Oskar Homolka and David Bowie—not much in common there, right? Guess again. The Viennese actor (I Remember Mama, War and Peace, Funeral in Berlin) played Baal, the frolicsome sociopath in Bertolt Brecht’s play by that name, and so did the British rock star. Homolka, who died in 1978, was Baal during the Weimar Republic, not only starring in but co-directing with Brecht a production mounted in Berlin in 1926. Bowie took the role of Baal in a British teleplay done in 1982.
Baal was Brecht’s first play, written in 1918 before his work had taken on ideological freight. The critic Eric Bentley notes that even so, Brecht’s favorite subject at that juncture was “the innocence that can accrue to extremely vicious, even extremely criminal, people.”
Below is a photograph of Homolka as Baal, with Gerda Müller (right) playing Sophie, taken during a performance at the German Theatre, Berlin, February 14, 1926.
There are several clips of Bowie’s BBC Baal. He performs some of the songs in the show. Incidentally, the words Bowie sings on that first one will sound familiar to those who know the celebrated 2006 film about the East German Stasi, The Lives of Others. It’s the lyric poetry that the secret policeman reads while he is lying on the couch—Brecht’s “Remembering Marie A.”