Volker Schlöndorff
Volker Schlöndorff, Rudi Wurlitzer

In Germany they teach this novel in school, but in the rest of the world anyone who hadn't read Max Frisch might think it was a gay movie. To avoid such confusion the title was changed to VOYAGER, which isn't at all inaccurate because Walter Faber is always travelling and when he makes things they're not tools but problematic situations.

On this film my work was more production than design, because I had to find locations in all the countries Faber visits, as well as some difficult period items such as an ocean liner in the Mediterranean and a Super Constellation aeroplane that would make a crash landing in the Sonora desert. Here is a rough 200-word outline of the story to help anyone who hasn't read the novel understand how all this material fits in.

Before the second world war civil engineer Walter Faber – American in the film – falls for the Jewish art student Hanna. When she tells him that she is pregnant Faber wants to marry her but she hesitates since she doesn’t want to keep the child. He departs for a dam project in Iraq and leaves Hanna to marry his best friend Joachim.

On a flight to Caracas in the spring of 1957, Faber meets Joachim’s brother Herbert and after the plane crash-lands in the Sonora desert, Faber follows him in search of his brother in Mexico. When they arrive at Joachim’s plantation they find him hanging among his tobacco leaves. Faber returns to New York where his married mistress Ivy is waiting for him and to escape the relationship leaves abruptly for Europe.

On the ship he meets the student Sabeth with her boyfriend and he falls in love with her. They meet again in Paris and he offers to drive her to Greece where she will meet her mother Hanna. His evil foreboding is confirmed after their arrival in Greece when his beloved Sabeth dies after a snakebite and her archaeologist mother Hanna confesses that Sabeth was his own daughter.



On VOYAGER the locations and budget were prerequisite to starting anything that had to do with production design. This is why at the beginning I had to deal more with the production and then with the design, since first I had to find some locations and large transportation vehicles of the '50s in Venezuela, Mexico, New York, and recce locations in France, Italy and Greece. A lot of work had to be done before the Super Connie was towed into the pit. Most of the drafts were made on the spot on A4 paper or rice paper to be photocopied or faxed and the construction drawings on an A3 pad to fit in my hand luggage.

Luckily we had fax in 1989 but no Internet yet, so a researcher's life was much more difficult.

The Super Constellation that Max Frisch travelled in, and which he describes as a wonderful airplane, is perhaps the only aeroplane for whose preservation an association has been founded. And she’s indeed feminine, like ships.

I started my search at the Frankfurt airport where there was one for visitors, and continued in the Americas where we ideally would first see her at the Caracas airport, then flying over Mexico and making an emergency landing in the Sonora desert. There was one in Maine with a problematic engine, two in Miami, one in Kansas City, and rumours of two in Caracas.

I followed all leads and rumours, because I also had to find a big hydroelectric project, which was Faber's specialty, in a Central American country, and a tobacco plantation near a pre-Columbian archaeological site. The other reason why all roads led to Central America was the ocean liner on which Faber meets Sabeth. After the negative response of Cunard Line, who didn’t even want to hear about shooting, our only hope was Caribbean cruise ships, some of which fortunately were Greek. I even had an old classmate and friend, Michalis, who worked for Epirotiki Line, which indeed had given me permission to shoot in its Piraeus office for Arpa Colla.



It would be boring to try to put all the scouting trips in chronological order, because I went to many of the locations two or three times: first with the local scouts, second, to some of them, with the BIOSKOP producer Eberhard Junkersdorf, and then to recce with Volker, his assistants, the cinematographer, his lighting crew and all other involved departments, such as production, sound, props, special effects, transport etc.

I decided not to scan more than 40 photographs, although I saw and photographed more than 150 locations, but rather to upload the most likely candidates.

I should probably mention that I also shot about ten 60-minute Video8 tapes. I fast forwarded a couple and they looked like videos of a specialized freak, although in one of them the freak is interested in the kitchen of a '50s propeller plane, and in the other it's the chaises longues on the sun deck of an ocean liner.


Volker usually drew his story boards in a notebook he also used as a sort of diary, but also anywhere there was paper on the table. So I found in my folders some boards he probably forgot at STEFI Film. I myself, being more pedantic, had a clipboard and scribbled on paper with photocopied frames during endless meetings, in waiting rooms and on planes. So I saw that at a certain stage, the working title was the verbose "LAST CALL FOR PASSENGER FABER".



The frames I have chosen may not be from the best scenes of the movie, but on the site of a production designer shouldn't most of the pictures be of his sets, with a few exotic locations thrown in?



I started scanning odd documents from traffickers in the Caribbean, a priest who wrestles to feed his orphans, a talk with the designer of the Super Connie and such, but then I thought the screen writer in me had escaped and I stopped.

Finally I scanned two photos from Volker’s visit to Max Frisch: an ENA magazine centrefold and the invitation to the Greek premiere, and the cheerful designer. Although I don’t remember who photographed me, he reminded me of many more.