lichtbestimmungpatrick lindenmaier
fotobearbeitung paul avondet
tonstudiomagnetix, zürich
tonschnitt und mischungflorian eidenbenz
filmlaborschwarzfilm ag/sa, bern
lichtbestimmung negativtba
produzent ariadnefilm gmbh, zumikon
produktionsleitung filippo bonacci
sekretariat, buchhaltung marianne bloch
transkripte sarah schmid ziegler
grafik carlo bertoli
verleih roger huber
übersetzungen hansjörg egolf, jill schwarz
website mathias knauer
weitere recherchenmartina merklinger, malou von muralt, valerie andres, katharina morawietz, urs oskar keller
isabel bures, leandro carvalho
juristische beratung dr. iur. peter studer
koproduktionschweizer fernsehen drs / 3sat
redaktion: urs augstburger, frank hubrath
finanzielle unterstützung schweizer fernsehen / srg ssr idée suisse / 3sat
zürcher filmstiftung / stadt und kanton Zürich
bundesamt für kultur (edi), schweiz
ubs kulturstiftung
hilti art foundation / michael hilti
kulturstiftung des kantons thurgau
kulturstiftung winterthur / stadt winterthur
ernst göhner stiftung
christie’s zürich
prof. dr. w. u. m. schürer
deutsche bank stiftung
werner und gabrielle merzbacher stiftung
gemeinde zumikon
alfred richterich stiftung
dr. annette bühler
walter sonanini
dr. adolf streuli-stiftung
wohnbedarf ag zürich
maria reinshagen
world sales accent films gmbh, montreux

haus bill zumikon, hochschule für gestaltung ulm, théâtre vidy-lausanne, pavillon-skulptur bahnhofstrasse zürich, bauhaus dessau, arboretum park zürich, drs radio-studio zürich, kunstgewerbeschule zürich, centre pompidou paris, bauhaus-archiv berlin, palazzo reale milano, espace de l'art concret mouans-sartoux, schweizerisches landesmuseum zürich, sbb hauptbahnhof winterthur, kunstmuseum winterthur, deutsche bank frankfurt, flughafen tegel berlin, furkapass, aussenalster hamburg, general guisan-quai zürich, brücke tamins, hilti schaan, hotel am zoo berlin, kunsthaus zürich, mathematische fakultät uni karlsruhe

mit besonderem dank an
chantal bill, gerhard brahm, cécile brunner, esther burkhardt, thomas burla, gabriela christen, christian dettwiler, hans erni, rainer flury, rainer frank, christoph gasser, elisabeth geiger, bruno gerosa, sandra gianfreda, sariane grigoteit, eugen gomringer, christoph haerle, viktor heer, heinz hess, abina hubacher, annemarie jaeggi, susa katz, thomas kramer, werner krüger, walpurga krupp, enrico leuzinger, johanna lohse, guido magnaguagno, theodor marty, egidio marzona, almir da silva mavignier, egon monk, francois morellet, gaia morelli, erwin mühlestein, shutaro mukay, jacques picard, maria reinshagen, denise rené, dagmar rinker, nick roericht, pius rutz, gerhard saner, corinne sauder, claude schnaidt, moya schoenberg, effi signer, kaspar silberschmidt, dominique stroobant, fritz stuber, jean jacques vaucher, manfred wagner, eduard winiger, franziska wirz, alexander wollner, shizuko yoshikawa

BAKZürcher FilmstiftungSFThurgauer Kulturstiftung
Ernst Göhner StiftungChristie'sHilti Foundation

Texts and Sources about the Film 

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