‘Thinking of the Sense of a 15-hour movie’
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) is one of the most interesting films I’ve ever watched. Watched it and completed it. It was a big effort and took a lot of fortitude to keep going back to it night after night. It wasn’t like the shows that people binge-watch now, like The Crown, or Suits, or Westworld. Not only did I not have seven hours free, in each of two consecutive days, but it is in German with English subtitles, and the material is very intense. The first three days, five episodes, didn’t really draw me back to the next episode with enormous glee or delight. It was something I’ve set myself to achieve and my thought was, While I have strength I will knock it off, day by day, little by little, over a period of eight days. I’m going to stubbornly keep on going.
In the end, the thirteen episodes were fantastic. It had all the satisfaction and power of great Charles Dickens novel, or one of those long Gore Vidal books where he uses really characters and creates fiction around them. It was, like Vanity Fair, a story that I struggled with at times, but unlike the Thackeray novel, I was never bored out of my brain. It was good filmmaking, with good casting and acting, good pacing, good scenic values and occasionally
interesting or inventive direction. Then I thought it was all over and was 14 hours not 15h 30m. The different menu on the Epilogue disc tricked me. It made me think the documentary was the epilsodue even though it didn’t make sense that an Epilogue would be interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making the film. When I discovered the Epilogue was actually another episode, Episode 14 in fact, I watched that but I’d already wrapped up the end of the story in my head by this time. It probably didn’t matter because the last episode is so off-this-planet (in more ways than one), that it is hard to describe anyway.
The epilogue reminded me of Kafka’s The Trial: the Orson Welles film, not the book. In fact, this epilogue is like it is the main character, Franz’s, trial. (Is this a coincidence: that Kafka’s first name was Franz as is the character in this extraordinary film?) He’s in different locations, some dreamlike, confronted by people he knew. Many confront him with the way he has mistreated them, or the fact that he has undisclosed love for them, or has many unsaid words which would have expressed what he really wanted.
I need to watch it again to begin to comprehend how it challenges everything that Franz and the viewer has accepted in the previous thirteen episodes.
Teni zabytych predhov 1965
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) is one of the least appealing of all the films I’ve watched in my year of living in a world were the English language is the most infrequently spoken of all languages.
It wasn’t a bad film, not by any measure. It was disjointed, leaping around from the end of one theme or issue to another, and seemed to me (often) to be crudely made but that’s not a sin that casts a film out. It’s a proud badge for many films. And it had amazing moments, great directorial touches and an overall apparent truthfulness which made me feel I was watching something that was real. Something like The Tree of Wooden Clogs or Tokyo Story as opposed to (Renoir’s) The Southerner or The River which were always films with actors in front of the camera playing a part while trying to show gritty realism. I can’t give a higher compliment than to say that I felt I was watching real people behave the way they do in real life with a camera set up – without their knowledge – recording them going about their daily life. Bresson achieved that kind of realism in Au Hasard Balthazar. Kurosawa in Dersu Uzala. It’s even more extraordinary if the people are non-actors and they’re able to forget the camera and be whatever the director needs them to be. Sometimes it’s just being who they are and sometimes it’s doing a variation on that. But in all of these films, there’s a group of people behind a camera, there’s a director yelling “cut”, there are multiple retakes, make-up reapplied, costume changes and a take starting from a moment of no energy until “action” is called to a sudden burst of energy to match what was happening in the previous shot, or for the subsequent shot.
If a film can create that level of realism then it is an extraorinary work of art by an extraordinary director. Sergei Paradzhanov is one of those directors. So is Kurosawa a few times. So is Kiarostami. So is Ermanno Olmi. Also Ozu (and Mizoguchi occasionally).
Great things about the film were the costumes and sets and the colours. Exceptional things were the recording of music which was integrated into the film as real, ‘live’, source music. There were moment of staggering musical beauty which blew my mind.
Like a lot of films and experiences – dinners, picnics, adventures – your experience is undermined if you are tired or cranky or had a car accident on the way to the cinema (like I did on the way to see Aliens at the Hoyts complex at 600 George Street, Sydney).
I think it was one of those things for me tonight. I wasn’t experiencing the second or third feeling but I definitely was feeling the first. It’s been a marathon seven days going from Huskisson to Manyana to Sydney University while having Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz sitting on my shoulder the entire time.