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Berlin Alexanderplatz

Posted by martinteller on January 27, 2008

A review in 13 parts with an epilogue.

(Friday night)
1: I confess that I’m going into this with an attitude.  With 50 (yes, 50!) other movies to watch, it’s a little annoying that I’ll have to spend the better part of my weekend to get through just one.  Also, I haven’t particularly loved any of the other Fassbinder films I’ve seen (but there haven’t been many).  On top of that, I’m a little skeptical of the film’s stellar reputation.  I suspect that part of it is due to people not wanting to admit they sat through 15+ hours of something without its being a masterpiece.  Despite all this, I have to say: so far, so good.  I’m fairly invested in the story already, I’m intrigued by some of the more offbeat elements (the internal monologues, the cataloguing, the technical analyses of sex and violence) and the camerawork is quite nice.  The look reminds me a bit of Once Upon in Time in America, perhaps because of all the yellow filters.

2: And here comes the Nazi stuff.  For some reason I thought it would come later, or maybe even not at all.  Now it reminds me even more of Heimat (another extremely long German movie).  I was less interested in this episode, I usually don’t like a lot of overt politics in films.  But I will soldier on… only 13 hours left to go!  As an aside, I should mention that in my head, this movie is always called Berlin Alexanderpants.

3: This is better, now we’re getting back to the real human elements of the story.  The vile Otto, the lonely widow, the relationship with Lina, and of course Franz, who is shaping up to be a complex character.  I’m anxious to see what happens to him next.

4: The length is starting to get to me, I suppose because this particular episode was so slow and mopey.  On the other hand, it really does add to the novel-esque air of the project (I feel like I won’t ever have to read the book after this is all done).  If this wasn’t an especially plot-heavy episode, it does seem like it was an important phase for Franz to work through.  How’d he afford all the beer, though?

5: A weird one.  This business with Reinhold and the girls just comes out of nowhere and doesn’t feel much like the Franz we’ve gotten to know.  The use of music — the seemingly endless stretches of avant-garde piano — was very interesting, though.  I’ve been trying to figure out if the occasional flashing lights mean anything.  Signaling a new direction in Franz’s life, perhaps, but then again they’re ALWAYS on in his apartment, so perhaps not.

6: This movie has been called experimental, but so far it’s relatively conventional.  Long, yes, but it was originally seen as a television series anyway.  I’m enjoying the story, but I don’t know what’s up with Franz’s character.  At times he’s extremely eloquent and insightful, but then other times he’s hopelessly naive… maybe even borderline retarded.  Anyway, I’ve got to pack it in for the night, but I’m looking forward to watching the rest tomorrow (I wonder if Lina will show up again at some point).

(Saturday)
7: At the halfway mark now.  Nothing much new to add, on to part 8. 

8: Between waking up late, taking my cat to the vet, and getting caught up in the S.C. primary coverage (yay Obama!), I’m way behind schedule.  I should still finish it tonight, but there probably won’t be time for anything else.  I get more anxious when I have a lot of stuff to watch, it makes it harder for me to enjoy what I’m doing.  I’m interested in Berlin, but fatigue is also setting in and I’m looking forward to the end.  It’s a good story, and I have no big complaints, but I wouldn’t call it genius filmmaking yet.  Ambitious, yes, genius, no.

9: Now the politics are creeping back in, but it arises much more organically from the plot.  The parallels between Franz and Germany are interesting… I’m curious to know how much of this is Döblin (who wouldn’t have known how bad it would get) and how much is Fassbinder.  I’m getting annoyed with Fassbinder’s narration, too much of this authorial voice intruding on things.

10: This idea for adding to my review after every episode seemed clever at first, but now it’s getting to be a hassle.  I can’t think of much to say.  God, FIVE hours left still?  I think tomorrow I’ll watch the shortest movies I have on deck.

11. I’m still expecting Lina to return at some point.  They built her up as such an important character for the first 3 episodes, and then she just drops out of the picture (is she still with Meck? they never say).  But perhaps she’s gone for good… people drop in and out of our lives all the time.  This story has quite a Dickensian flavor to it.  Another aside: every time I see a picture of Fassbinder, he looks like a drowned rat.  

12. I see now that it was a mistake to try to watch all this consecutively.  It would have been better to break it up as it was originally seen on TV, perhaps one episode a day.  Not that I’m sick of it (I’m not), it’s just kind of tiring to digest it all at once.  Anyway, I won’t be able to finish tonight.  One more episode, but the epilogue (the longest part) will have to wait for tomorrow.  Part 12 is notably light on Franz, instead concentrating quite a bit on Meize and Reinhold.  I don’t like Meize that much, she’s not a very convincing character to me.

13. Fassbinder lays on the narration way too thick here, but perhaps that’s how the novel is, too.  Oh well, I’m beat.  We’ll wrap this up in the morning.

(Sunday)
Epilogue: The ending is both expected (in that we knew Fassbinder was going to go over the top eventually) and surprising (in that he manages to go so far over the top and then rein it back in, and in a satisfactory manner).  The bag of tricks he pulls from — Fellini-esque dream scenes, jumbled religious symbolism, contemporary music out of nowhere, Nazi imagery, and a cameo by himself — are perhaps appropriate, but still annoying.  I don’t know what to think anymore, to be honest.  I’m all Alexanderplatzed out, I’m tired of writing about it (even if I haven’t said much).  Bottom line is this… I pretty much enjoyed watching it, it was generally very well-done and interesting (especially in what it says about Germany), and Lamprecht was terrific.  But I didn’t think it was unassailably brilliant, and I wouldn’t watch it again.  Rating: 8

IMDb
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2 Responses to “Berlin Alexanderplatz”

  1. Though I haven’t seen this, I ran across a mention of it just now in a book I was reading. I’ll pass it along for any interest it might have. It’s on page 48 of LIFE AND DEATH IN THE THIRD REICH in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche:

    “In addition, Goebbels tried to win over proletarian celebrities. The actor Heinrich George, whose stocky build and Berlin accent made him instantly recognizable, had been associated with the Left and had starred in the movie BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ in 1931. Nonetheless, he lent his prestige to the National Socialists, appearing in important films such as JUD SUSS and KOLBERG and drawing the camera’s eye in countless newsreels. He was an extraordinarily valuable catch for the Nazis.”

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