At 16 it was obvious that I would make films but, of course, I failed to get anything off the ground. I realised I had to become my own producer or I’d never make a film. So I started working the night shift as a welder in a small steel factory. That’s how I made money to fund my first film. But of course during the day I was in school so that was not too much sleep in those two-and-a-half years.
I was in high school, a classical school. So we had nine years studying Latin, six years Ancient Greek, some English at the end. I hated it all. Everything. The idea of gaining knowledge did appeal but I never trusted textbooks and I never trusted teachers. I’m completely self-taught. Including cinema. I’ve never read a book on film-making.
When I was a child I didn’t even know cinema existed. I grew up in the remotest mountain valley in the Bavarian alps. I saw my first film when I was 11 but it was not really satisfying. A travelling projectionist came by our one classroom schoolhouse and showed two films. They were both lousy. One was about Eskimos building an igloo, all paid extras who didn’t know how to handle snow and ice. I could tell because I’d grown up in snow.
I excluded myself from music when I was young because I was harassed by a music teacher. I disconnected myself from music for four years. And then there was a void, and I felt a hunger to fill the void. But you can never fill it. It’s the same with books. You read a wonderful book and you believe the pile of unread books will somehow be smaller now. But on the contrary, the unread books pile becomes larger and larger after every great book you read.
I never saw a great film when I was young. I saw some mediocre pictures like Tarzan and Zorro, the cheap 1950s version. But it was clear to me that I was some kind of a poet and I would use that quality to make films that would be different. I always had the feeling that I was the inventor of cinema. But I also wrote poetry and I have written prose – Conquest of the Useless, Of Walking in Ice – which I think will surv-ive all of my films. Because of the substance and calib-re of the prose. There is no one who writes prose like me these days. I write better than all the others. But I always recognised that making films was my destiny.
I’m not a traveller or an adventurer. I’ve just done the slalom of life and I’ve done it well.
I was not a neurotic boy. Not then and not now. I was just as stupid as anyone else at that age. But I do not want to remember the teenage me. I wouldn’t want to meet him, for God’s sake. I don’t like to go circ-ling around my own navel, I’ve never done that. I feel uncomfortable looking at myself. I do not like to look at my own face in the mirror. I do not like self-scrutiny.