Strike Ottinger is the most promising filmmaker to emerge from West Germany since the salad days of Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders. If she is to fulfill that promise, she will have to purge the longueurs, visual excesses, and moments of sheer bad taste that creep into her work. But if she manages to do this, and to refine the innovative style she has already invented, her future could be bright.
Just now, Miss Ottinger is traipsing across the United States on a sort of goodwill tour, showing her movies in settings that range from the Chicago Art Institute to the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Calif., with other stops in Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. The main item on her program is a film called ''Ticket of No Return,'' which has already been well received by some critics.
A very dark comedy, with overtones of pop art and high fashion, it is based on two basic metaphors: alcohol as a symbol of contemporary decadence, and (recalling one of Lou Reed's rock-music allegories) the divided city of Berlin as a symbol of the divided self. Though the subtitle is ''Portrait of a Woman Drinker,'' the plot focuses more on the footloose journeys of the heroine than on her tipsiness.
It's a peculiar film, with a glossy look and a poky pace, and it runs out of ideas before it runs out of film. Still, it shows Miss Ottinger as a thoroughly individual stylist who has moved a comfortable distance from the tiring satire of her early ''Madame X'' and the sexual horseplay of her short ''The Infatuation of the Blue Sailors,'' a self-indulgent exercise with strong echoes of American experimentalist Kenneth Anger and French surrealist Jean Cocteau.
During a stop at the Carnegie Hall Cinema in New York not long ago, Miss Ottinger previewed her latest work, ''Freak Orlando,'' based on Virginia Woolf's exquisite novel ''Orlando.'' Here the filmmaker backslides toward the sensationalism of her earlier work in a few scenes, which include moments of nudity and deformity in the vein of Alexandro Jodorowski. But her visual imagination is at its peak during the picture's best sequences, which build into a boisterous pop parable while recalling the fiercely surreal moods of Luis Bunuel.
The plot has little to do with Woolf's book, except for its protean protagonist who travels willy-nilly through centuries of history and culture. The atmosphere has little to do with Woolf, either, except for its undertones of wily feminism and its brash eagerness to turn the conventions of storytelling on their heads.
It's hard to predict where Miss Ottinger will go from here. But her career will doubtless be an adventurous one, for better or worse.