A documentary about Viscontis Lead man and Lover Helmut Berger:
Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But who is Helmut Berger really?
What’s this project about?
Travel with us and Helmut to Salzburg, Paris, Rome and Ischia, the stations that let us tell his personal story – a story of a world wide known actor with a controversial reputation and a unique state of mind. In our documentary film we’re accompanying this great storyteller reflecting the different stages of his life, as someone who has experienced “everything”.
Who is Helmut Berger?
The older generation will think of Helmut Berger as the bisexual muse of Luchino Visconti, a 1970s icon… the most beautiful man in the world. But he was far beyond then beautiful – he was extremely talented and worked with international stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, Kirk Douglas, Al Paccino, Dirk Bogarde and – of course – Romy Schneider. Both had their origins in Austria, and both were international stars, in fact. They worked together in Ludwig II, directed by Visconti, where Berger embodied the tragic Bavarian king in a powerful performance.
Berger was also a highly demanded photo model and was photographed by Victor Strebneski, David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol, Bryan Adams, Francesco Vezzoli and Daniel Josefson to only name a few. He was the first male model on the cover of Vogue ever.
It is hardly surprising that he had and still has a huge impact on other artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Madonna called him an idol, and they worked together on one of her books, and he made an appearance in her music video „Erotica“. In Christoph Schlingensief’s film „Die 120 Tage von Bottrop“ from 1996 the question „Where is he, Helmut Berger?“ is asked about every five minutes. In popular culture, he is known as Peter de Vilbis from the long running TV-series „Dynasty“. The film „Mad Dog Killer“ had quite an influence on other filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino who is showing snippets in his film „Jackie Brown“ where Berger is angrily slapping Marisa Mell with a newspaper.
The younger generation may only know him from latest headlines that show Berger in a different and disturbing light. In 2013, he participated in the German version of „I’m a Celebrity… Get me out of here!“ where he had to leave after a couple of days due to health conditions. Although he was always known for his eccentric lifestyle and his waywardness in talkshows and such – the image created via internet and (social) media, that brutally memorizes his moments of weakness, where he lost his temper and self-control due to health problems and addiction – is by no means sufficient.
But who is Helmut Berger really?
How does it feel to live one’s life torn between those extreme images created by the public? With „Damned Man’s Speech“ we are going on a documentary journey together with Helmut Berger himself.
To understand Helmut Berger’s development, we need to go back into the early 1970’s where his popularity started. Aged only 25years, he starred in Visconti’s „The Damned“ (1969), which was not only his international breakthrough, but also a ticket into a life of decadence and jet set. Helmut lived his intense homosexual relationship with Luchino Visconti very much in the focus of the public eye. Regardless that homosexuality was not socially accepted at that time. Although Helmut Berger and Visconti lived a marriage-like relationship (as well as director and muse), Helmut was neither financially secured nor even accepted by Visconti’s family as his partner. But Visconti continuously indulged his spoiled and eccentric lover for 12 years, until he succumbed by a stroke in 1976. With Visconti’s death, his family declared Helmut a „persona non grata“. Visconti’s family did everything to get rid of Berger as quickly as possible. Even at Visconti’s funeral, Berger faced difficulties to lay down a bouquet of gardenias at his lover’s coffin. The family told Helmut that Visconti’s testament was gone – which assured that Helmut would not inherit anything. Prior to this, Visconti had reportedly told his lover that Helmut would never have to worry about money in the future.
After Visconti’s death, Helmut lived by himself in Rome desperately trying to compensate for his loss with drugs, alcohol, and work. One year after Visconti’s death, he even attempted suicide to rid himself of his emotional torment.
For the next 20 years, Helmut Berger continued living in Rome until he had to move out of his apartment due to financial reasons. He moved back to Salzburg, and lived there with his mother who passed away 7 years ago. To this day, Helmut lives off a small pension in the same apartment he shared with his mother.
Helmut Berger is an exceptional interesting conversationalist and it is our pleasure to let him tell his own story. Our role as filmmakers is to follow his lead. What remains when the actor’s mask falls? We will not take the easy way out by making another scandalous report about Helmut Berger. This film will be a lively but also profound look back on an incredibly life with humorous insights into the world of glamour and the film industry of times past.