Posted by Alain Elkann on 03/09/2018
FIGHTING THE HITLER WITHIN. Gisela Getty is a photographer, director, designer and writer. Born in 1949 in Kassel, Germany, like her twin sister Jutta she is known as a representative of the ’68 movement. Gisela agreed to marryPaul Getty very shortly before he was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. Gisela Getty lives an enduring quest to overcome the fascism of her parents, transcend her own inner violence and find real Love.
Your sister Jutta and yourself have been icons of the hippie movement in Germany, in Italy and in Los Angeles later you were part of the 60s-movement and close to singers like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. What is left, and what is your memory of all that?
It is not a memory, and not something in the past. I feel until today together with the movement of the 60s that our generation actually had come into a kind of enlightenment and I think everyone felt enlightened to have a different kind of world of Love and a deep sense of connectedness. Now I see these times as a preview looking into a sort of coming garden or paradise and we all have been changed since that moment. But we don’t know it.
“We felt this unbelievable Love.”
Jutta and Gisela, countryside, Rome, 1973, by Robert Freeman.
Image featured in the book Analog Bohemians by Alexander Schimmelbusch.
Is the dream finished?
For me it is not finished but lots of people have returned to the old resigned and disillusioned consciousness and have lost hope. Many people of my generation have died.
Yes, but the drugs are not the reason. They are a way to commit suicide.
You tried them too, but you came through them?
We tried psychedelics. My first LSD experience was with my sister Jutta in Sperlonga in the early 70s in Italy. It was like enlightenment where we realised that the truth is Love and we felt like God’s children and had to bring Love into the world. We felt this unbelievable Love.
Was that a reaction to the fact that you had been raised in Germany just after the war, when many people were still in denial?
Most people of our parents’ generation were more than in denial; they were still fascists. A lot of politicians were too, and that is why Baader-Meinhof decided that they had to fight with weapons and go to the last consequences, and that is why all my generation sympathised with them.
But the hippie movement was pacifist?
Yes, but we were more influenced by the Kommune 1, a movement that came out of the Dada and Surrealistmovements, and they said from early on that the real revolution is to revolutionise ourselves, because they realised that Hitler is within us and that the first step is to take responsibility for your inner fascism.
You were very young. Were you aware of all this?
As children we started to discover what our parents had done. We realised that this was something that should never ever happen again.
“They were still fascists.”
You went to Italy to find freedom?
Yes, but first I left my home town Kassel where my sister and I had both studied art and we had created a film collective and started to do political films. But even that at the end seemed too bourgeois to us, too embedded in bourgeois tendencies. So we left art school a few months before the final exam and just became political activists. I went to Berlin. I was in a factory and supposed to politically agitate the working class, which was just a student dream.
Why did you go to Italy?
My sister and I were very also somewhat influenced by a Professor Bazon Brock who had talked to us about the idea that you can invent yourself as an artist and then especially the approach of the Kommune 1 to revolutionize yourself and become a real, loving human, was the incentive. We went to Italy to do that. This was in 1972/3 and we wanted to go into total freedom. At the same time the feminist movement started with the idea that women are victims of men, that men stopped them and that wasn’t the way we wanted to go. My experience was that men always supported my quest and my independence. I think that in the ’68 movement there was equality. We all were on a quest.
You met in your quest first in Italy and then in California some very significant male artists, singers, actors and also your husband Paul. How come?
My sister and I first went to Rome. Rome was during that time like a melting pot of people of the 60s movement, coming to Rome from all over the world. Students from Latin America having to escape fascistic regimes; drop outs; artists from America like Warhol; Morrissey; Glauber Rocha from Latin America… and if you move spiritually on a very high frequency you meet these people, inhabitants of an entirely new world.
After a while Paul’s kidnapping happened and shortly after his release you married him and your life changed?
When my sister and I met Paul he was very young, a dropout from his family and it’s social context. He was living with a few friends in an old and dark basement in Trastevere and had involved himself with figures from the “malavita” (underworld) which in my eyes was a subculture that allowed him to be outside his confinement of expectations to be the heir of a dynasty and gave him the stigma of an outlaw. But my sister and I recognised that he had a basic nature of the “questor” which we had, so we were for him like his desired companions he had longed for. From the first day we met we felt like we completely belonged to each other and stayed together – moved in together, slept in one bed just being happy. We were outsiders and now this young triumvirate, convinced that we could achieve anything we wanted.
Then he was kidnapped and you married afterwards?
The kidnapping was like a clash between the old and the new world. But it also meant the end of the Summer of Love and the idea of establishing a whole new world. After this shock Paul and I got married. I was pregnant withBalthazar, but Rome was over for us as we were followed day and night by paparazzi and we did not see a future there. Paul, being heavily traumatised, took more and more heavy drugs. I did not. The family decided to move us to California. Jutta (my sister) in the meantime had gone to Munich to find Rainer Langhans, one of the co-founders of Kommune 1. He was out of prison, realizing that the real revolution takes place inside oneself. He had found an Indian Master, who had initiated him and Jutta wanted to enquire on how to go on with life. Her relationship with Mario Schifano had fallen apart, and she was searching for a new perspective. In California we were getting one thousand dollars a month from Paul’s Grandfather on the provision that Paul would study. He did it for maybe two days. We could not become conventional, it’s just not in our making. I started acting, doing some plays and some TV but Paul became increasingly depending on drugs to cope with his trauma. He never talked about the kidnapping. We were living free again In Los Angeles, trying to leave the painful past behind. And after all, it was still the seventies and drugs were normal. Dennis Hopper and other friends were on drugs, trying to escape the ‘backlash’ to normal life.
Of all this time what is left for you?
Jutta came and brought books about the Indian Master and talked about Rainer. I had tried to be with a Tibetan teacher in Colorado and had got a flight ticket to India. I got a postcard from Rainer – he had written down a dream of my sister and added: “Why India? There is so much to do here.” I changed my ticket from India to Munich and the encounter was so intense and pointing into the future. He touched me deeply.
Your sister Jutta met Bob Dylan?
Yes, she took LSD in Malibu with Bob Dylan, who confronted her as a Nazi with him as a Jew. He wanted to find out who we are, who she is, what we do in that question. It was a very important experience for her because she saw that we all have ‘Hitler within’.
Paul and Gisela Getty with their children Anna and Balthazar
The triumvirate: Gisela, Paul and Jutta. Rome 1973, by Claudio Abate.
John Philips (The Mamas and Papas), Gisela and Mick Jagger. London 1975
Gisela, Jutta and Dennis Hopper. Hotel Meurice, Paris, 1991, by Joerg Reichardt
Jutta, Timothy Leary and Gisela, Beverly Hills, 1993, by Douglas Kirland
Leonard Cohen and Gisela at “The Roxy”, Hollywood, 1977, by Brad Elterman
“I have not yet transcended my own violence.”
You had met Leonard Cohen?
Yes, I met him at the Chateau Marmont Hotel where we were living with Paul and he became my best friend. He took me to his Zen teacher and then I started to study. We were close and we remained close to the end and I still feel close to his wife Suzanne. Then from the moment I met Rainer I would go every year to Munich. All the ideas of Love and the New World, we realised that it is an internal work and we had to do it inwardly, and that we have to revolutionise ourselves and not the others. It is a process that never stops and it is a political act. “The private is political.” And also as a feminist the empowering of yourself. You take responsibility for every dark aspect of your own inner fascism, that means discovering your real self.
We can say that this quest started but it is a very vital process that goes on but becomes more invisible.
This is why I say we are secret monks, which is the title of my next book.
Do you have young followers, pupils?
We are not teachers. We are communicators with whomever we encounter. And the youth today is highly communicating with the powerful tool of the Internet. They are building a new world, inspired by the preview of the ’68 movement. By that they develop a new consciousness of the changes that happened since ’68. Long 50 years; we thought they are lost for all times.
Ultimately can we say that your life is a long journey in search of Love?
Yes, real Love. That is to have overcome the fascism inside. Which I don’t claim having overcome. I have not yet transcended my own violence. I am still faulty like crazy. It is a life-long quest.
Berlin, July 28, 2018.