February 28, 2010
Writers have blogs, but dissertation writers probably shouldn’t. I realize this after I woke up this morning and realized there’d been a week since the end of the Berlinale and I hadn’t so much as hinted at my experiences there. Too much other writing going on.
Since I probably have too much to describe anyhow, I will use the woefully insufficient writing device of bullet points to summarize.
During Days 3-10 of the Berlinale 2010, I…
* …attended three retrospective panels with film artists in attendance.
* …discovered an excellent bistro: Marcann’s.
* …helped the HFF and sehsüchte host the Filmhochschule Party at HBC.
* …began planning a DEFA conference.
* …found myself watching more Japanese films than German or American.
* …saw Katrin Saß, Sylvain Chomet and Hanna Schygulla in the flesh.
* …met Gojko Mitic, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Günter Reisch, F.B. Habel, Stefan Haupt, Anton Kaes, Rainer Rother, Ralf Schenk, Günter Agde, Wolfgang Mühl-Benninghaus, Wolfgang Klaue, Karl Griep and Bernd Plattner. I leave this to be examined by DEFA scholars.
* …regularly got up at 6 a.m. to get my accreditation tickets at Potsdamer Platz.
* …was threatened with physical violence by an angry old woman who thought I had unfairly cut in front of her in the ticket line.
* …wrote eight pages of solid film theory for my dissertation (dork moment).
What films did I watch and what did I think of them? Scroll down to Fantasy.
Here’s some photographic evidence of my meeting DEFA director Günter Reisch:
The Illusionist (dir. Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
Utterly brilliant. Read my thoughts here.
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (dir. Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillét, 1968)
A history of Bach that preserves its own historicity. I must have seen this one about six or seven times. Yet I still have trouble ordering all the images in my head, but they look fantastic in 35mm.
The Law of Desire (dir. Pedro Almodòvar, 1987)
A tightly controlled meditation on the sensual possibilities of film and film-writing through melodrama. Anticipates Almodòvar’s entire career.
Red Sorghum (dir. Zhang Yimou, 1988)
A Chinese nationalist epic that starts off on the right foot and somehow ends on the far right foot…
Summer Wars (dir. Mamoru Hosoda, 2009)
This is the must-see anime of the year: a look at cyberwarfare through the story of a shogun family in modern times. Reminds one of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika (2006), with perhaps a far less open ending.
Kyoto Story (dir. Yoji Yamada, 2010)
A declaration of love to Kyoto Uzumasa, site of the former film studios. A fictional love triangle is masterfully interwoven into the daily lives of real shopkeepers on a real street.
September 23, 2009
On Saturday, I visited the Museum für Film und Fernsehen in Potsdamer Platz. It is now a place with which I am thoroughly familiar: after 5.5 hours of me poring over every inch of every exhibit, they had to kick me out since they were closing. Of certain interest beyond original documents associated with films I know and love such as Joe May’s Asphalt, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, etc., was a giant wall with nothing but TV screens containing post-war German directors and buttons one could push to see a sampling of their work. I loved it – I was able to get to know one or two new directors and their work in such a short time span! It’s quite clear, however, that the museum is primarily concerned with Marlene Dietrich, her legacy and her estate. They even had the Negerpuppe and the Chinesenpuppe that were featured in Sternberg’s The Blue Angel which she brought around with her for good luck. That’s going into my dissertation somewhere…
On Monday morning, I took a trip down to Potsdam-Babelsberg just to see what it was like. The film school itself blew me away: a giant four building structure encased in a cocoon of glass and bound together with assorted stairwells and catwalks. Of course, I was looking for a bureaucrat in that labyrinth, so I suddenly felt like I was in Brazil or something (don’t you know we imagine in movies now?). I would go up a stairwell and only reach half the offices on a floor, because the others were on the other side of the catwalk. In addition, you can check out films from the library and watch them in these weird little space-age pods that slide around in the lobby…
The only downside to the earlier part of this week? No Fulbright money yet to speak of, no good opportunity to get a Visa until after I register for classes (which I need a Visa to do ironically…), and with no money, little travel in and around the city. This should all change within a week or so, one hopes.
Signale – ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970, dir. Gottfried Kolditz)
I watched this East German stylistic riff on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey late at night in the States, and I don’t remember finishing it then. Since it forms a core part of my dissertation research, I sat through it again and probably will do so once more in the future. Though I am a fan of Gottfried Kolditz and have seen most of his oeuvre, this film is one of his least successful productions by far. The plotline is this: the Ikarus spaceship is hit by an asteroid cluster and his badly damaged, such that the Laika has to mount a rescue mission to save the ship’s crew. I remember East German critics bashing this picture on account of it being a “space adventure without excitement,” and now I fully agree with them. The editing of the film is outright terrible, such that one has little orientation between assorted effects shots and where characters are positioned. And speaking of effects shots – these largely consist of the camera spinning like in 2001 and leaving it to our imagination that we’re in OUTER SPACE. For my dissertation though, the multicultural starship crew is a prime example of what I’m talking about in terms of the establishment of race hierarchies amidst an “equal” set of crew members. It is also interesting that the African-American expatriate Aubrey Pankey turns up as he did in Osceola: The Right Hand of Vengeance, again in a strange bit part.
Whisky mit Wodka (2009, dir. Andreas Dresen)
A thoroughly delightful film that also thoroughly references film history as well as the exigencies of filmmaking. Wolfgang Kohlhaase’s script is elegant in its simplicity: an alcoholic, aging film star Otto Kullberg (Henry Hübchen) proves unreliable in the eyes of the producer, so another actor Arno Runge (Markus Hering) is brought in on the set to shoot all of Kullberg’s scenes right after him in case the celebrity flakes out. Using a similar formula to Grill Point (Halbe Treppe, 2002) or Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorm Balkon, 2005), Dresen latches onto the complicated interpersonal relationships between not two but five main characters (the two actors, two actresses and the director) and explores those relationships to their logical conclusion. It does not matter what film material is used in the final cut – a question posed by the film and never answered – nor should the audience care. There are also some special moments for us East German film scholars in there, as Dresen cites Solo Sunny in a piano riff played by none other than the DEFA composer Günther Fischer, and there are several moments where Runge is asked about being from the East – even though he’s one of the few main actors NOT originally from the East. I felt fortunate to be one of four people in the theater to take it in, since the film isn’t that popular at Potsdamer Platz, apparently.
Read or Die OVAs (2001, dir. Kouji Masunari)
A recklessly paced set of three anime episodes if I ever saw one. Read or Die is part James Bond-style thriller, part superhero film, and part sci-fi: A secret organization associated with the British Library is charged with retrieving a lost Beethoven score before it is used to destroy the world. Fast-paced and drawing a great debt from the grandiose silly action foregrounded in my favorite anime of all, Giant Robo, the Read or Die OVAs are very cleverly staged and executed, with paper-manipulating hero The Paper performing dozens of neat superhero feats on her quest to save the world. My major criticism is, as I said earlier, in the pacing. The first two episodes establish a kind of pattern for what one thinks is a longer series, and then the plot is ramped into overdrive to resolve in the third episode. I’m thinking it was budget-related…