Gerhard Kassner. HOLLYWOOD Stars at the Berlinale

through 14 August 2022 // Project space of the Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin

Hollywood is a brand and a myth, for decades an unparalleled dream machine – and not only when the Oscars are awarded in spring. About a hundred years ago, the Ufa in Berlin held a comparable position and power. After the Second World War, the same was true for the Cinecittà in Rome, which served as a film production site and a residence for actors and directors. Every year, the major European film festivals create even more hype around the medium of film with their various prizes – the Golden and Silver Bears, Palms, or Lions, depending on the city.

The Berlinale, of course, is regularly attended by numerous Hollywood celebrities. We have all been there – some of us even on the red carpet – but none of us has looked into the eyes of all the film stars in Berlin in recent years – with two exceptions: Dieter Kosslik, the festival’s longtime former director, and Gerhard Kassner. In 2003, the Berlinale management commissioned Kassner to officially photograph participating actors, directors, jurors, producers, and other important film business figures. For nearly 20 years, Kassner took portraits of Hollywood stars in a small improvised studio. He had just a few minutes for each shot and sometimes pesky or nervous agents breathing down his neck before the stars moved on to their press conferences and photo calls.

Compared to those typical event shots, Kassner’s portraits reveal a sense of intimacy with and empathy for his subject. The face is as much an expression of a person’s individuality as their gestures, which are included sparingly but pointedly in these images. Gerhard Kassner broke through the grand illusions that cinema commonly creates to capture a direct person-to-person encounter. In some of his photos, he succeeds in taking us behind the facade of professional coolness or arrogance – transforming those who often seem unapproachable by humanizing them.