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Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl? Screens at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 5!

By Al Nigrin

originally published: 05/25/2021

Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl? Screens at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 5!

Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl?
Screens at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 5!

Here is my interview with
Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl? Director Luc Quelin:

Nigrin: Your very enlightening and informative documentary Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl? focuses on the relatively unknown maker of guitars for three very famous companies Gibson, Fender and Rickenbacker. Tell us why did you decided to make this film? 

Quelin: It all started with a gift. 7 years ago, I got a Gibson acoustic guitar for my birthday and wanted to know more about the company. During the research, a special name came up that sounded kind of Central European: Rossmeisl. I had the impression that I had once read this name in connection with another big guitar-company, Rickenbacker and I deepened my research. To my great astonishment, this name even appeared at Fender, also located in California. Who was this man and how did it come about that he had obviously worked for all the "Big Three" guitar companies: Gibson, Fender and Rickenbacker? As a  photojournalist, this discovery was worth more investigation! Half of Roger’s life was in Germany. That is why I asked my friend Kaspar Glarner to join in.  And the more we discovered, the more we were convinced of the importance of this luthier. And we thought, well, this guy deserves a little "reconnaissance" as we say. A recognition for his unique and splendid work. After a year of research, writing a script and trying to find some production amongst French & German companies (which led nowhere) we decided to make a documentary by ourselves. So far, it all went well and after showing the film in some great festivals, our next goal will be to find a worldwide distribution or a platform/TV screening.

Nigrin:  How were you able to locate and interview so many wonderful musicians that used Rossmeisl guitars? Tell us about the process and length of time this took.

Quelin: We play guitar ourselves, as amateurs, so we knew already which musicians play on the guitars Roger had designed and crafted. First, we made a list of famous players (Pete Townshend, Roger McGuinn, Mike Campbell, Tom Petty, Lemmy Kilmister, Mike Rutherford.) Our first meeting was planned with Lemmy who played with Motorhead in January 2016 but, unfortunately, he passed away 2 weeks before. We couldn't wait any longer for co-production partners and we decided to produce the project with our own pocket-money. We were pleased to see that specially the younger musicians who play on Roger vintage instruments were interested in our project and agreed to speak with us. And we discovered there were plenty of them. All in bands that we love (Fugazi, All them Witches, Against me, The Dandy Warhols). It took us 18 month to fix all the appointments and while we’ve filmed Becky Baldwin, the first one, we thought, it would be chic to interview some other woman-singers like Nathalie Prass (who played on a Fender Coronado Wildwood), Laura Marling (Rickenbacker), Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles (Rickenbacker), but we failed. Each time for different reasons. From there it took us two more years to complete the first version of the film. Of course, we were looking for special conversations like with The Maccabees, two brothers who play on Rickenbacker and Fender or at the end of the film, Michael Parks, Jr. who plays on a bass that went through so much that it is nearly a ruin.

Nigrin:  How were you able to get the famous German actor Bruno Ganz to do the narration for your film?

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Quelin:  From the very beginning of the writing process, we knew that Roger’s voice should be spoken by Bruno Ganz. Because he is the man who plays in such unforgettable movies like Wings of Desire, (where Nick Cave appears) or The American Friend , and he has this light German accent  when he speaks English, exactly as Roger probably had..  Glad enough, through friends at the Schaubühne in Berlin, Kaspar was able to contact Bruno and since we knew that he wasn't making small films anymore, we were all the happier that he accepted! One thing we didn’t know.. was that his son plays on a Rickenbacker guitar. Funny. We are very proud he gave some time just before completing the Lars von Trier’s movie which was probably his last. Yes, we are very grateful to have Bruno as our Guardian Angel!

Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl? Screens at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 5!

  The ambient music created and performed for your film by George Vjestica, who plays in Nick Cave’s band, is perfect. How were you able to get him to do this for you?

Quelin:   We knew that George played on an acoustic Fender Villager 12-string guitar designed by Rossmeisl and he was very interested because his really favorite guitar was the Rickenbacker 360F… The guitar he speaks about in the film and the one he took on the last European tour with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as to give the guitar a lap of honor on its old home continent. After completing a first version of the film, we organized a private screening in London’s Regent Street cinema to thank all the Englishmen who helped us. George was there after the screening in the lobby, and he came up to us saying: "Hey guys your film is missing some music." So Kaspar and I just said: "We know but an original music score is beyond our means." He then proposed to come a few days to Paris in a studio to record some music played all on Rossmeisl’s instruments. That kind of offer is very difficult to refuse… and of course, we had to do a lot all over again (editing, sound mixing, etc.) but again, we were so proud and George is our second Guardian Angel.

Nigrin:  It seems that many of the guitarists that you interview in your film seem to anthropomorphize their Rossmeisl guitars. They seem to refer to them as living beings rather then objects. Why do you think they do this?

Quelin:   Guitar players spend their whole life with their instruments and are very close to them, probably for a main reason: They are the tool that could possibly bring success, fame and fortune, but in any case, maximum R&B. As Becky Baldwin says in the film “guitarists see their guitars as an extension of themselves.”  Some more than others. And Alexander Hacke jokingly says "You can take a guitar to bed with you, it has that shape." Could it maybe be a Talisman?

Nigrin:  Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?

Quelin:   Here are a few:

A - As it is still written on the Wikipedia page today, we initially thought that Roger had studied in Mittenwald. We had even prepared a day of shooting there and were looking forward to the typical facade paintings on the houses in Upper Bavaria. But then a music historian drew our attention to Schönbach and we were pretty surprised! To get to the bottom of the matter, we wrote to the Bavarian State Archives to ask whether a student named Roger Rossmeil had studied in Mittenwald. The archive wrote back in a friendly manner that this name was completely unknown there. We then wrote directly to the instrument making school in Mittenwald to ask since when Guitar-making was teached there and got the answer: since 1973… at that time Roger had just returned from America ...

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B - When we finished the interview with John Hall, (Rickenbacker CEO at that time) he gives us the name of Dick Burke, (92) who worked directly with Roger.. "Bon esprit"  as we say between us. None of us knew the existence of Dick Burke. Super gift from John Hall.

C - In return, we were able to recommend John, who was looking for a good author for a new Rickenbacker book, to our good friend Martin Kelly, who had already written the book "Fender, The Golden Age 1946-1970". The new Rickenbacker book will appear soon.

D - When we met Roger’s son whose name is also Roger! He invited us at his home in L.A. and lend us Super 8 family films of his father and mother and we really couldn’t have expect a more beautiful present. But he had more: Three Kodachrome film rolls of his father just landing (Fall of 1954) in Chicago. Pictures never seen before that we could use in the film. From our side, due to our research in Germany, we were able to give Roger Jr. some ancient family pictures from Germany that he did not yet know and that today belong to his family archive.

E - From the beginning, we thought "For the German shoots, it would be nice to have some SNOW." Kind of a cliché.  As the film shooting went on for already three years the right moment came: in January 2018, plenty of snow covered Germany and The Czech Republic where Schönbach is located now (before and during the second world war, Schönbach was part of Germany known as the "Sudetenland" in Bohemia). Snow is cool. So, we immediately rented a car and drove from Berlin down to Schönbach.

F - During the final 5.1-Soud-mix, we thought it would be fantastic to hear the Schönbach's church bell.  So, we called Jan Kreuzinger, the former mayor, and he immediately mobilized the bell ringer, recorded the bell with his cell phone and sent us the file. Everyone who has ever been to Schönbach can enjoy the sound.

G - Last but not least, hats off to Guy Picciotto who gives us in the film the most definitive definition of Hardcore music ever:  "Hardcore was all bar chords." 

Here is the trailer for Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl:

The short experimental film Patent Nr. 314805 will also be playing with Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl? Here is more info on this screening:

Saturday, June 5, 2021 - $12=General

Film will be available on Video On Demand for 24 hours on this show date.

To buy tickets go here.

Patent Nr. 314805 – Mika Taanila (Helsinki, Finland) Finnish engineer Eric Tigerstedt solved the dilemma of sound-on-film already before the First World War. All images and sounds in this short film are produced from the surviving test materials originally created in 1914. 2021; 2 min.

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Who the f... is Roger Rossmeisl – Luc Quelin (Paris, France) An in-depth documentary on Roger Raymond Rossmeisl (1927-1979), one of the most overlooked great guitar makers of all time. Rossmeisl was the only guitar maker who worked with the three legendary companies, Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker. Roger's voice is spoken by the famed actor Bruno Ganz. Also features interviews with many guitar legends including Bill Frisell, Guy Picciotto, and many others. 2021; 90 min.

Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.



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