In his 2011 documentary “Aufbruch der Frauen” filmmaker Walter Wehmeyer portrayed eight pioneers of the First Austrian Women’s Rights Movement. When researching for the film he came across Lina Loos, engaged in the women’s and peace movement after 1945 as vice president of the Association of Democratic Women and a member of the Austrian Peace Council.
Her personal development impressed him and the idea of a feature film emerged. Wehmeyer together with a group of authors at Film and Media Center Margareten researched Lina’s life story. Particularly the original letters from Adolf Loos to Lina written 1902-1905 persuaded them to focus the screenplay on this period.
Carolina Obertimpfler, called Lina, was a drama student. Her parents ran a well-known coffee house and her father was considered a Viennese original. Lina’s brother was an actor, her older sister a writer. The young Lina had no ambitions but was a keen observer with the talent to express herself with words very precisely and eloquently. By marrying Loos in the summer of 1902 she was expecting to lead an exciting life in Vienna’s artistic and intellectual society in which she showed great interest. Lina always had a mind of her own. But Adolf Loos, who had earlier praised her taste, soon began to criticize “His Little Girl”, wanting to shape her according to his ideas. As Lina realized that he wouldn’t let go of that she rebelled and turned to Heinz Lang who had passionately fallen in love with her.
Since 1896, after a stay in the USA, Adolf Loos was establishing himself as an architect and designer. He saw himself as a pioneer of modernism and acted with an according sense of mission. Loos wrote articles, gave lectures at community colleges, designed spectacular residential and business interiors, and discussed and debated intellectual issues in the coffee houses. His best and lifelong friends were Peter Altenberg and Karl Kraus. Before Lina met him personally, she read and appreciated his provocative texts. For Loos, the adored daughter of the coffee house patron Obertimpfler was not a stranger either. When, with Peter Altenberg present, who also revered her, she was introduced to him he surprised her with a marriage proposal which she, being at least as unconventional as he himself, actually accepted.
The lawyer Edmund Lang and his wife, the feminist Marie Lang, had three extraordinary children whose talents and beauty were known throughout the city. The eldest son, Heinz Lang wanted to study medicine after his graduation. At seventeen he was already considered a full and welcome member of the circle around Peter Altenberg and Adolf Loos; together with Lina the group was hiking in the Semmering Mountains.
Initially, like many others, Lang pined for the three year older Lina. But the impulsive young man took it seriously and the estrangement between the spouses provided enough room for a serious love affair. Lang wanted to live with Lina. Months later, when Adolf discovered the affair, he forced Lina to make a decision. Heinz Lang, who was waiting for Lina in England, received a letter from her husband and a little later a now lost letter from Lina. Upon that, Lang shot himself. Inconsiderate words from Peter Altenberg are said to have also played a role.
Amidst this society scandal, the marriage of Adolf and Lina ended. It lasted less than three years. Arthur Schnitzler incorporated the events in his play “Das Wort”. However, due to consideration for Peter Altenberg, the first performance of the play took place decades later.
Lina Loos was revered throughout her life by many men but never remarried. Soon after the divorce, Adolf Loos entered into a long lasting relationship with the dancer Bessie Bruce and would thereafter marry twice much younger women.
Lina Loos lived past 60 years. Her theatrical work, many interesting friendships, her own writing, her philosophy and her political consciousness – all of this came after her marriage with Loos. Why focus on a short period of a life so rich in events?
W.W.: Of course, the entire life of Lina Loos provides much material for an exciting movie. It is astounding to see all of what this woman has experienced. Above all, the demeanor with which she held true to herself until the end and the remarkable courage she demonstrated again and again. Just recall 1938, when many of her closest friends had to leave, were murdered or, as Egon Friedell, took their own lives. Lina, then 55 years old, walking through a Vienna with its synagogues burning, could be heard loud and clear saying: ‘I am a witness...‘
The pragmatic reason for our decision was that “Lina” is the low-budget production of a small team. The equally important artistic reason was that we were specifically interested in her personal development during these three years of marriage.
Based on surviving letters and various biographical fragments we could understand how a sensitive young person lives through a major crisis.
With Loos, Lina and Altenberg, three prominent members of Austrian cultural history appear.
W.W.: At the time, practically in every Viennese coffee house history was being made. The city was like a biotope where science and arts flourished including psychoanalysis, philosophy, twelve-tone music, and modern architecture, fine arts and literature. However, the historical significance of our protagonists and minute details were less important to us. We were more interested in Loos the person than Loos the architect as the more personal aspects still resonate with us today. With Loos it is his loneliness, his passion and the first glimpse of the dark side of a man in his early thirties. Or take Altenberg who wrote his brief texts with ingenious precision and despite all his poetry always fell short with the women he worshiped. With Lina it was foremost her strong character which attracted us; her inner clarity, already present in the young woman and staying with her through the rest of her life.
The genesis of this film is unusual as there are a handful of writers and directors.
W.W.: We were a team of six with diverse sets of experiences in film. The individual writers were responsible for directing their scenes while we jointly worked on dramaturgy. Overall coordination was my responsibility but it is a team effort. After more than two years of preparation we finally could rejoice to go to work with a professional film crew and fantastic actors.
Is “Lina” a woman‘s film?
W.W.: It is a film with a historical heroine at the center of the story. Over the past years this has been happening more frequently with great female personalities of different eras finally appearing in movies and on television, and that is great for women and men. The death of Lang and the failure of her marriage weighed on Lina’s soul. For a woman in the early 20th century getting a divorce after a three year marriage was not easy. Lina had to support herself and she also lost the apartment in the today’s Bösendorferstraße that had been elaborately renovated with her parent’s money and in which Adolf Loos took so much pride. Not even 23 years old she decided not to go the easy way. She went on an engagement to the United States, played cabaret in Berlin and finally returned to Vienna where she was not hiding at all, but took the stage in the Volkstheater and in the cabaret “Fledermaus” while writing articles, plays and cultivating multiple friendships. We all can look towards Lina as an example on how to live authentically.