An Exit

July 13, 2010

Or maybe it’s more like a transition.

A new entry point.

I have spent 10 months in a metropolis filled with the young, the internationally minded, the aging and the stolid.

As with the 1985 GDR children’s magazine cover to the right, the young and old mix their musical expression to form a cacophonic unity.

(With tanks in the background, of course.)

My writing and interests have drifted from a sardonic, socially critical look at the genre films from a period in which East German cinema ebbed to a invigorating interest in transnational film production, role-playing games as objects of serious academic study, film philosophy and the interplay of emotion/affect within all media objects.

There is much work to be done, and my dissertation besides.

As I sit back and reflect, however, it occurs to me that none of this year abroad would have really worked out had I not had the generous support of so many wonderful people.

Of Peggy, whose well-equipped rented apartment served as the perfect nexus with which to explore Berlin.

Of Luisa and Ming, who quickly befriended me, introduced me to their group of crazy artist friends (as well as their substantial John Ford/Jean-Marie Straub collection) and hospitably organized a spectacular film series.

Of Kira, who was there to talk shop, gossip, commiserate and drink copious amounts of coffee at all the right times with Kat and me.

Of Hilary, who steadfastly organized get-togethers, provided me with delicious food and played a mean game of Jenga.

Of Irene B., who revealed all the best cafés in Prague.

Of Jan E., whose film The Court of Shards provoked long discussions about the nature of filmmaking today and everything else.

Of Jan F., whose mixture of deadpan honesty and strange humor rivals my own.

Of Jon R., who provided me a copy of his invaluable Norwegian dissertation, several interviews and his generous academic support.  I owe him big time and hope to collaborate with him on future DEFA projects.

Of Amber and Simon, who opened up their charming flat in London to Kat and me, sipping tea and taking us on memorable adventures.  Even when they led to neither film nor karaoke. 😉

Of Matt, Melissa, Becka, David and Irene J., dearest friends and relatives that actually made the temporal/financial/corporeal commitment to visit us here in Berlin.

Of Julia and Chris, who visited us too, albeit via an awesome convention in Denmark.  That was a weekend, if there ever was one.

Of Emily, who networked us into having that weekend.

Of Juliette, Barton, Sarah, and Sky, all of whom academic acquaintances who made an effort to see us while on very busy schedules.

Of Susan, Jon, and Jonathan, my solid UMass support crew who helped me get the scholarship for next year.

Of Jason, Kyle, and Diane, who kept me posted on news from home.

Of Stefan K., Gojko, Otto, Erich, Rainer and Uwe, filmmakers who opened up their wealth of knowledge to me without asking for more than a kind word.

Of Markus, with whom I hope to work on future projects related to intersecting interests between gaming and my academic work.

Of Frederik J., who modestly organized an impeccable Fastaval experience for us fish-out-of-water Americans and went out of his way to make us feel at home.

Of Olle, a tinkerer and a mad poet, if there ever was one.

Of Nathan, Kaiser of the LARP world.

Of Tobias W., who sent me that .pdf file. Now I am disturbed.

Of Florian L., who tolerated my tardiness with my article and who has megalomaniacal visions for re-interpreting the world.

Of Henning, who dropped me a line and a short, fun-to-write article opportunity.

Of Andy R., who is a great ally in the bizarre academic game that is Film Studies.

Of Frau Goethe and Frau Scholz, without whom no useful archival research would have happened.

Of Tobias E., who defended a convincing dissertation primarily via a series of well-placed images and otherwise proved the friendly scholar around the HFF.

Of Michael W., a sage of Film Studies and a thankfully very patient man.

Of Tag, the other sage I got to know, who has opened up his vast collection of films to my perusal.

Of Florian G., who loved to quatsch with me about a certain director-producer. Maybe we’ll have a Boll marathon via Skype…

Of Christina and Andy M., for administrating an excellent sehsüchte 2010 festival.

Of Franzi K. and Franzi R., whose careers I (hope) helped push along, both possessing energetic personalities that inspire.

Of Paula, Anne, Philip and Manuel, for their company in the Berlinale ticket line.

Of the first-year Studiengang in the Medienwissenschaft department at the HFF, meaning Lukas, Lisa, Lea, Franzi D., Sarah, Anna S., Anna J., Hella, Hauke, Eric and Esther, who put up with my droning points in class and accepted an outsider as one of their own.

Of Fulbright, who funded the darn thing.

Of my parents and siblings, who sent me invaluable news/packages/love from the States and the whole nine yards.

And of Kat, who made every meal, trip, lazy day, wild adventure, nap and movie-viewing session pleasant and desirable.  I can’t wait to see her again tomorrow!

More candid, I cannot be.

You’ve all been part of the story.

Vielen, vielen Dank!

Arrival / Ankunft

September 11, 2009

As the first post of the blog, this document will serve to establish a few precedents as well as chronicle what I’ve been experiencing.  One precedent is that each blog post will be divided up into two sections:  Reality and Fantasy.  Now I know that’s a little heavy-handed, but I like to think of “Reality” as describing things I go out in the world and do, as opposed to “Fantasy,” which covers the vast quantity of media I tend to digest.  Since I’m a film student, that section’s likely to fill up with a lot of film reviews, which’ll be as much notes to myself as they are for the world to read.  The other precedent I will establish right now is a total lack of photos on the blog for the first month before my wife Kat comes out here and brings her digital camera.

Pre-Reality

I must say that I was mentally ready to go to Germany as of last month, but I was only physically transported here today.  By this phenomenon, I mean that since I began applying for the DAAD and Fulbright around this time last year, people around me were already hearing my elevator narrative: “I’m going to Berlin so I can do my dissertation research on Cold War genre cinema at the HFF-Potsdam-Babelsberg, the prominent film school of the East German film cycle.  There, I imagine I’ll be watching movies, but I hope to (and did) get a Fulbright so I don’t have any major presentation stipulations that get in the way of my work.”  Okay, so I modified it for text, but after having delivered this spiel about 4 or 5 times a day to all those around me, including those social-networked to me, I eventually became sick of my own great plan – imagine that!  To add to this was the pat response by everyone I knew claiming Berlin was such an idyllic place and I’d have a wonderful time there.  So I basically have been having more-or-less the same conversation on a loop for the past year (which, from what I hear, is actually good dissertation training).  You can imagine I was eager to get past the talking and move to the living here and “doing things” bit.

Reality

So I can now reference Berlin with the illocutive signifier “here,” because that’s where I am now.  My flight was a calm, uneventful experience made all the more harrowing by the over-the-top, violently nihilistic German drama I was reading (see Fantasy below) to force my brain back into “German mode.”  The reason why I have any mastery of the language at all is because of this kind of discipline, so you might not be shocked to discover these are some of the few English words I’ve written all day.  “German mode kick-starting” mitigates any culture shock that may arise from linguistic sources and also may satisfy a deep-seated, nerdly urge felt by all Germanists worthy of the name to be immersed in the German language.  That being said – all German-language nonsense aside – I was notably the only person reading a book in my section of the airplane.  Everyone else was watching The Hangover, the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Angels and Demons.  The relevance of film to our culture re-entrenched itself in my mind.

I arrived at my apartment earlier this afternoon, and suffice to say I will need to use a new blog post to describe it in detail.  After screwing around with the router to get some Internet and taking a short nap instead of setting up my bank account and purchasing my train tickets to Göttingen (my original goals of the afternoon), I decided to take a stroll north of Schöneberg to Potsdamer Platz.

Some observations before I collapse:

• Many Berliners travel on bikes. Few wear helmets.
• The number of Americans one encounters is directly proportional to one’s distance to either Potsdamer Platz, Kreuzberg or Mitte.
• Old German apartment buildings have loud staircases.
• I still can’t remember what recycling items go in what colored bin.
• They’re holding both an Agnés Varda and a “Winter Adé” film festival at Kino Arsenal, which is filled with movies I want to see.

Needless to say, instead of ending my long day with food or sleep, I ended with watching a movie.

Fantasy

Christian Dietrich Grabbe’s Herzog Theodor von Gothland

This work is so totally incoherent that it almost inspires me to hold a panel entitled “When the Medium Isn’t the Message” about works of German film, literature and theater that literally cannot function as works within that medium, but are instead homages to the fact that we can imagine plays as films, movies as books, etc.  A king is convinced by an evil, Satan-worshipping Moor to kill all of his brothers in a fit of revenge, and then take over the army of the Swedes and Finns to become an unstoppable tyrant, only to be beaten by a spot of intrigue that passes for a “tragic flaw.”

Sans toit ni loi (Agnés Varda, 1985)

A film about a female drifter who quite literally does not want to do much with her life and, as a result, winds up dead in a field.  Like Dudow/Brecht’s Kuhle Wampe, the film removes all suspense by showing her body in the first minutes, and then exploring her as a cantankerous, chain-smoking figure who nonetheless touched the lives of so many people.  I found Varda’s use of sound bridges of well-selected music pieces and ambient car noises between shots to effectively maintain a veneer of “realism” without dredging into the jerky camera of reality TV domain.  In fact, Varda produces many sweeping tracking shots of landscapes and people going about their purposeless lives in the midst of them.  The drifter, Mona, turns out to be neither a particularly nice human being, nor a monster, and thus the film turns into a meditation on what an impact any human being – particularly the insignificant ones – can have on their fellow humans.  See it if you like the works of Andreas Dresen and Robert Bresson, which may seem an odd combo until you watch the film.