A life, between art
(the Swiss film curator’s visual autobiography, with guest appearances from Fassbinder, Warhol
, Waters and many more).
Biographies can be as various as human lives. And yet Magnificent Obsessions Saved My Life really is an outlier, a very special kind of (auto)biography that retraces milestones and turning points in the life of a post-war artist from a dysfunctional family, set against the backdrop of his '68 generation's experiences of sexual liberation and his all too personal experience of two deadly pandemics: AIDS and Covid-19. But these biographical and historical elements of the artist's life come to the fore in an ongoing dialogue with Hollywood classics, films d'auteur and contemporary art. For a work of cinematic or visual art amounts to nothing if it tells you nothing about your own life: film and art are always about what was and what could have been, about who we are and who we wish we were. Magnificent Obsessions takes up these existential questions in texts and images, including selections from Brunner's impressive collection of movie stills and reproductions of his favorite art works. It looks at how the world has changed, especially travel, hotels and exhibitions, since the mid-20th century, what clothes and coiffures people wore then and wear now.
As in movies, people are the focus, the protagonists, of Brunner's sometimes mordantly blunt and yet affectionate, sometimes almost tender writings. When he loses the love of his life, Swiss art dealer Thomas Ammann, to AIDS, he writes about their shared happiness so as not to be consumed by grief. He remembers the glamorous Elisabeth Bossard (Thema Selection), his lover for many years, and relates anecdotes from a flirtation in Venice with Edmund White, the American writer who became a friend. He recounts his love-hate relationship with Swiss filmmaker Daniel Schmid, replete with intimate glimpses of the late German filmmakers Reiner Werner Fassbinder and Werner Schroeter, their works and the whole scene around them.
Brunner's life is marked by two constants: a desire to escape into the arts and a generous, tireless will to share his obsessions with others. It was Brunner who brought the films of his friends John Waters and Andy Warhol to Switzerland early on—bypassing the censors. These films would otherwise not have been seen—or rather only much later, with the advent of the Internet. Brunner knew the light and dark sides of the Dream Factory, but was always ready and willing to succumb yet again to its Imitation of Life, as Douglas Sirk titled one of his great melodramas.
"The whole package is amazing, a map of social history, a list of the movies (objectively and in his own life), a wonderful homage to the love of his life, the art dealer Thomas Ammann, a touching portrait of Matthias Brunner, a man who has triumphed over all the difficult moments of his life and has done justice to all the glorious moments."
– Edmund White
Matthias "This" Brunner (born 1945 in Zurich) ran arthouse cinemas in Zürich for over thirty-five years, curated screenings at Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach for over twenty years and has attended over two hundred fifty film festivals over the past sixty years, from Berlin to Cannes, Locarno, Venice, Zurich and way out in LA. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the French title of Officier des Arts et des Lettres, the Europa Cinemas Award for "Best European Arthouse Curator", cultural prizes from the City and Canton of Zürich, and the SI Award of the Swiss Institute in New York.