DIRECTED BY: Felix Laurson
FEATURING: Felix Laurson, the music of Klaus Nomi, and a number of people documented as having been paid for contributing to the production
PLOT: Difficult to say; see below.
COMMENTS: The movie industry is replete with legendary lost films, pictures–pulped to make space in warehouses or damaged beyond recovery by time–that aficionados agree, based on contemporaneous reviews and publicity stills, might today be regarded as classics. A very long list of such possible classics might include the little-known Teach a Man to Fish, a film that possibly no one other than its director (Felix Laurson, who also wrote the screenplay and did the editing) has actually seen.
What few details we have about the film come from three sources. The bulk of it comes from interviews Laurson gave to press outlets over the years, including a 1986 interview for Der Schaden from his residence in the Kugelmugel (a self-declared independent republic located in Prater Park, Vienna – see image); a 1993 interview with Texte zur Kunst while living in a villa in Gjirokaster; and a March 2014 interview he gave from his residence in Crimea for a German film podcast. Financial and legal documents also give us tantalizing hints of other details of the film’s contents. But we’ve never had the film itself; all ten copies of it were reportedly destroyed in a Berlin warehouse fire the night before they were distributed to theaters. Laurson did his best to embrace the tragedy, encouraging moviegoers to treat the entire film and its loss as performance art, asking his prospective audience and film reviewers to take part in the performance by imagining what the film must have been like, sharing how they reacted to it, and thereby contributing to the creative process.
What we know about the film suggests it was very likely weird. Laurson spent much of the late 70s as an avant-garde performance artist in the seedier end of Berlin’s countercultural scene, developing an ever-more grandiose scope for his absurd and anarchic view of the world, a scope that he eventually felt could only be expressed in the form of an art film. Teach a Man to Fish was an expansion of a performance he put on at several venues during 1978: he would goad the audience to demand he swallow live tropical fish as an expression of the cruelty to which everyday people can be driven by the lure of fame and eye of the public. In the interviews, he described a host of amateur actors hired from the Berlin art and punk scene, costumes involving brightly-colored electrical tape and Q-tips taped on actor’s faces in vortex patterns, and a warehouse festooned with fish skeletons as essential elements of his vision. He also mentioned his fascination with Klaus Nomi’s haunting rendition of “The Cold Song” as an inspiration.
Which is where the evidence from the legal documents comes in. Nomi recorded a soundtrack, expecting to be paid from the proceeds of the film and the right to all proceeds of the subsequent album. But with the film reduced to ashes before tickets were sold Continue reading CAPSULE: TEACH A MAN TO FISH (1980)