Although Schwarzenberger began as a cinematographer in Germany in the 1970s and continued into the 90s ably handling both direction and photography, he first achieved prominence and is perhaps still best known for his work for Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Such lensing talents as Dietrich Lohmann (who dominated Fassbinder's 1969-74 period) and Michael Ballhaus (who handled most of the films from 1974 to 1978) are mentioned more frequently in discussions of the prolific output of New German Cinema's most important talent. Yet Schwarzenberger, though he made only five films with Fassbinder (compared with the dozen-plus each of Lohmann and Ballhaus), proved to be an important collaborator as well. He was one of the few who could work almost as fast as Fassbinder, and his superb sense of lighting, composition and color contributed substantially to the rich output of Fassbinder's final years before his death in 1982.
Schwarzenberger's earliest credits include the made-for-TV "Totstellen/The Condemned" (1975). He first worked with Fassbinder on the temperamental genius' 13-episode, 15-hour plus, made-for-TV magnum opus, "Berlin Alexanderplatz" (1980), which, despite its length, created quite a buzz on the international art-house circuit. Adding no little to its success was its marvelous sense of period (Germany in the 20s) as caught by its design, Fassbinder's unerring eye and Schwarzenberger's handling of the film's often muted but highly expressive color scheme, which then exploded in the film's surreal epilogue. He next worked with Fassbinder on "Lola" (1981), notable for its deliberately wild use of strong primary colors. He continued with the equally evocative "Lili Marleen" (1981) and "Veronika Voss" (1982), extending the writer-director's critique of Germany's economic recovery via bizarre period revamps of classic melodramas. The duo's last teaming was Fassbinder's final film, "Querelle" (1982), an adaptation of Jean Genet's novel, lensed with an unsettling, beautifully lit intensity which fully conveyed its hothouse gay sensuality.
The same year that Fassbinder died, Schwarzenberger first tried double duty as director and cinematographer. Several of his films have been extremely popular in Germany (1985's "Otto--Der Film" and its 1987 sequel), and his gift for lighting has insured him a certain status as a critic's darling, but the film's themselves have been uneven and lacking a consistent artistic statement. One of his best was his first, "Der Still Ozean/The Silent Ocean" (1982), a small but intense drama, stunningly shot, about a suicidal doctor who profoundly affects a small village. Schwarzenberger did less well, though, with "Waltzes of the Danube" (1984), which he also wrote, and the rather hollow drama "Der Fall Franza" (1986), although it is notable for its breathtaking international scenery. He continued lensing films for other directors, shooting Peter Handke's odd if not entirely successful meditation on eroticism, "The Malady of Death" (1985) and Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's six-hour "The Night" (1985). The first "Otto" film and "Otto--The New Movie" (1987), done in collaboration with their star Otto Waalkes, successfully transferred the sketch comedy antics of the gangly, high-energy TV favorite to the big screen, and also received praise for their visual flair. The same could be said for "Oedipussi" (1988), which Schwarzenberger shot only; subtler in its humor (despite its title), it was another instance of transferring TV sketch humor to cinema. Into the 90s, Schwarzenberger continued alternating directorial credits such as "Tonino and Toinette" (1994) with skillful cinematographic work on comedies such as the satirical, Oscar-nominated "Schtonk!" (1991).
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First collaboration with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, "Berlin Alexanderplatz"
Last of five collaborations with Fassbinder, "Querelle"
Directed first feature, "Der Stille Ozean/The Silent Ocean", which he also photographed
First screenplay credit, "Donauwalzer/Waltzes of the Danube", a docudrama which he also directed and photographed
Directed and photographed the popular comedy, "Otto--Der Film/Otto--The Film" (1985) and its sequel (co-directed with Otto Waalkes, "Otto--Der Neue Film/Otto--The New Movie" (1987)