Let it rock or let it roll.
An interview with the director
Mr Siepmann, what motivated you to make a film about the Goldene Zitronen
Jörg Siepmann: Coincidence or perhaps fate. I had had the idea a few years earlier, but I never found the right band where I thought everything fitted together. Then I heard about "a kind of band" that was going on tour in the US. We met, and although we knew very little about each other, we decided from a gut reaction to travel together.
Question: You describe your film as a "documentary road movie". Is GOLDEN LEMONS a film specifically about the Goldene Zitronen or more a description of the status quo in the US?
J.S.: It was clear from the outset that I wanted to accompany a tour that wasn't taking place in Germany. If the Goldene Zitronen had travelled to Russia, I would have shot the film there. All that counted for me was that the band members were far enough away from home, separated from their normal social environment, friends and acquaintances. None of them was to have a chance to "pop off for a moment". But the band was always supposed to be at the centre of the film. Of course, it's natural that America automatically also plays a role as an issue.
Question: What was your concept when shooting began, and how far did it change as the tour progressed?
J.S.: When the tour began, no-one knew what would happen to him en route. Because our collaboration couldn't possibly based on long-standing friendship, curiosity and trust in our own instincts were the most important pillars of the concept. I don't like to construct films or film concepts in advance, although I might think about my basic premises or certain principles. That way I hope my curiosity will last. For instance, it was only when I got to the airport in San Francisco that I discovered that a third band – Grand Buffet – would also be on the bus. I knew nothing about the band, but during shooting it became the third important figure in the film alongside the Goldene Zitronen and Wesley Willis. By the same token, the tour manager, Mr Tal, apparently knew nothing about our film project. Because he generally shields Wesley from all strangers, we weren't allowed to film near him for the first few days. But once Mr Tal realised that we didn't want to exploit Wesley, he became the nicest man on Earth after a couple of days. However, that left us with only seven shooting days instead of the twelve we'd originally planned.
Question: Your film is called GOLDEN LEMONS. One important aspect of the film is the musician Wesley Willis, whom the Goldene Zitronen accompanied on his tour as the support band. You expressly stress his presence in the first and last shot. What is his role within your film?
J.S.: Nearly everything revolved around Wesley during the tour. He set the pace and the rhythm. After all, he spends several months a year touring right around America. There were big problems whenever circumstances forced us to deviate to any degree from his accustomed rhythm. During the long journeys, Wesley spent nearly all day in the back of the bus playing his keyboard. But even on the few occasions he was in front, he was in his own little world. His presence was unmistakable, but he made it very difficult to approach him. Wesley's background is impossible to ignore. Just seeing how much he suffers from mental problems such as schizophrenia and autism, and what he does to climb out of this abyss makes you want to know more about him.
Question: When filming the Goldene Zitronen, why did you primarily focus on singer Schorsch Kamerun and guitar-player Ted Gaier?
J.S.: I spent the same amount of time talking to all the band members. It was only at the editing desk that I put the images together. Because of the decision to include Grand Buffet and the fact that Wesley's illness meant that almost all contact with him was via his friend and manager, there were suddenly more people in the film than we had anticipated. There were fourteen people in the first version of the film, and nobody had the space he deserved. That's why only a few of the Goldene Zitronen are in the forefront of the film.
Question: Why did you decide to use relatively few excerpts from the concerts?
J.S.: The excerpts featured in GOLDEN LEMONS are only a very small part of the film, but cover nearly all the concerts. I didn't want to make a film about concerts. Despite all the cameras flying about, the backstage stories, etc., most music films don't get close enough to the artists themselves.
Question: Why does the viewer discover little about the band's motives and almost nothing about the private lives of individual members of the Goldene Zitronen, even though the films looks behind the scenes and contains many off-stage scenes?
J.S.: Those questions have been raised – and there are answers to them. But I believe that the exciting thing about the film is the combination of Wesley, Grand Buffet and the Goldene Zitronen in an unequal, temporary marriage of convenience. I'm interested in the "world" of the tour. If I picked out individuals, followed them in private and dived into other lives, I'd make a completely different film.
Question: Several times, you show the members of the band as withdrawn and apparently closed individuals. Why?
J.S.: When you're on tour, there is no privacy, there are no doors you can close behind you. Time just flows by, and everyone tries to find moments of privacy, even if this is just looking out of the window. I noticed these somewhat melancholy moments and developed a special affinity for them. We often had to take a very spontaneous decision. There was no time to digest what we were seeing. For example, we only spent half an hour in the record shop. We jumped in, had three minutes to make up our minds, and off it went. And yet you get the impression we'd all spent hours there.
Question: At the TTT truck stop you go on a little excursion with one of the service station employees. In formal terms, the scene represents a departure from the main thrust of the film because we see neither a band member nor a location associated with the tour. Why did you decide to include it?
J.S.: I didn't choose to depart in this way. After days spent on the bus, we just wanted to grab a quick shower and shovel some bad food into ourselves in record time. The moment we entered the truck stop, the woman practically forced us into going on this guided tour. We didn't ask any questions. She did the talking all on her own. I could never have thought up a lucky break like that.
Question: You deliberately stayed in the background as director. What's your attitude towards documentary filmmaking?
J.S.: In recent years, I have constantly switched between making feature films and documentaries. When shooting a documentary, I basically consider myself an uninteresting figure. I'm already disturbing and annoying people as it is. I can't stand my voice, and can't bear to see my face. Even so, I can give the film my personal stamp through the images I choose to include. But I wouldn't have felt bound to this style of documentary filmmaking, if the subject matter or the protagonists had required it.
Question: Does the film represent your impressions and sentiments as well as those of the Goldene Zitronen, or would you describe GOLDEN LEMONS as purely your film?
J.S.: Schorsch Kamerun once said he thought I'd captured everyone very well – everyone, that is, apart from the Goldene Zitronen. He and the other members of the band undoubtedly experienced the tour more euphorically and not as sadly.
(The interview was conducted by Tina Balzer and Ansgar Vogt in January 2003)