A Tribute to Burkhard Driest
»The eyes, too small for a man his size to begin with, were often directed at an unattainable future. A deep dislocation defined him, his physicality and power stood in a strange contrast to it. ›That's a lot of man you‘re carryin' in those boots, stranger‹, John Carradine says to him in Johnny Guitar. And still this man is deeply vulnerable.« Of course, it‘s not Burkhard Driest who‘s being described here, but Sterling Hayden. But Driest played Hayden in Wolf-Eckard Bühler's Film »The Shipwrecker«. Not just played him, he embodied him. He always made artistic decision when he could find enough of himself in them. As an actor, author, director or painter – his art always uses a part of Driest in the characters, on the pages, the movie screen or the canvas. His inner conflict, but also his vulnerability are a sign of the discrepancy between his public image and his private self. Driest is someone who, as Abraham Polonsky said about Hayden, »has achieved something extremely radical, he has changed.«
Crossing borders always points to a willingness for radical change. The many varieties of artistic expression in the course of his career and the first exclamation mark in his biography point to this energy. »One could study law during the day, but at night go over to the other side to learn all about it, too. One does not have to limit oneself to the existence as a dour jurist.« In May 1965, at the age of 26, he robbed a bank near Hannover at gunpoint – three weeks before taking the oral state examination as a lawyer.
The adaptation of his own novel »The Brutalization of Franz Blum« (1974) by director Reinhard Hauff marked the beginning of his own career as a writer and an actor. Driest processed his own experiences in prison, delivered the screenplay and played a leading role along Jürgen Prochnow. Several novels, screenplays and also roles in the Theater followed – including a turn under Peter Zadek, who cast him as Stanley Kowalski in »A Streetcar Named Desire«. He worked with directors like Werner Herzog (»Stroszek«) and Sam Peckinpah (»Cross of Iron«). His collaboration with Reinhard Hauff turned into four films that he co-created as an author and as an actor. At the end of the 70s, while studying acting in the US, he started to concentrate more intensively on the craft of writing. In Robert Aldrich‘s favorite screenwriter Lukas Heller he quickly found his match. Heller connected him to Hollywood and worked with him for studios like Paramount, Universal and 20th Century Fox, among others. Their shared project, the dazzling satire »Son of Hitler« (1979) was filmed starring Bud Cort and Peter Cushing and bombed with critics and audiences alike.
With his adaptation of Genet's »Querelle«, Driest returned to Europe. Directors like Schlesinger and Polanski passed; Sam Peckinpah was interested but got sick. Finally, the project ended up with Fassbinder – a filmmaker who was the complete opposite of Driest. While Driest focused on the craft, the setting and conflicts in the context of social boundaries, Fassbinder was a cinematic visionary who always had to bring his inner self onto the screen.
During the 1982 postproduction of the film that Driest was also coproducing and in which he was acting alongside Jeanne Moreau, Brad Davis and Franco Nero, Fassbinder passed away. In 1984, Driest followed up with his directorial debut »Annas Mutter«, which shed light on the criminal case of Marianne Bachmeier, a mother who had shot her daughter's murderer in court. The film caused quite a stir in Germany.
Driest has always stayed true to his creed to live more than one life. He has always remained a searcher, has questioned artistic and societal structures and tested their functionality. Everything an artist should be. A system crasher.