Best known for his epic, loose trilogy of films Ludwig, Requiem for a Virgin King (1972), Karl May (1974), and his seven-hour magnum opus Hitler, a Film From Germany (1977), director, screenwriter, and influential film theorist Hans-Jurgen Syberberg is considered a maverick of German cinema. Though unpopular with many German critics, he is internationally renowned (particularly in France where he has become a cult figure) as an iconoclastic genius to whom cinema is seen as the "total work of art, the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' of modern times." Heavily influenced by the plays of Bertolt Brecht and the heroic operas of Richard Wagner, the films of Syberberg tend to explore the very limits of German taboo; they challenge the intellect and delve deeply into the past at the literal and metaphysical levels to explain the often incomprehensible developments of the present.
He was raised by his father, a wealthy industrialist who became a farmer. He did not get to know his mother, who left when he was six months old, until he was eight years old. Though a conservative, Syberberg's father hated the Nazis and passionately supported England. After the war, Syberberg and his father found themselves in East Germany. Eventually the two left the farm and moved to Rostock where his father became a photographer and Syberberg was introduced to art and culture. His fascination with Brecht's work and Wagner's music began in his early teens. At age 16, he met Brecht and with the playwright's permission filmed him rehearsing his plays with an 8 mm camera: Twenty years later, Brecht would find this footage and use it to create Nach Meinem Letzten Umzug/After My Last Move (1970), a priceless chronicle of Brecht's methodology. At age 17, Syberberg fled to West Germany where he studied German literature and art at a university in Munich. Following his graduation in 1962, Syberberg began working with Bavarian television where in a three-year period he made almost 200 short documentaries and current-affairs segments. Beginning in 1965, he also made five feature-length biographical documentaries for television. His large body of work from this period earned Syberberg considerable acclaim and many awards.