Zounds! A Blog Entry!

November 8, 2009

Reality

Rather than ruminate on how long it’s been since I last posted on this forum (17 days – I’ve been spending my “writing block” on translation projects, my dissertation and a filmography for a book), I will elaborate on a few of the major events that have marked the last two weeks.

Our film AOP, a mockumentary about a secret West German fetish, debuted at the HFF “Konrad Wolf” as part of the end of orientation festivities on Friday October 23rd.  It went over lukewarm compared with the other “Knaller” made by the other nine groups (at least 3 of which took place in a bathroom), but director Maurice M. Mohn swore to me that the film “wasn’t unsuccessful” at the party afterwards.  Speaking of THAT party:  it was held after 11:00 p.m. at a sketchy, illegal club in Kreuzkölln with no fire exits, no windows, a sketchy fridge full of bottled beer and nothing but techno beats (the latter being a plus against the other factors).  I sort of plowed my way through the packed bathroom line to reach the exit around 2:30 after quaffing a few cheap beers and yelling my way through several conversations in the smoky darkness.  An experience, to be sure.

I went to a wonderful Fulbright brunch on Sunday October 25th held by the generous Luisa Greenfield and Ming Tsao in Kreuzberg, where I met Jacob Comenetz, a former Fulbrighter now working at the Bundespresseagentur (more on him to come) and got a pile of great book recommendations from Ming about writing about the electronic music aesthetic (you want that list? Send a comment my way!).  Later that day, I picked up Kat at the Berlin Tegel airport, who successfully got her very heavy baggage out of the terminal without a cart (or my help, since that’s how European airports work) and we ate out at Tuk-Tuk, the Indonesian restaurant down the street from us.

Having Kat around has been great for many reasons.  Here are a few:

* Cessation of married-man-long-distance loneliness;

* More satisfying sleep;

* The apartment is now warmer;

* Increased intake of generally nutritious food that tastes good;

* New impulse to plan social events and outings, and I can show her all the old stuff I’ve gotten to know;

* Celebrating birthdays and holidays is much more meaningful again!

In the first week (Oct. 26 – Nov. 1st), I purposefully overscheduled us with many social events, including coffee with Kira and Beverly and dinner with the same, carving pumpkins with Katie Weeks and Hilary Bown, Luisa’s film screening on Friday night, and a Fulbright alumni Halloween party at Joe’s Bar in Prenzlauer Berg on Saturday night with Jacob.  I did so to make Kat feel at home and connected here, which also conversely made me feel more at home and connected here as well.  Speaking of Luisa’s screening, we had a great turn-out for the two shorter, more experimental films (Light and Bridegroom… see below) but, since we started over an hour late, over half the audience missed the wonderful mess that was John Ford’s Seven Women (1966).  We hope that everybody returns for our continuing Ford/Straub pairings, as well as other assorted film gems we manage to procure.  As for the Halloween party, Kat and I went as a vampire-zombie duo who hated each other through our expressions on our T-shirts:  “Vampires Bite” and “Zombies Need Brains.”  Ha ha.

This last week has presented us with opportunities to walk around and shop (such as in Kreuzberg’s famous Bergmannstrasse), watch movies together (many reviewed below) and get our visas (by waking up at 3 a.m. and surmounting the evil LABO).  All in all a good time, and I anticipate more to come.

Professionally speaking, I’ve had some ups and downs the last two weeks.  Ups:  I spent four hours with Herr Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlinale, and two hours with Dr. Gottfried Langenstein, director of ARTE; I’ve found hundreds of newspaper articles with revealing insights on the reception of the Indianerfilme in East Germany; I’ve met up with Reinhild Steingröver of the University of Rochester and established contact with several other scholars working on parallel topics to my dissertation.  Downs: I lost my first month’s worth of book/film notes due to a faulty data back-up attempt, so I’ve got another 10 hours of work to do in reconstructing it.  This is the way it goes.

And one final note:  if you’re ever on Akazienstrasse in Schöneberg, DO NOT eat at the South Indian restaurant called Chennai Dosai, not only because their food is not particularly good, but because they played the opening track from the Hrithik Roshan sci-fi Bollywood film Koi Mil Gya (2003) on a loop THE ENTIRE TIME WE SAT THERE.  It was a unique form of tourist torture, though I’m sure they weren’t expecting a customer who knew the film.

Fantasy

Posse (dir. Mario van Peebles, USA 1993)

Woody Strode, Big Daddy Kane, and many other prominent African-Americans star in this somewhat violent, misogynist and cliché Western.  Its primary contradiction lies in its seeming original mission – to re-insert African-Americans into a Western film tradition absolutely dominated by actors coded as “white” –  and its aesthetic outcome – a cheap Leone treasure/revenge plot with a lot of melodramatic cheese and macho strutting from Van Peebles.  The fact that I couldn’t really read the blocky explanatory text at the end didn’t really detract from the palpably saccharine coating that Van Peebles put on this piece of macho-masculine self-glorification.

The Treasure of Silver Lake (dir. Harald Reinl, FRG/France/Yugoslavia 1963)

The film that started the whole Euro-Western trend, and a completely necessary entry in the cinema books next to adventure films such as Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood (1935)or Lucas’ and Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).  The superhuman duo of Winnetou (Pierre Brice) and Old Shatterhand (Lex Barker) stumble upon an injustice committed (the murder of Götz George’s German immigrant father) and a treasure to discover.  Let’s just say that, on a superficial level, the film absolutely delivers:  colorful landscapes, bold action sequences, and plot twists that still convince the 8 year-old inside of you.  You only think about the crazy exoticism of the whole charade afterwards…

The Sons of Great Bear (dir. Josef Mach, GDR 1966)

The East German response to Reinl and Wendlandt’s Winnetou films, The Sons of Great Bear is the most “historically accurate” of all the DEFA Indianerfilme and also one of the most visually compelling.  That being said, Mach had little idea how to direct an action sequence, so the ending fight scene is confusing and frustrating to say the least, not to mention more-or-less tacked on to Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich’s original source material.  The press reviews made sure to note how much actor Gojko Mitic’s physique looked like the “real-life” Shoshone, though their basis on which to judge that comes from other Westerns’ portrayal of Native Americans.  Hmmm….

Little Big Man (dir. Arthur Penn, USA 1970)

Thomas Berger’s picaresque about the only white survivor of Little Bighorn, a man brought up by the Cheyenne (a.k.a. the human beings) named Jack, is expertly executed by Penn, if awkwardly assembled as a whole.  General Custer’s portrayal in the film is nothing short of brilliant – an arrogant prick more than a proper villain – and the Cheyenne are given a lot of positive screen-time.  Of course, Dustin Hoffman’s Jack dominates the majority of the film, with mixed results.

Battleship Potemkin (dir. Sergei Eisenstein, Russia 1925)

Restored 35mm print containing all the original scenes?  Check.
Live accompaniment by an adept pianist?  Check.
Kat’s first time seeing a leftist modernist classic?  Check.
I really can’t say anything more, other than that the Kino Arsenal has a special place in my heart.

Trick ‘r Treat (dir. Michael Dougherty, USA 2008)

A kind of Four Rooms treatment of Halloween, Trick ‘r Treat is a very smooth movie with regard to horror clichés, playing on one’s expectations, and the usual twists and turns one expects of even the slasher genre nowadays.  One should watch this with one’s tongue firmly in cheek, even through all the horrifying bits.  I say no more.

The Omen (dir. Richard Donner, UK/USA 1976)

Um… Gregory Peck’s character is kind of dumb?  This is at least what the film suggests, after one is led through a constant barrage of corroborating evidence that demonstrates his son is the antichrist, and he still doesn’t seem to get it.  Oh well:  there are many other films with evil children that work with the formula that The Omen put forth, so I suppose it’s influential.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (dir. Stephen Norrington, USA 2003)

This was the second time I’ve seen the film, and the second time I’ve seen it in Berlin (the last time was with Mary Brandel in 2003 – and I hated it then too.)  Alan Moore’s excellent graphic novel was to be transformed into a grand piece of pulp, and instead turned into a nightmarish gobbledy-gook of lame special FX (including the atrocious Venice sequence), too many characters running around (including “Tom Sawyer,” their worst revision), and sequel-baiting (the *ahem* “ending”).  Stuart Townsend is about the only redeeming feature of this feature, and that’s because he’s so damn charming in any case.

V for Vendetta (dir. James McTeigue, UK/Germany 2006)

Another slightly second-rate “good” film from the Wachowski Brothers, V for Vendetta continuously bills itself as a smart action thriller which raises bits of moral ambiguity for the postmodern cinema-goer, but is ultimately far too utopian about the power of the masses to stomach.  Alan Moore wasn’t nearly as idealistic as this, and far more critical of the respective places within society that Evie, V and the masses inhabit.  You can tell through the exquisite detail of the sets that the Babelsberg people worked on this one, though.

Genau Gleich (dir. Burkhart Wunderlich, Germany 2009)

A film that I’m currently subtitling for Burkhart about an incestuous relationship between German-Polish twins and an old woman on a bench waiting for Elvis.  An absolutely brilliant concluding shot is likely to give this one high marks at the Berlinale if, indeed, we manage to get the film into competition.

Light (dir. Marie Menken, USA 1964)

Dizzying Christmas lights, spinning motion, elliptical editing.  The lost American avant-garde.  Shall we see it again?

The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp (dir. Jean-Marie Straub, Daniele Huillet, FRG 1968)

I must’ve seen this film something like eight or nine times since I’ve come to UMass.  Nevertheless, the mixture of prostitutes against an industrial backdrop, Ferdinand Bruckner’s “The Pains of Youth” by Fassbinder’s antitheater group, and the intense chase/marriage sequence at the end never fail to incite thoughts of alternatives to mainstream cinema and new spatial configurations of narrative.

Seven Women (dir. John Ford, USA 1966)

Ford’s last film is an outright laugh riot starring Anne Bancroft as a self-confident doctor who winds up in a doomed community of American missionaries in Mongolia.  Oh wait – this wasn’t supposed to be funny?  Then perhaps there’s too much Sirkian irony in this overstuffed, full-color studio epic, which is probably why the film was buried after its creation:  Ford’s film is trapped between gender and a hard place.   Oh yeah, and there’s actually eight women, but one of them happens to be Chinese…

Coraline (dir. Henry Selick, USA 2009)

Coraline is a well-executed animated feature in glorious 3D that was screened at the HFF as part of our overall 3D research project.  Many of the fantastic landscapes, both interiors and exteriors, are enhanced by the 3D effects, but these effects don’t overwhelm the adaptation from the original text.  What does overwhelm the adaptation is the inclusion of a male character who has to save Coraline’s butt in the end, classifying it as yet another film with a strong female character who needs a man to both tame and save her.  Why can’t Hollywood ever be done with its male heroes?

G-Force (dir. Hoyt Yeatman, USA 2009)

Most 3D films rely on re-vamped spatial relations that make tighter spaces seem even tighter and wide open spaces seem glorious.  So what better means of exploring tight spaces and big vistas than making a supremely small cast, through whose eyes we must view the world?  Such is the visual premise of G-Force, which has guinea pig commandos saving the world from a silly plot in a classic Jerry Bruckheimer fashion.  Nevertheless, the effects are convincing and most of the side-plots are not particularly annoying.  I would say:  Mr. Yeatman’s background in visual FX for advertising and trailers paid off in a big way for the film, though its effects scenes are so pronounced as to make all of the dialog sequences seem drawn-out and dull.  Definitely a movie that attempts to satiate a hyper-active age group.  Critics who don’t fully “get” 3D films and who are thoroughly in Pixar’s camp are liable to hate it,  but I can root for it from the sidelines.

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