The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Werner Nekes Day


‘Werner Nekes was born in 1944 in Erfurt and studied linguistics and psychology in Freiburg. He then went to Bonn in 1964 where he was a head of the University Film Club and later chairman of the FIAG. He developed friendships with film directors, sculptors and painters. These included Dore 0., his companion and collaborator since 1967.

‘He began painting in 1965 with diverse materials and objects.

‘He started his practice of film with 8mm and went on with 16mm. He decided to free the film from narration and psychology and organized his films according to temporal units and structural systems.

‘In spring 1967, his films were rejected by the Kurzfilmtage of Oberhausen. Thus, Nekes organized a counter-event.

‘The same year in November, he came to Hamburg with Dore 0., whom he married the following month. He was a co-founder of the Hamburg cooperative of filmmakers and was a co-organizer of the « Hamburger Filmschau » in 1967. From 1973, he travelled all over the world to make seminars about film theory and retrospectives. He moved to Mülheim an der Ruhr in summer 1978.

‘He co-founded the Filmbüro NW in 1980 and the ICNC (International Center for New Cinema) in Riga in 1988.

His work was shown at major international museums and festivals, including The Museum of Modern Art New York, or the Kassel Dokumenta.

‘He was also a professor: from 1969 to 1972 and 2004 to 2006 at the Academy of Fine Arts (Hochschule für Bildende Künste) in Hamburg, from 1981 to 1982 at Wuppertal University, from 1982 to 1984 at the Kunsthochschule Offenbach, and, from 1990-96 at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne.

‘Furthermore, Nekes compiled one of the most important private collections of artefacts documenting 500 years of pre-cinematographic experiments as well as developments in the early history of film, focusing on spatial and temporal principles of representation.

‘Nekes died unexpectedly at the age of 72 in January, 2017.’ — Ubuweb





Video: Portrait: Werner Nekes @ ARTE
The Werner Nekes Collection
Whatever happens between the pictures: a lecture by Werner Nekes
Werner Nekes @ MUBI
Light Movement 3: Werner Nekes
Montage horizontal et montage vertical chez Werner Nekes
RUB YOUR EYES. From the Werner Nekes Collection
Werner Nekes interviewed (in German)
Podcast: Legendärer Filmkünstler und Sammler: Zum Tod von Werner Nekes



W. Nekes Interview

Werner Nekas (1982) by Gérard Courant

Exprmntl: Werner Nekes

Manual Media – as mãos de Werner Nekes

werner nekes estampas eróticas antiguas


Werner Nekes: A Pre-Cinematic Obsession
from AnOther Magazine


‘Magic lanterns, zoetropes and perspective boxes, carved handles that cast shadows of historical silhouettes, games of anamorphosis where distorted scenes are brought into definition with the help of a special mirror or lens… In Werner Nekes’s home, one enters a world of Cartesian uncertainty where everything seems to be, or harbors, an illusion until proven otherwise.

‘I met Nekes in 2001 at a Magic Lantern Society convention in Birmingham, where he stood out in his black turtleneck and stern moustache. Over the years we fitfully stayed in touch, and in 2004 I went to Eyes, Lies and Illusions, an exhibition at the Hayward that comprised hundreds of items from his collection, probably the largest of pre-cinematic devices in the world. But my dream was always to see it in situ.

‘Nekes’s home is situated on a motorway in the small town of Mülheim an der Ruhr. He leads me down a steep flight of stairs, through a room crammed with film stock and video cassettes, and then into his vast compendium of marvels from the Renaissance onwards. The first he shows me is William Cheselden’s Osteographia, an anatomical tome from 1733 displaying life-size representations of bones. Drawn with the help of a camera obscura, many of the plates depict skeletons in animated poses. As with most objects in Nekes’s collection, it’s this play between interiority and exteriority, at work in both magic and science, that’s part of the wonder.

‘He asks me what I’d like to see next. I look around, overwhelmed, with the sense that dozens of mechanical eyes stare back at me. I decide to pursue my own interest, magic lanterns. A large wooden one from Germany is the oldest in the collection, while his favourite is a Diableries brass lantern from around 1880. It is too fragile to handle – its images are hand painted on rhodoid and turn on a spool. Werner found it at auction in France – “Proust must have had such a lantern” – and claims only five were ever made.

‘Magic lanterns project images; perspective boxes keep theirs within. These little theatres of enigmatic depths often showed catastrophes such as the earthquake of Lisbon, and there’s a sense of a natural force, barely contained, bursting out of them.

‘So, where did it all begin? With thaumatropes, he smiles. In 1975, when Nekes was in Bilbao screening his films, he walked into a magic shop and asked the owner whether he had any “images that turn quickly”. The man brought out a handful of thaumatropes. These toys work on the principle of the afterimage and persistence of vision. Via a twirling motion, two sides of a painted disc merge optically, fusing into one: a parrot + an empty cage = an encaged bird; a woman in bed + a perching imp = an incubus. Although Nekes gave away his first thaumatropes to friends, something was triggered and he embarked on his passionate exploration.

‘Since my arrival, I’ve been aware of a sinister profile on a shelf, another eye. Nekes tells me to turn it fully around. A grimacing face comes into view, with a painted red mouth, a cold blue gem of an eye, a dangling earring. But it’s actually an ear from whalebone, he says, from around 1600, found at auction in Germany.

‘Of the value of his collection, Nekes says: “It has the grammar of everything that is possible.” I think back on Cheselden – bones form our own grammar, our verbs, subjects, prepositions, they dictate how we move through the world. Somehow Cheselden’s book, I realise, is emblematic of Nekes’ collection – for everything, on shelf or page, can be animated – and everywhere, there are reminders of mortality, haunting and beautiful memento mori.’ — Chloe Aridjis


8 of Werner Nekes’ 44 films

Johnny Flash (1986)
‘Experimental filmmaker Werner Nekes describes in this, his first comedy the extraordinary career of the pop king of the Ruhr, „Johnny Flash“. This obstinate offspring of the Potzkothen family succeeds in becoming, thanks to the unflagging support of his mother, his manager and „that girl at Music Satellite“ a celebrated pop star. In the final sequence of this satire on show business and mother-son-love, Johnny and his mama wander off into an uncertain horizon, just as Charlie Chaplin once did at the end of his films …’ — Re: Voir

the entire film


Film Before Film (1986)
‘An exhilarating and amusing encyclopedic look at the “prehistory” of cinema. Werner Nekes charts the fascination with moving pictures which led to the birth of film, covering shadow plays, peep shows, flip books, flicks, magic lanterns, lithopanes, panoramic, scrolls, colorful forms of early animation, and numerous other historical artiffices. Working with these formats, early “producers” created melodramas, comedies, — as well as lots of pornography — anticipating most of the forms known today. Nekes probes these colorful toys and inventions in a rich and rewarding optical experience. Film Before Film is a bewildering assault of exotic (and sometimes erotic) images and illusions.’ — Kino Lorber

the entire film


w/ Dore O Beuys (1981)
‘Ostensibly, and as the title should hopefully have suggested, Beuys is a documentary on the German artist Joseph Beuys, a renowned figure in modern/contemporary art circles and one recently treated to a major retrospective at Tate Modern. This may put the film in the same category as, for example, Clouzot’s La Mystère Picasso, Rivers and Tides (on Andy Goldsworthy) or Right Out of History (on Judy Chicago), yet for each of their respective qualities these works offer essentially conventional records of their subjects. Beuys on the other hand takes a more conceptual approach and as a result perhaps shares a closer kinship with Gilbert and George’s contemporaneous feature The World of Gilbert and George. Here we find Beuys effectively given free rein – his is the only voice, indeed only sound, which we hear; he is the only person to appear onscreen, and in a single take at that; and even the opening credits seem unnaturally hasty in their efforts to move out of his way, having been written directly onto the celluloid and over in seconds – but crucially he doesn’t figure in the expected manner. Rather we find him facing a wall, with his back to the camera and placed in a spotlight so that he becomes almost a silhouette. Indeed, all we see are the hands behind his back and his equally stationary right ear, the rest of his body having been engulfed by a hat and sizeable coat. Under such circumstances he resembles nothing more than a big screen gangster, one in a firing line perhaps or an informant trapped in an intense spotlight. Moreover, the décor seem to match such an interpretation: the walls are painted white and are completely bare save for some electrical fittings which presumably no longer work; apart from Beuys himself the only other visible object is a radiator of standard persuasion. All told it appears that we’re in either a disused factory or some abandoned warehouse – either way it’s a stark environment, but also one teeming with atmosphere.’ — Cinema of the World

the entire film


Hynningen (1973)
Hynningen (Swedish for ‘honey roof’) begins with long multiple exposures of a landscape with a clearing, opening up to the horizon. In the middle of the clearing there is a simple log cabin of the type characteristic of Northern Europe or Quebec. There are actors a man and a woman – at the window, at the doorway, strolling in the grass, doubled or even tripled by multiple exposure. Traces they have left at different moments of the day and in the changing light appear as gentle phantoms. If our varying perceptions would outlast changes in location we would experience a strong sense of continuity and of repetition. This visual counterpart to the imperfect tense in grammar is amplified by three high tones on a background of sinus curves. These gradually reach a higher pitch. But this isolated house, filmed in the almost silent density of a Baudelarian ‘Afternoon without end’, that seems as if made to accommodate peace and meditation, does it not attain a sudden, bewildering presence? If it is true that the term ‘to be’ originally means ‘to live’ and ‘to unfold’ but also ‘to dwell’, taking into account both Indo-European roots (es, bhû) as well as the Germanic ‘wes’, is one not, on seeing this dwelling place, invariably reminded of what Heidegger said about Man as ‘the keeper of his being’? Is this honey roof not the place of sheltered existence? No matter what Nekes himself thinks about his films and no matter how dominant the primacy of technique and structure, has he not with DIWAN begun erecting a metaphysical oeuvre, in which unto the cinema is bestowed the task of concealing and revealing existence as such? This is precisely the purpose that according to Heidegger constitutes Man’s oppressive privilege, Man who is subjected to the painful experience of boredom and of Angst. The end of the film is as cheerful as it is mysterious: we are led into the house with the honey roof. In front of a window, open as in the paintings of Magritte, the inhabitants walk, in multiple exposure, naked and silent…’ — L’Art Vivant

the entire film


Makimono (1974)
‘The title refers to Japanese landscape painting on rolls. Furthermore it indicates the film’s theme, the balance of colors (blurred tones of blue, green and grey) and the type of montage that gives priority to continuity of development rather than to disruption and contrast. This continuity is achieved by dissolvings and double exposures and by extremely long pans. The rhythm accelerates: a meditation on landscape, which unfolds before the eye or is visually paced out, gives way to fluidity and pure motion, to a feeling of dizziness, the result of two contrasting camera movements. The world resembles a reflection in the water; then, however, rapid montage creates a calligraphy consisting of the quick and sharp black strokes of a Hartung painting, until one finally arrives at the glittering simplicity of an early movie where each frame still retains the weight of its individual tracks, of earth and of the world. Anthony Moore’s Soundtrack strikingly agrees with the images presented and by means of three consecutive modulations bestows unto them the structure of a concerto.’ — Helmuth Fenster, LArt Vivant



Diwan (1974)
Diwan, a lyric anthology, an outdoor movie with people. With people living in the surrounding precious and very beautifully photographed nature, are neither more nor less than one part of it. What Nekes manages there with landscape, as a cunning and quote many fine artist in a medium that runs in time, as he defeated the time changed, by themselves for change of scenery uses, as it interferes with the laws of chronology through the rewind ability of the camera or destroyed, which is a compelling and highly aesthetic experimental company .(…)’ — Experimental Cinema

the entire film


Abbandono (1966 – 1970)
Abbandono is composed of material from four years’ work. Maybe this is the reason why the film is one of Werner Nekes’ most expressive and most replete with imagery. ‘For and with Dore O.’ – the quality of the pictures is more lyrical and more vivid than usual. Their composition however typically corresponds to his other films in the manner in which they recur. We see Dore running in a snowscape, dissolving into white, a view of red shingled roofs, falling snow; a corridor of passage, filmed in green monochrome and in such a way that the objects defining it are visible only in parts. Dore walks down the corridor and Werner sometimes too. The sound is among the best that Anthony Moore has created; a sequence of gently undulating, poignant tones that rise to a sharply sounding crescendo and then die away”.’ — Tony Reif



Ach, wie gut, daß niemand weiß (1967)




p.s. Hey. ** Wednesday ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, yes, that one was a very happy score. ** Jamie, Hi, my newly refocused and sped-up pal. Congrats on the new laptop. I can feel your excitement! I wondered if you would know or even have frequented Tam Sheperd’s, cool. When I was a kid, I was completely obsessed with magic shops and magic tricks. I used to belong to five different magic clubs that sent you a new magic trick through the mail every month. No problem on the Bowie question. I think I was mostly curious whether you would ask him something about him and/or his work/career or whatever, or whether you would ask him what death was like. You’re a sweater wearer. Cool. I’m not because, for whatever reason, my allergy to clothing and dye is particular extreme with sweaters. I like your time machine answer. I may have mentioned this before, but I have a very clear memory of driving with my parents down the Sunset Strip when I was a young teen and seeing on the marquee of of this legendary club/rock venue The Trip that ‘The Velvet Underground Exploding Plastic Inevitable’ was playing that night and freaking out that I couldn’t go. My Thursday was almost all auditions, but good ones. We signed up someone to play the main character’s older sister, and I think we’ve found the guy to play his best friend Ollie, which is one of the big roles. So, not bad. Jesus, how did your day of dental interference go, yow? Love with magic properties, Dennis. ** Steevee, Hi. No, it’s totally awesome that he read your piece and stepped up. I could be wrong, but I imagine the only way Harry Styles could sit through ‘The Devil, Probably’ is if it happened like this. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Ha, I agree. In fact … Everyone, _B_L has a lovely suggestion, to wit, in his words: ‘any dl anywhere near Cooper’s Magic Shop in Sussex should make it their duty to snap a selfie and share on this blog.’ Congrats on completing your stint on the panel. How nice that not only were you able to use that to help others but get helped along the way. ** Misanthrope, Yep. Thank you for your very kind and thoughtful about my GIF fiction. Like Jeff suggested, I’m going to try to write some kind of, I don’t know, GIF fiction manifesto if I can manage it. Well, if Mr. Styles spoke fluent, convincing French, I am sure that Zac and I would be willing to audition him, and not just because his participation would undoubtedly add a couple of million to our budget. ** Alan, Hey, Alan! It’s awfully nice to see you! When my family visited NYC/Times Square when I was a kid, I ran excitedly into Funny Store and, if memory serves, forced my mom to buy me something like a hundred dollars worth of gag gifts, which, if memory serves, I ended up accidentally leaving in our hotel room. I did read that about Irwin Corey. I always had this idea that he was much younger than the character he played, but apparently not. Take care. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi. Cool, then I’ll keep an eye out for the Klebold book. Thanks! The apartment hunting just gets more and more difficult. It’s getting a little scary. I was supposed to look at an apartment today, but then the real estate company cancelled my visit because I don’t have a job in France that pays three times the amount of the monthly rent. Apparently, because of Brexit, Paris is flooded with people returning from the UK right now looking for places to live, and it’s really, really competitive and hard. I just have to keep on it and ‘pray’, I guess. So, will they try to find you new interviewees to make up for the ones who have gone missing? That sounds stressful. The auditions went really well. As I told Jamie, we have someone amazing to play he main character’s older sister, which is a smallish but important role, and I think we found a guy to play his best friend, which one of the big roles, but we’ll decide very shortly. And we’re seeing more people today. How was Friday? ** Derek McCormack, Derek! I know you will believe me when I tell you the absolute truth that, while I was searching the internet to make that post, I fantasized that a tiny version of you was sitting on my shoulder kicking your teentsy legs happily and urging me, ‘More, more, more!’ Have you been to that magic shop in Toronto? I remember when you were in LA and we went to that magic shop on Hollywood Blvd., which has now gone out of business, very sadly. Mega-love to you! ** Thursday ** David Ehrenstein, Let’s! ** Jamie, Hello again to you, sir. Your description of the Mellotron is so right on. I think it’s my favorite all-time musical instrument. Which might not be such a surprise since the Mellotron is kind of the GIF of keyboards. Today, for me, more auditions. More apartment stressing out and hopefully figuring out. Tonight the French filmmaker Christophe Honore, who was also a producer of Zac’s and my first film, is curating a night — well, three nights — at this ultra-trendy club here called Salo, and I guess there’ll be some kind of performance having to do with my novel ‘Closer’, so I’m going to that. That’s my day. And yours? Full of highlights, I hope? ** _Black_Acrylic, If I had the money and any aptitude for such things, I would snap that Mellotron up so fast the world wouldn’t know what hit it. ** Wilt the Splint, Hi. Thanks for catching the typo. It’s corrected. ** Steevee, I did hear and see about that snowstorm, you lucky, lucky people. Enjoy every fragment. ** Bill, Hi, Bill! Thanks, man. The good news on the auditions is laid-out somewhere above in comments to Dora and Jamie. Still a ways to go, but we’re getting there. Hm, Antoine Schmitt … the names does seem familiar but I can’t place it exactly. I’ll find out why a bell was rung and check into his work. Thank you for that, pal. ** H, Hi, h. I like the idea that snow would put you in the mood for my blog. It’s obvious by now that we’re not going to get a single flake again this year. My skin condition is very, very slowly going away. But I’ll take slowly under the circumstances. Thank you for the good thoughts. Interesting: Hejinian and Jess. Huh, yes, I’m going to think about that. Very interesting comparison. There’s an Ashbery biography coming out? Wow, I did not know that. That’s very exciting, and strange that it has taken this long, now that I think about it. Wow! ** Okay. The very interesting and undersung German experimental filmmaker Werner Nekes died just a couple of weeks ago, and I thought that I would show my respects by devoting a post to his work. It’s very worth your time if you have the time. See you tomorrow.


  1. Dóra Grőber


    Jesus, this is a very shitty situation with the apartment! I’m so sorry! And though these rules are understandable in a sense, they are a bit too strict or so they seem. Requiring a job that pays three times the amount of the monthly rent… It’d be literally impossible to do it here right now… Well, I definitely keep my fingers crossed for you!!
    Yes, that’s the plan with the interviewees! I’m waiting for three responses right now and it is a bit stressful because I can’t continue my work with the whole thing ’til I don’t have all the interviews.
    But finally some good news, very good in fact! I’m glad you found two more promising actors!! How did today’s audition go? How many characters are you still looking for?
    This is the first day of my week when I don’t have to go anywhere so I’m just home now, reading and writing and everything usual. It’s quite nice.
    How was your day? I hope it was fruitful and enjoyable!

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Welcome Werner Nekes salute. Hadn’t thought of him since thr 70’s and no idea tt he’d just died.

    I do hope the apartment mess is resolved STAT

  3. steevee

    Here’s my review of KEDI, a documentary about feral cats in Istanbul which initially looked attractive to me but which I wound up really disliking:

  4. Jamie

    Hi Dennis! I hope the Christopher Honore evening was good. How did it go? What was the ‘Closer’ performance like?
    Oh man, the Mellotron as the gif of keyboards….that’s lovely. It is too! It’s one of those things made by people who couldn’t be bothered waiting for the future and just made it with sticky-tape and whatever was at hand.
    Great post today….and I can watch all the clips. So far, I’ve only seen the Joseph Beuys one and the start of the one about the history of movies, but I liked them both a lot. There’s something about those stills you chose – don’t know what it is, but it’s a particularly appealing set of movie stills. Thank you!
    What else? The Bowie question. I really spent way too long thinking about it, and I did think about asking him about the afterlife or some creative thing or some gossipy thing, but none of them really floated my boat, so I thought I’d just ask him what was his favourite day of all the days he’d experienced, and maybe to describe it. Is that a bit wet? And the Velvet Underground answer still stands – I’m sorry to say that no other historic thing takes my fancy as much. And I love the idea of you as a kid, not knowing what a Velvet Underground Exploding Plastic Inevitable was, but knowing that you should have seen it.
    Good good good to your casting. More auditions this week?
    All my dentistry went very well, ta for asking. I’ve had years of shitty painful treatment and that’s it finished, so that’s great. Don’t ever give up smoking, that’s all I’m saying.
    What’s your weekend plans like? Man, the apartment situation sounds like a pure pain. It’s fucked up that Brexit can even affect that. Hope you get something as soon as, man.
    I went to a lecture by Lauren Elkin today. Do you know her? It was pretty good. She was talking a fair bit about Sophie Calle who I’m going to be reading about tonight.
    Wow, I feel like I’ve just done a fair bit of blabbing.
    Love like a dimension shattering superhero,

  5. New Juche

    Hi Dennis

    Sorry for disappearing for a few days. Hope you are well. Gladdened to read of casting progress. Depressed to read of ongoing or perhaps worsening flat-rent obstacle. Fucking brexit. Is there no way for a French friend to act as a guarantor or some such arrangement? Such comments may sound a bit flippant, but I really sympathise as a fellow expat. I know what that stress of uncertainty and illegitimacy feels like, and will be relieved when you find a solution.

    I was asking about a short filmmaker you featured here some time ago. The guy wasn’t Asian. Might have been Robert somebody… Many static or almost static shorts on super 8, of Southeast Asian street scenes, and other things, clouds and water. I am 90% that it was here, and not on the murdered blog, but I can’t find it. Don’t go out of your way, seriously, but if it occurs to you let me know.



    • steevee

      Are you thinking of Robert Breer, whose work is almost all hand-painted animation? Robert Gardner, who has made ethnographic films in Africa and Asia?

  6. _Black_Acrylic

    I’d not heard of Werner Nekes til today and he’s got an interesting story to tell. I really enjoyed the Beuys film, so thank you!

    We had a fine dusting of snow this morning in Dundee, along with glorious sunshine which made it look like a special effect. Tomorrow’s forecast to be largely dreich. You ever heard of that fine Scottish word?

    Today I had my first Tai Chi session of 2017. Or maybe it was Qi Gong, I’m not sure of the difference. We’re just having one-and-one tutorials which is fine by me as the tutor’s cool, and besides I’m sat down for most of it and don’t want to hold other people back.

  7. steevee

    Is there any way to get a special waiver from the French government testifying to your artistic importance and the benefits of your remaining in France? I’m not kidding – the French government really does seem to genuinely care about artists, even ones not born in France.

    • New Juche

      I regret that it is neither of those two. Someone pretty obscure, I’d never heard of him before the post. It might not be ‘Robert’…

      Yeah – I was going to say something along the same lines re French recognition as an artist. They let Genet out on those grounds, though that was a long time ago.

  8. h

    Hi Dennis

    Love the post. Especially I like ‘Makimono.’

    I think Ashbery biography is about his early life. I haven’t read any other biography of him, though I enjoyed his conversation with Mark Ford. So yes, exciting.

    Trump thing destabilizes my mood nowadays though I rarely talk about it.
    So I’m minimizing my internet time. But will read your blog at least once a week very happily 🙂 Hope your apartment matter will work out best for you. I’m in a similar circumstance, so I know that pain. But you’re much more accomplished, so I think they should consider it. Ugh, so sorry.

  9. Armando


    Good to know you’re well.

    “It just marks off another year less to go at this point.” Every single birthday does that for everyone. Mine’s coming very soon… *Sigh*…

    “We start shooting the film probably around April 10th” Oh, wow. Good luck! So, did you get your ideal model for the main part???

    “The film was financed mainly via a private grant and a grant from a film commission based in the Bas Normandie region that is funded by the French government. The budget approximately is +/- 180,000 euros.” Interesting. I assume they’re prone to back “experimental” movies and all that. You’d think I could sort of apply for a grant? Is it too difficult to get it? There’s this movie I’ve been idiotically dreaming of making for about 15 years. And, it’s a real story. A FRENCH real story. And I obviously would like to work with French models. Also, I’m pretty sure it’d be cheaper than your movie. What do you think? Could I stand a chance?

    What do you think of ‘Zodiac’; the movie?

    Thanks, good to see you too.

    Take care,

    Good day; good luck,

    Love and hugs,

    Your friend,


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