The War of the Oxen

Germany 1920, 83 min. | HD-s/w (virague)-restored version

The War of the Oxen, filmed in 1920 under the direction of Franz Osten, it was the first film production of the later Bavaria Film and was digitally restored in 2018/2019 by the DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum. The world premiere of this film version took place on 3 July at the Filmfest München - accompanied by the newly composed film music by Hans-Jürgen Buchner, also known as the head and singer of the band Haindling.

Film clip "The War of the Oxen"

The War of the Oxen tells a story from the 15th century, when Ramsau was under the rule of Berchtesgaden Monastery. In Ramsau lives the farmer and 'free judge' Runotter, who does not have to pay feudal dues to the monastery. He is a respected man in the community. His wife is the victim of rape by the noble canon Aschacher and gives birth to Jakerl; she dies shortly after giving birth. The 'child of shame' grows up in seclusion on the Hängermoosalm in the loving care of Runotter's daughter Jula. Jula, in turn, is adored by the bailiff's son, who secretly visits her on the mountain pasture. And because such tender love affairs do not go undetected, it comes to light that there is a lively family life and dairy farming on the Hängermoosalm, although according to an old pasture letter only oxen may graze there and ox servants may find shelter.

An escalating dispute ensues over the question of whether cows are allowed to graze on the mountain pasture after all. The legal situation is unclear - there are two versions of the Weidbrief. The autocratic bailiff, convinced of the infallibility of his administration, disregards the legal administration of the peasantry. By official order, Runotter's alpine hut is cleared and burnt down. When little Jakerl Jula stands by to protect him, he is beaten to death by one of the bailiff's servants. This leads to a violent uprising of the peasants. At the heart of the matter is the question of which law applies: the customary law of the people or the feudal and formalised law represented by the bailiff. Runotter fights with his daughter Jula, his mercenary Malimmes and the peasantry against the feudal lords. In the decisive battle followed by a peace treaty, the peasants' struggle comes to a victorious conclusion.

The War of the Oxen was published in 1914 as a historical novel and deals with a real historical event: the military conflict between the County of Haag under Georg III and the Duchy of Bavaria-Landshut under Heinrich XVI in the years 1421 to 1422. The dialogue or the intertitles of the film are strongly based on the novel. In his novel, Ganghofer describes the numerous entanglements and alliances between various principalities, monasteries and simple peasants with the two camps of the war. The cinematic adaptation, on the other hand, focuses entirely on the warlike conflict between the Ramsau people and the Berchtesgaden monastery. Runotter's wife, already deceased at the beginning of the novel, is embodied in the filmic adaptation by Thea Steinbrecher, who plays Runotter's daughter Jula from the second act onwards. The important cornerstones of the plot are condensed in the film, and in some cases somewhat milder.

The new music by Hans-Jürgen Buchner, who wrote Bavarian music history with his cult band Haindling, was created for the TV premiere of the film on ARTE and had its world premiere at the Filmfest München 2019 together with the film restoration. The occasion for the composition commission was the 100th anniversary of Bavaria, which had emerged from the 'Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG' (Emelka) in 1932.

The war of the oxen

Film music for ensemble (2019) by Hans-Jürgen Buchner (HAINDLING) to the film of the same name by Franz Osten (1920)

Live version played by members of the band HAINDLING and guest musicians* in the line-up:

1 piano, 1 keyboards/sampler, 1 trombone, 1 flugelhorn, 1 percussion and side instruments.

The source materials for the film restoration by the DFF in 2018/2019 were two historical, multicolour viragé (tinting & toning) positive prints from the collection of the DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum and the Library of Congress. Both copies are pulled from the lost original negative. Due to intensive use and cuts, both show gaps in different places. The Library of Congress copy represents a US distribution version with clear changes to the Bavarian local colouring in the direction of 'Western'. As part of the restoration, the intertitles missing from the German-language film copy were retranslated from the US film copy and reset. The current restoration honours the provenance and idiosyncrasy of the film print from the DFF collection. In addition to the original intertitles with manufacturer's identification from Münchener Lichtspielkunst A.-G., it contains additional intertitles that were added to the print by the cinema operator Herrmann Hoffmann. The restoration and digitisation was funded by the BKM.

The composer Hans-Jürgen Buchner (HAINDLING)

Hans-Jürgen Buchner was born in Berlin in 1944. After an apprenticeship as a ceramist, he and his wife opened a pottery in Straubing. It was not until he was 38 that he turned his hobby of music into a profession. Since then, he has released numerous albums with his band Haindling. Today he is a permanent fixture in the German music business and has cult status in Bavaria. His music has strong influences of Bavarian folk music and jazz. In particular, his interest in exotic instruments leads to further influences from the areas of origin of these instruments, which include, for example, African, Tibetan and Chinese sound worlds. He writes his song lyrics mainly in Bavarian dialect.

Parallel to his band project, Buchner writes film music. The beginning was marked by a collaboration with the director Franz Xaver Bogner, for whose films and television series he wrote the title and film music, among others for Café Meineid, Der Kaiser von Schexing, Madame Bäurin and Einmal leben. The song Paula from the series Zur Freiheit as well as the title piece to Irgendwie und Sowieso became famous beyond the series. Further film music was composed in 1985 for Xaver und sein außerirdischer Freund, in 2003 for Jennerwein and in 2005 for the TV biopic Margarete Steiff. He also worked as a film composer for Douglas Wolfsperger's feature films, including Bellaria - So lange wir leben! in 2001. In 2000, Hans-Jürgen Buchner was honoured by the Bavarian Minister of State for Science, Research and the Arts, Hans Zehetmair, with the Pro meritis scientiae et litterarum award for his "equally biting and musically virtuoso criticism of 'me-san-mir' Bavarianism". In 2014, the documentary film Haindling - und überhaupt's ... by Jörg Bundschuh and Toni Schmid was released, which sheds light on Buchner's entire life, but mainly on his work with Haindling. Hans-Jürgen Buchner has been active in nature conservation since the 1990s. For his special commitment to the protection of Bavarian nature, including the free-flowing Danube between Straubing and Vilshofen, he received the Bavarian Nature Conservation Medal in 2008 and the Bavarian State Medal for Special Services to the Environment in 2015.

Franz Xaver Ostermayr had a renowned photo shop in Munich at Karlsplatz/Stachus, the same place where the Gloria cinema is located today. The Ostermayr sons Franz (born 1876), Peter (born 1882) and Ottmar (born 1886) learn their trade in their parents' business. In 1905 Peter and Franz Ostermayr took over their father's photo studio. Franz is more interested in art than in the photographic business and, against his father's wishes, also completes an acting course.

In 1906 the Ostermayr brothers see their first film screening in 'Kil's Colosseum' in Munich. Franz is fascinated by the artistic possibilities, Peter by the economic ones. They buy small film strips from Gaumont, Pathé and Messter and found the travelling cinema 'Original Physograph Company'. The programme consists of burlesques, sensations from all over the world, patriotism and a strip about 'Life in India'. The premiere is on 3 April 1907 in Nuremberg. On the third day, disaster: the film catches fire. Under the enthusiastic applause of the audience, the 'Great Fire in London' spreads to a hall fire.

For Franz Ostermayr, cinema is above all something creative. At the end of 1907 he begins to make films himself. In 1908, the Ostermayr brothers were hired as cameramen for Pathé-Journal and Gaumont-Week. Peter Ostermayr, with his keen business sense, founds 'Münchner Kunstfilm Peter Ostermayr' in 1909, the first film studio in southern Germany. In 1911 Franz Ostermayr begins his first directorial works. It is unclear when he adopted the pseudonym Franz Osten; it must have been around 1910 to avoid confusion with his brother. In 1913 Carl Gabriel opened the 'Sendlinger Tor-Lichtspiele'. An Ostermayr production is shown at the premiere. Even the royal family, with whom Peter Ostermayr had built up the best relations as a court film reporter, is attracted by the pompous premiere.

After the First World War, which Franz Osten experienced partly as a correspondent on the Vosges front, his brother Peter Ostermayr transferred his 'Münchner Kunstfilm Peter Ostermayr' to the 'Münchner Lichtspielkunst GmbH' (M.L.K.) on 23 April 1918. Through subcontractors and various holdings, he carves out his own Munich corporation. In 1919 Peter Ostermayr converted M.L.K.(= Emelka) into a joint-stock company, as his ambitious plans for a studio building in Geiselgasteig required new capital. In 1920 the large glass house in Geiselgasteig is completed. The war of the oxen is the first film to be shot in the newly built glass studio, starting on 21 June 1920, and is also the prelude to a whole series of Ganghofer adaptations of Emelka. Franz Osten is the Emelka's director-in-chief.

The extremely productive phase of Franz Osten's film work in India began in 1925. On the initiative of the young Indian lawyer Himansu Rai, the Emelka decides to make a joint production with the Great Eastern Corporation (Delhi). The result is the first German-Indian film production, a historical film about the life of Gautama Buddha, 'The Lamp of Asia'. Franz Osten takes over the direction and realises the film in India in 1925. After the great success of this film, he makes further films in India, now for Ufa and British Instructional Films in 1928 and 29: 'Shiraz' ('The Tomb of a Great Love') and 'Prapancha Peash' ('Cube of Fate').

Returning to Munich, Osten begins to familiarise himself with the talkies. His first sound films are Heimatfilme, again for his brother Peter Ostermayr, among others. Many more sound films (e.g. 'Im Banne der Berge' 1931, 'Der sündige Hof' 1933, 'Der Judas von Tirol' 1933) follow. Shortly afterwards, Himansu Rai founded the Bombay Talkies studio in 1934 and engaged Osten as director. From 1935 to 1939, Osten made 16 films for them. In 1936, he made 'Achhut Kanya', which deals with the melodramatic love death of an untouchable. Considered the masterpiece of Bombay Talkies, the film was voted Best Film of the Year (Gohan Gold Medal) and praised by Nehru himself. East's services to Indian cinema - aesthetic, technical, economic - are undisputed in India.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Osten's Indian career came to an abrupt end. On 3 September 1939, he was interned by the British. In 1940, Osten returned to Munich in poor health. From 1940-1945 he was head of casting at 'Bavaria-Filmkunst' and saw to the establishment of a film archive. From 1946 until his death in 1956 he is the spa director of Bad Aibling.

Source: excerpts quoted from: Franz Osten - A German Film Pioneer in India by Thomas Brandlmeier


  • Direction, Editing:
    Franz Osten
  • Screenplay:
    Franz Osten, nach der gleichnamigen Romanvorlage von Ludwig Ganghofer
  • Camera:
    Franz Planer
  • Actors:
    Thea Steinbrecher (Jula/the Runotterin), Fritz Greiner (Runotter, Farmer and judge), Viktor Gehring (Canon Aschacher), Ernst Rückert (Lampert, son of bailiff Someier), Kurt Gerdes (Malimmes) u.v.a.
  • Film restoration (2019):
    DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
  • Score music (2019):
    Hans-Jürgen Buchner (HAINDLING)
  • Editorial:
    Regina Krachowitzer (ARD/Degeto)
  • Production:
    Thomas Schmölz, 2eleven music film

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