Interview with the Directors
with Michael Pekler
SCHLAGERSTAR is a portrait of the pop-folk musician Marc Pircher, one of the most popular entertainers in this field in the German-speaking countries. How did you become interested in this subject, which is unusual for a documentary?
Stadlober: The project began with our desire to subject this business, which is apparently never considered without some kind of prejudice, to a discerning examination. We were given permission to accompany a protagonist, Marc Pircher, while he worked for over a year so we could gain this kind of insight. Meeting Pircher was however not the result of a major research project which selected him as representative of this field. On the contrary, Pircher belongs to a folk-music tradition, though he sings romantic pop songs also. This is completely different in Hansi Hinterseer’s case.
Antoniazzi: We wouldn’t call SCHLAGERSTAR a music documentary, either. During production we asked ourselves again and again what role music should play in the finished film. In the end, we decided to present it as performed, regardless of where the camera was located. SCHLAGERSTAR isn’t a portrait film either; it’s a documentary about a musician and entertainer and also how the business sees itself.
Does the disparaging attitude toward the sector involve solely bad music, or is part of the reason for it the fact that trivial entertainment is an enormous economic success?
Stadlober: What makes this genre special is that it captivates the fans and critics rip it apart. Though everyone’s smug and acts as if they were above it, pop-folk music is simply unacceptable in the opinion of its detractors. But this negative attitude also offers a way to distinguish oneself. The average listener to pop folk does nothing different than the average subscriber to symphony concerts. Neither wants surprises or challenges, they want to hear what they’ve always heard. Seen in that way, both groups are listening to kitsch.
Antoniazzi: Basically, criticism of this music overlooks the role it plays. Listening to pop folk is actually an excuse to get something completely different, and the social factor is much more important in this case. The fans couldn’t care less about the lyrics.
Stadlober: This genre doesn’t have a message, and it isn’t meant to.
There are surprisingly few scenes of fans, such as at concerts. To me that appears to be a strategy partly intended to avoid putting the audience on parade.
Antoniazzi: The decision to focus on Pircher’s work processes was made during the editing phase. We followed a few selected fans at first, then noticed that they had nothing new to say to us as figures. They’re familiar from TV reports, in which they’re often depicted as freaks. Doing these people justice would have meant showing them in their everyday environments, which was however not the film’s theme and would have gone beyond what was planned.
Stadlober: On the one hand, we did find nice, “normal” people at the concerts, as hoped. On the other, nice people who want to have a fun night out are not very productive as figures in a film.
Pircher frequently mentions how important it is to stay in touch with his fans. In a few scenes we see how this usually plays out: autographs, photo shoots on cruise ships, etc. Weren’t these moments revealing in a sense?
Antoniazzi: Our intention was enabling the spectator to think about what Pircher’s selling without making fun of him. Is he making fools out of his fans, fulfilling a mission—or just doing his job? Because these scenes are relatively long, we can see how important this is and what hard work it entails for Pircher, always having a nice word and a smile ready for everyone. We shouldn’t feel sorry for him on that account, or hold him up to ridicule either.
Stadlober: At the same time he has a blunt way of dealing with this kind of marriage of convenience with his fans and does nothing at all to conceal the fact that this relationship is also hard work. The fans are vital for his business—he knows it, and we show that.
Was there a conscious decision not to use interviews? All we hear are a few public statements made when Pircher provides information to various media, such as a radio broadcaster. Was that a way to prevent him from putting himself on stage?
Stadlober: This film’s basic approach is Direct Cinema, which is why interviews were not a dramatic option for us. What’s made clear in the film is Pircher’s professionalism when on camera, in the sense that he seems to forget its presence completely. He would make a great amateur actor with a single role.
Antoniazzi: This is why we constantly got the impression during shooting that everything important was happening before our eyes anyway, without our having to intervene.
How did Pircher react on you?
Antoniazzi: He was very skeptical about us and the film at first, but his curiosity was apparently stronger. On top of that Pircher does his job in such a professional way that he was always aware that he had nothing to lose if we observed him with a camera.
Stadlober: He has a healthy amount self-confidence in terms of his craft. And, of course, he also hopes that this film will increase the size of his market and level of his fame. Actually, he became interested in a personal sense also.
In spite of all Pircher’s professionalism, we also see moments of self-doubt, such as when he mentions being sick of “butt-kissing” and compares pop-folk music to the Mafia and prostitution. Are those the film’s moments of “truth”?
Antoniazzi: They don’t represent exceptions, but are the rule, and I hope that the film’s able to communicate these highs and lows. However, we were never interested in Pircher as a private individual.
Stadlober: Pircher’s personal characteristics aren’t that important for his business, and we didn’t intend to tell a drama, but a story about someone doing his job. That’s why he’s in the entire film except for a single scene.
The recurrent political statements, both on stage and during TV interviews, stand out. Pircher presents himself as a moderate EU critic who’s quite proud of his home country. How important was including this aspect of popular music that involves national politics?
Stadlober: Leaving this aspect out is not an option, because chauvinism plays an important role in this business. Explicitly political statements are rather rare, but the beauty of Austria, jokes about Prussians and sexism are constant themes. Two different scenes during which the concept of homeland is thematized show how pragmatically it’s dealt with, particularly in geographical terms. On the other hand, Pircher’s “Austria Song” is the only one in which he never breaks up the pathos.
Antoniazzi: What’s important is seeing why the concept of homeland is employed in pop-folk music. In Pircher’s case you can see extremely well how he uses the term like a building block, but never expresses a personal position.
This superficiality is apparently related to Pircher’s tirelessness. He makes many decisions literally while on the move.
Antoniazzi: We began with the intention of covering the entire production cycle of Pircher’s 20th anniversary CD. While waiting for the dates that were important for this, we realized that it doesn’t really exist: Many things happened so spontaneously that we were forced to change our strategy, and a decision was made to accompany him to a variety of events—from the CD presentation to his appearance on the “Musikantenstadl” TV show—for several days each time.
The film takes on this driving rhythm in the editing.
Antoniazzi: The film’s rhythm and pace forced themselves upon us during shooting. The songs from Pircher’s stage performances that are used in the film represent something special, which always involves a technical challenge when you, like in our case, only have a one camera.
Did Pircher satisfy your expectations by turning out to be a typical representative of the business, or is there something special about him?
Antoniazzi: Both. On the one hand he’s typical for the business, and on the other he seems, especially because of how he works, like a product of condensation, and that’s what makes him special.
Stadlober: He’s representative of pop-folk singers, but not the romantic type. In the pop business you always think of the big stars first, but there are only three of them. So they’re untypical, and Pircher can definitely be considered a typical representative of the business. Most of them are still old-school musicians who want to earn a living.