Cityscapes: The Vienna That Never Was
dir. Ulrike Ottinger, Germany, 2007, digital, 104 minutes, German with English subtitles
The beguiling images in Ulrike Ottinger's film Prater transform Vienna's beloved attraction into a cinematic experience. Prater dynasties tell the tales of a carnie's life. We meet the descendents of the "man without a torso," who established sev- eral amusement venues with his wife and children in 1900. We are introduced to the owners of the Schweizerhaus, who run a top restaurant establishment and whose predecessors were imperial huntsmen, or the Prater fix-it man who diligently repairs the illusion-machines that are deemed unfit. Together with Prater visitors from the past and present, we take a journey without ever leaving our seats: Vienna becomes a miniature Venice with canals, the Rialto Bridge, and the Ducal Palace. You can send postcards of your trip all over the world. And towering above all of it is the Riesenrad, the giant Ferris wheel that looks out over the rooftops of Vienna.
By day the Prater is inhabited by children and families. With big eyes, the children sit in go-carts or stare up at the puppet theater. At night the teenagers are magnetically drawn in, along with those who are still young at heart. The tea dance turns into a wild disco for lonely hearts. With their acrobatic thrashing to Eastern European rap rhythms, the teens prove that no centrifugal force can put them off balance. The members of a young gang try to prove themselves by slugging at the "Watschenmann," winning a prize if they hit the human-like figure hard enough. And up above, the bright lights of the roller coaster sparkle. Ejection seats, carousels and scooters contend with the stars in the night sky. Reality and illusion, past and present: it's all a part of this wild tryst.
The breathtaking images in Ulrike Ottinger's Prater plunge each and every spectator into their own universe of desires and sensations. The film brings together the cultural history of the oldest amusement park in the world with brilliant insights into the changeability of technological attractions. We are introduced to the people for whom the Prater is a place of amusement, memory, or quite simply the center of life. Vienna's Prater is a desire-machine. With the latest space travel technologies we can speed toward the moon; in the tunnel of horrors we encounter a full repertoire of monsters from film history. The name "Prater," from the Latin pratum, means "meadow" and originally referred to the imperial hunting grounds located here. Today it is a hunting ground for everyone's desires. Take a journey through space and time-at the Prater, everything is possible.