We haven’t seen a lot of silent films in the Collection so far, and we have never seen a movie with a bigger left field ending than this particular film. GW Pabst’s Pandora’s Box has a lot of problems, and a just frankly amazing last 10 minutes. It’s absurd, and I love it.
As evident in our journey through Criterion, Volker Schlöndorff makes interestingly complicated films that press viewers to think about human behavior and how we treat one another. Also ones in which a good chunk of humans, particularly men in the ethnic majority, are sociopathic. These themes, of course, are not uncommon in German cinema of the post-WW2 era.
1966's Young Törless is another variation on that melody, this time emphasizing the ease with which we go along with the oppressive behavior of others in order to fit in. The narrative is not without its own problems, but Schlöndorff manages to remind us how easy it is to help the oppressor, and to slip away convinced you did nothing wrong. It's a lesson much of humanity, again particularly men in the ethnic majority, still needs to learn.
Yesterday was Hitler's birthday, so here's a film with a complicated relationship to Nazis?
On the one hand Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum (1979) does show some of the horrors of living under Nazi occupation in Gdańsk-- I've just now learned that Danzig is the German name for the city, and it seems inappropriate to use it here, Gdansk is the Polish name -- and it briefly embodies the aftermath of the Holocaust in one scarred character (who was only recently re-added to the film for this Criterion release). On the other it is based on a book by a man that hid that he was a Nazi soldier for decades and is about someone who uses Nazism when its useful to him and abandons it when its not.
Of course it's also about a little boy who quite literally refuses to grow up.
As I said, it's complicated.
There are only three Fritz Lang films in the Collection -- discounting his delightful appearance as himself in Godard's Contempt -- and these appearances are fairly spread out. We last saw from him with Spine 30 and will next see him at Spine 649. But for now we have Spine 231, his 1933 follow up and sort of sequel to M (as Otto Wernicke plays the same character in both): The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.
M had an interesting background in that Nazis tried to shut it down during pre-production despite their not having come to full political power and Lang's insistence that the film was not meant to be anti-Nazi. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, however, was dedicatedly anti-Nazi and, well, the Nazis were many things, but they weren't really dense. The film was banned in Germany, not shown publicly in the country until 1961. It was the last film he made in Germany until 1959.
Lola (1981) brings us to the end of the BRD Trilogy, and is a fitting bookend with The Marriage of Maria Braun in being a much lighter film -- at least compared to Veronika Voss -- that deals more overtly with the political climate of the time. It can be argued that Veronika Voss is a political film, but for Maria Braun and Lola the argument stands on surface observation. Rainer Werner Fassbinder had some interesting political beliefs, and we tackle probably his most controversial stance in this week's episode as well. Find out what he's wrong about by giving us a listen.
Here at Lost in Criterion we strive to capture the organic conversation Pat and I have reacting to the films we've watched. Unfortunately, sometimes technical difficulties strike and we have to re-record. While this has only happened three times in over 200 episodes -- which is frankly amazing -- the fact remains that you can't really have an organic conversation when you've already had it once. Due to Audacity inexplicably eating 10 minutes of my side of the conversation (we're still not sure how or why) you're getting take two for this week. It probably shows a little.
Veronika Voss (1982) is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's penultimate film and the second of the BRD Trilogy, though oddly enough the last film in the trilogy, Lola, was made before this one. I want to apologize for the fact that we probably spend more time talking about male lead Robert then Veronika herself, but see the paragraph above for why that happened and imagine take one where we actually talked about her. Not that it matters, we could talk for hours about either of them. Heck, we could talk for hours about the Public Health official. People in this movie are complex or weird in highly rant-able ways.
Our last encounter with Rainer Werner Fassbinder left us breathless, and now we move into a trilogy of some of the famed directors best (and final) work. All three stories feature female protagonists making their way in post-war West Germany, and all three are varying degrees of indictment against West German society as Fassbinder saw it. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) suggests that Fassbinder believes the BRD is about to blow itself up, but then he destroys all semblance of subtext in the final moments of the film. Even without that final hammer it's a fascinating tale.
Or listen on iTunes.
Continuing our short trend of films with messages that coincidentally speak to some of the darkest positions of American society today, mostly because they critique aspects of human interaction that, sadly, bubble up every so often in any civilization (and almost always exist at at least a low simmer). Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) -- our first from the renowned German -- is an homage to the melodrama of Douglas Sirk, in particular a retelling of All That Heaven Allows that takes that films class-divided love story and transfers it to a West Germany divided by class, race, religion, and immigration status.
There's a lot of talk in US politics lately of criminalizing womanhood, but then men have always had a tendency to use prison or mental wards to control women who don't act the way the patriarchy would like. You know, when we weren't just burning them at the stake.
If that last paragraph has you scoffing or rolling your eyes, you may want to avoid this week's Lost in Criterion as we take on Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975), a tale of a woman criminalized for normal behavior to the nth degree. But Blum is more than that, as it also tackles the corrupting relationship between law enforcement and the media, and how both forces spread fear through the masses, decimating civil rights under the guise of "anti-terrorism". It's brilliant, hard to watch, and teaches lessons that we continually need reminded of.
On second thought, if you were rolling your eyes, definitely watch the film in question. And learn a thing.
Fritz Lang's M (1931) is the German directors first film with sound and star Peter Lorre's first film and first villainous role. Technology and star are both put to excellent use. M is also a film that the Nazi's tried to suppress before they were even in power. I can't think of a more glowing recommendation, but I will say that has always been one of my favorite films since I first saw it many, many years ago.