(By Niels Olesen)
21/06/1937 – 9/12/2013
I wanted to contribute to todays events by giving a short address in memory of dear GUDIE and also in an attempt to fill in some of the many and large gaps that inevitably occur in our busy and disparate lives.
Like many of you I have not seen GUDIE for several years and it came as a shock to hear that she had passed away just before Christmas. I was, however, greatly heartened when I was contacted by Joachim about the possibility of having GUDIE’s ashes interred here, as she had wanted.
As often happens at times like this, pieces of the great jigsaw/puzzle of life fall into place, and circumstances arrive that make the task I set myself so much easier. One such piece of luck was that I found quite by chance the Order of Service and the address Joachim gave at the memorial service that he and Gudie held in Magdalen College, Oxford for both Marga Lawaetz , (Tante Mac), and for Joachim’s mother, Josefa (Pepita), almost on this day seventeen years ago in 1997, in fact on April 26th. The other piece of luck, of course, was Google.
The lesson Ingrid has just read out was the lesson she read at that service.
I would like to take a short quotation from Joachim’s address on that day to begin my journey with you.
“Marga and Pepita were born at the opposite ends of Europe, and in their long migrations hardly ever stopped at the same places. Very early in their lives, the order in which they had been educated to live well-defined lives dissolved. Marga lost her father in childhood, her only brother in the Great War. Pepita was, even before emigration, alienated to her social circle and lost her friends with the political polarisation in the early thirties, and then both were taken by the maelstrom of the Spanish Civil and Second World Wars. T’was in John Donne’s words “all in pieces, all coherence gone”
Into this world GUDIE was born in Germany in 1937. At the beginning of the Second World War, she like millions of children throughout the theatre was evacuated to the countryside where she spent the war in relative safety until the final phases. The family were in an American sector when the Allies arrived in their part of Germany, but very soon, courtesy of the Yalta agreement, the Russians took it over. GUDIE’s family molecule soon flew West, discreetely and through harsh winter conditions. These events marked GUDIE, if not damagingly, for life.
Somehow the family managed to get to England, taking advantage of an invitation to settle and work here extended by the British Government to a selected group of German scientists, her father Otto Helmer having survived the war, and holding a German passport although born a Dane. He was a respected agricultural engineer. Somehow also, short after settling on these shores, they met up with their distant cousin, one Harald Lawaetz Olesen, here at West Lexham. He helped the family get what GUDIE always considered to have been crucial housing, in Spalding, Lincolnshire which as we all know is the centre of the UK potato and vegetable industries. Some of the resulting potato harvesting machinery was built and assembled in Harald’s farm workshop at West Lexham.
After her early life, coming here to this oasis of calm and security, must have been an incalculable joy. During the long summer holidays, Marga and GUDIE would bicycle here from Spalding, a long journey, but not one involving many hills, to spend the summer here and join in all the bustling activities that were the daily routine on a busy mixed farm. That was when some of us here today first met and got to know GUDIE, and I know she was always a great favourite of my father.
I confess that at this time I hardly remember them, our lives were pretty hectic and we were children, there was a constant stream of many people coming and going and, apart from formal occasions I regret to say that these were just regular older visitors.
GUDIE’s father died here at West Lexham, in 1961 and has his tombstone in this churchyard and much later on Marge was buried here also.
GUDIE went to her local school in Spalding, the typical immigrant who immediately became nr.1 in the host country’s language and Lit. She couldn’t see the point in going to and through University. She long kept defining herself professionally as a translator. Indeed, she was a gifted linguist, perhaps not surprising considering her rich parenthood, and she travelled Europe extensively. She soon became a journalist, starting in Spain for the Astors’s “Observer”. She was expelled from Spain by the Franco regime in 1960, for an article on police violence. She was in due course allowed back, as a journalist again, who now couldn’t be expelled again because she this time had married a Spaniard and thus morphed into a national. Since you can’t expel an own national, the alternative was putting her in jail, which all calculated could have proved excessive. And so they had to put up with her for a while.
I am not at all sure about the circumstances surrounding how Joaquin and GUDIE met, in Paris, sometime in late 1958. Under the circumstances of that time, living together in Spain entailed marrying and Joaquin was hard pressed persuading his Spanish parents that the foreign, and Protestant girl he wanted to contract with was at all suitable. You maybe surprised to hear that Harald Olesen went out to Spain and had a meeting with Joaquin’s parents in Barcelona to help to convince them that GUDIE was in fact a Danish princess and that she should be allowed to marry their son, a meeting that was even more peculiar since he did not speak Spanish and Joaquin’s parents did not understand English. But the daring sortie caused no harm. They were married in 1962.
By 1964 they were in England. Joaquin went for a doctorate, and then more, to Oxford University, where he stayed for a decade, at St Antony’s and Nuffield Colleges. She found the ancillary University link by affinity particularly fruitful to her. GUDIE translated and did editing jobs. Of efforts leading to actual publication, her Penguin “Parallel Texts” series’ Spanish Short Stories is a little classic in the genre. Her versatility of perception nurtured by the diversity of her experience always held her in good stead. She meshed painlessly into people and situations. Thus, on some occasion, after her first few days in Berlin on an assignment for NBC in the 60’s, the driver who had taken her around commented to an enquiring customer that that lady with a huge bag was the only person he had seen who was in first name terms with the guards on either side of Check-point Charlie…
But making films and documentaries soon accaparated her professional attention. On some occasion she herself couched down what she did on that score, and why.
Her stint as The Observer’s correspondent in Madrid coincided with the Bronson-led film boom in Spain (Spartacus, King of Kings, El Cid, etc.) which generated a “second tier” of international film activity. GUDIE was trained on the job by Danish Hollywood ex-pat Niels Larsen as a screen writer of B-movies, several of which became very inferior films –the high-point of which being a Spanish-Austrian-Canadian co-production starring Eddie Constantine… She worked also as an unpaid volunteer in films like Carlos Saura’s first film Los Golfos, and Marco Ferreri’s El Cochecito.
Her involvement in TV started with NBC’s Paris-based European Production Unit, writing both scripts and commentary for award-winning one-hour “Specials” on subjects like The Spanish Armada, Neo-Nazis in Austria.
Two and a half years spent in Documentaries at the BBC enabled GUDIE to set out as an independent film maker, on a wide range of subjects, including three connected to Spain (El Misterio de Elche (1978), El Tribunal de las Aguas (1986) and Jose Ortega y Gasset’s El hombre y su circumstancia. All her films, except the one on Ortega (commissioned by the Ministry of Culture to accompany the Centenary Exhibition in El Retiro) have been shown on TV in most European countries and in the US on Public Television (PBS), usually in prime-time slots. Her first major documentary was on May 68 (1974) and had an extremely successful theatrical release in France throughout the country, and was issued on video to mark the 25th anniversary of those events. The 78 and 86 films mentioned above exist as well in DVD .
By 1990 GUDIE could see that the complex and relatively expensive single documentaries which were “her speciality” were becoming virtually unfundable. She therefore welcomed the opportunity to look at the industry as a whole from the priviledged vantage point of the Media Business School, launched in Madrid under the auspices of the E.U.’s Media Programme.
Having set up the Media Business School from scratch as its first General Manager, and with it running, as well as the four “extension” satellite programmes which she helped design and whose initial funding she negotiated (Ateliers du Cinema Europeen in Paris, Pilots in Sitges, TVBusiness School in Lubeck, Film Business School in Ronda), she resigned and turned again to freelance film-related activity. Apart from directing a Theme Evening on Le Luxe, for ARTE , appreciated and which obtained a high market share in France, her attention was now focused on fiction, European fiction. She concentrated at first on funding methods, and possible strategies to free European film production from what she saw as excessive and at times unnecessarily crippling regulatory constraints presented as helpful. She soon saw the dependence she was hoping to help alleviate was much stronger than anything she could hope to do about it. She therefore turned to work on what was to be her last, unfinished project: the production of an opera for the cinema, meshing the two art forms into an independent genre.
GUDIE at work was a complete professional, but not only: her films, pre and post shooting and bringing them to the public, went for her with what they meant for the people involved, whether in modern industrial Europe or in diversely modern Senegal. In at least three cases her films were instrumental in bringing key help to preserve not only cultural performances well worth preserving but the very social mechanisms backing them up, perpetuating them. I would like to mention in this context the example of Elche. Each time, some sort of a new extended family was created, loose but real. Allow me to mention one example, that of Elche, mentioned above.
During the mid 70’s GUDIE came across a religious festival in a small Spanish city called ELCHE, which is about 10 km inland from Alicante. This was a religious musical play, performed only once a year, to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, when Mary, the mother of Jesus, ascended to heaven. It is opera with a religious story. The singers rehearse all year long. The performance is inside a Church built for the representation of that very work, in the 17th century. GUDDY decided to make a film of this play which the townsfolk performed once a year in August. The play is nearly 3 hours long, the action and thus the singing takes place all over the basilica, including the vaults. It was a mammoth task, using 8 cameras, over 20 sound tracks. The technology looks old-fashioned, but it was the most up to date –with cold lamps, e.g., quite a progress at that time, in such latitudes, and with the church totally full. No re takes could be done… a year later wouldn’t do. But they succeeded in recording this unique event. This was in 1978. The event is unique because such plays, although once fairly common throughout Europe since medieval times, had died out after their prohibition in the 16th century (courtesy of the Council of Trent). Only Elche preserved its own, but it was now again being threatened by modernisation and relative local indifference if not hostility towards relics and modernizing zeal. GUDIE’s film is about the show but also about how the fabric of a contemporary industrial town can generate every year such a complex marvel and ought to be proud of doing so. In 2008, thirty years after she made the film, GUDIE was awarded the title of STANDARD BEARER for the ELCHE Assumption Drama, an award that has been made to key people in the promotion of this drama play since 1609.
Echoes of the Renaissance gonfaloniere…Her citation reads:” GUDIE LAWAETZ, of Danish origin, is a versatile journalist, writer, director, screenwriter and film producer, who was permanently linked to the city of ELCHE and “The Mystery Play” with the shooting in 1978, co-directed by Michael Dodds, of the first film about “The Festa”. A fantastic documentary that allowed the diffusion of the “ELCHE ASSUMPTION DRAMA” to spread around the world and that is why GUDIE LAWAETZ is recognised by both the BOARD and the CITY COUNCIL on the 30th anniversary of the first filming of the play. It is in acknowledgement that both the film and its director played a key role in the declaration of the MYSTERY play as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2001″.
Indeed, this saved the play for future generations and ensured its financial security and also enabled the actors and choirs involved to travel to Rome and to Santiago de Compostella to perform. A museum about the play has been created in the city. The “Misteri” is now everybody’s. It is no small wonder that at a memorial service for GUDIE held at the Cathedral in Elche more than 600 people came to pay their respects to her.
I feel I got to know GUDIE really well during the 70’s and 80’s when she still came to visit us at West Lexham and it was clear to me that she loved this place. Joaquin and GUDIE had homes in London, Oxford, France, and Switzerland and I am guessing Spain as well. Often when she was in London she would get in touch with Ingrid especially since Ingrid and George and their children lived in Hammersmith then, most of the time. She was always very interested in what was going on in my life, and what was happening here at West Lexham whenever we met, and she was always very interested in and concerned for others. And so it is after a life spent well travelled, and with her ever loving husband with her all the way, I think it is very special for us who know and love this place and who knew and loved GUDIE, that she has chosen to return to the quiet and peace and sanctuary of this place, and to be, once again, re-united with her mother and father, and not too far from Harald, as she wished.