Sunday, November 25, 2007

Berlin Alexanderplatz

I have seen some bleak and despairing films in my life but nothing like Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Of course the length of the film is a major contributing factor too. After spending nine hours watching the wrenching spectacle of pain, suffering and hopelessness I am still only just above the half-way mark. I was trying to watch it as a movie and not as a TV series which I now gather is absolutely not advisable. It is better to watch one hour episode at a time and wait for it to settle before you begin the next episode.

I was reading the novel by Alfred Doblin in parallel too and it is bleak as hell as well. Not a great idea to spend the holidays I tell you. Unless contemplating the senseless cruelty and mercilessness inherent in the plan of the universe is your idea of a good time-pass. The book is actually very inventive. It contains very innovative use of monologues, montage and collage. I will probably continue when I feel a little better.

Here is an excerpt from where I stopped reading. The passage is noticeably "cinematic" as is most of the book since it is designed as a work of collage - a sequence of interior monologues interspersed with facts and figures from the real external world. At the same time Fassbinder's treatment of this passage is quite "literary". We see a montage of still images while the voice-over reads the same exact passage in a totally objective voice drenched of all emotion. Anyway here it is:

A big, white steer is driven into the slaughter-hall. Here there is no vapor, no pen like they have for the swarming pigs. The big strong animal, the steer, steps in alone, between the drivers through the gate. The blood bespattered hall lies open before it with the chopped-up bones, and the halves and quarters hanging about. The big steer as a broad forehead. With sticks and thrusts it is driven up to the butcher. In order to make it stand still, he gives it a slight blow on the hind leg with the flat part of the hatchet. One of the drivers seizes it from below around the neck. The animal stands for a moment, the yields, with a curious ease, as if it agreed and was willing, after having seen everything and understood that this is its fate, and that it cannot do anything against it. Perhaps it thinks the gesture of the driver is a caress, it looks so friendly. The animal follows the tug of the driver's arms, turns its head obliquely to one side, mouth upward.

But then the butcher stands behind it with his hammer uplifted. Don't look around! The hammer lifted by the strong man with both his fists is behind you, above you, and then: zoom, down it comes! The muscular force of a strong man like an iron wedge in its neck! And a second later-the hammer has not yet lifted-the animal's four legs give a spring, the whole heavy body seems to fly up with a jerk. And then as though it had no legs, the beast, the heavy body, falls down on the floor with a thud, onto its rigidly cramped legs, lies like this for a moment, drops on its side. The executioner walks around the animal from left to right, cracks it over the head, and on the temples, with another mercifully stunning blow: you will not wake up again.

There is more but I will spare it...

8 comments:

antonia said...

oh i love it. you know alok, i was catching up with film history again and i decided to make Fassbinder my favourite director for he is the only one of whom i have seen more than 3 films and i liked all. Fassbinder is the greatest in making films about books, he always finds the right mood, also like in Effi Briest. But Doeblin has also written more friendly stuff.

Alok said...

I used to think of myself as a pessmistic person but god, these guys (Fassbinder+Doblin) make me feel all rosy-eyed. As I was watching and reading the book I kept thinking, no things aren't so bad, no things can't get any worse... but it keeps getting worse and worse. I am trying to find some German writer who celebrates life and love and some positive thoughts. I am feeling too gloomy.

antonia said...

try Jean Paul. that's all light and lovely and innocence. also there is a wonderful book on him by Rolf Vollmann.

Anonymous said...

Well, you're right that BA should probably not be watched in one or two sittings (even though this is the way it was screened in its first US exhibition). This is not light fare. However, I have to say that I have a very different response to watching Fassbinder's opus. You can can him a pessimist if you want, but his productivity (over 40 films in fourteen years) and the sheer quality of the work is, for me, a sign of hope -- not despair. A monumental effort.

Alok said...

antonia: Have heard his name, will check if I can find anything by him here.

anonymous: I agree that productivity of his is surely an act of resistance against despair but he burned himself out too in the end, didn't he?

abcd said...

Alok, I am not sure whether you check the comments on the blog anymore. I have a query. I was trying to order the book Berlin Alexanderplatz. But I find two different editions of the book, here and here.
The first from 'Continuum' has lesser number of pages compared to the second one from Ungar. Are they both the same in terms of the content?
Thanks in advance...

Alok said...

I have seen only the one published by continuum. I have no idea about the other one though I think there is only one translation available in English right now. So it's more than likely that they are both same translation published by two different publishers. There was also an article by Ian Buruma in nyrb ruing the lack of a good english translation of the book.

I found the book extremely heavy-going and could read only parts of it.

abcd said...

Thanks Alok...I continued wandering on the net and landed up on this page where it says both editions are the same. Reduced type size makes the one from Continuum smaller.
That page is actually very good.
Thanks and regards.

PS: Man, keeping posting something on the blog. Don't just vanish.:)