I have titled this blog entry based not only on Keanu Reeves’ favorite expression, but also on my sudden feeling of being stunned in the middle of the action.
A re-cap of my weekend: I celebrated my 27th birthday on Friday, first by going over to Luisa and Ming’s place in Kreuzberg for a nice lunch where we discussed a future mini-film festival that we’ll hold in their apartment. It was extremely wonderful to be engaged in an intense discussion about film, politics and what have you with several earnest professionals who know what they’re talking about. I then made myself a cake and then went to Hilary Bown’s apartment with Kira to play classic Monopoly. Now I categorically hate Monopoly – we might as well record 30 of our dice rolls on a chart and see who wins – but coupling it with late-night drinking made it alright. On Saturday and Sunday, I got out to La Foccaceria in Mitte – a great, cheap pizza place – and to the Brandenburg Gate to watch the “Riesen” (“Giants”) get dressed by about 20 puppeteers for their march through Berlin. (Since there were way too many people there for the puppets, I left after they crossed through the Brandenburg Gate… which was itself a spectacle, since I didn’t know if the guy in the diving suit would make it).
Now for the “whoa” part: our orientation program at the HFF Potsdam today. Ever since I arrived in Berlin, I’ve been given a handful of unstructured weeks in which to A) get settled in my apartment, B) waste time at the LABO trying to get a visa, C) write some fiction and D) structure my dissertation research. As of today, that unstructured time is officially gone. For the next three weeks, I belong to the HFF, which means I’m now “sneaking in” my research at night. Our orientation program began with a stunning “country boy” rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” performed by one of the students, followed by a pep talk from Stefan Arndt (Run Lola Run, Goodbye Lenin!) in which he basically said “I never went to film school – I just made films. Use this film school opportunity to watch and make films!” Then we were all introduced in our different fields – film direction, production, film and media studies (my area), cinematography, acting, music composition, etc. – and handed these nifty tote bags. After we met with our respective faculties, we then returned to the auditorium to be divided up into 10 groups – irrespective of our respective fields – that in 3 weeks time will each complete a “introductory film.” I’m only slightly nervous about the fact that our group primarily contains people from film direction, production, screenwriting and film studies, and nobody from cinematography, editing, sound, or film music. This may influence what film we wind up producing. We were given a tour today of the facilities and of all the state-of-the-art film technology that the HFF now has to offer, so only tomorrow do we have to think about the film we’re going to make. But still: it was quite funny to suddenly show up and be asked to make a film in three weeks with a group of complete strangers.
Nevertheless – and I think this is the larger point – these people soon grew (over the course of one day!) to be more than just strangers. I think there’s just under 100 people in our entering class in total, which means our departments aren’t that big and everybody is very collegial with one another. Add to that the fact that I’m like an exotic animal, being an American who speaks very good German and has a hyper-acute knowledge of East/West German film history, and Bam! I found myself in conversations with people the entire day. I shared some music with one student, bantered with the media studies professors about recent films, and gave a group of my peers a crash course on the historical significance of Konrad Wolf’s I Was 19. That is to say, I am suddenly academically at home as well. BUT being academically at home is exhausting to say the least, so I’d better hit the sack for the next day of intensive introduction to the top film school in Germany…
Never Drive A Car While You’re Dead (dir. Gregor Dashuber, Germany 2009)
Possibly the greatest animated short I’ve seen in a long time, Never Drive a Car While You’re Dead should be up for an Academy Award – except those only exist to praise Pixar these days. The premise? A guy in a crappy apartment – vaguely resembling Cahit’s from Gegen die Wand (2004) – tries to commit suicide, but feels compelled instead to play his piano. This piano quite literally drives him into the nightmarish hellhole neighborhood he lives in, which has been shaped by neo-liberal capitalism and Baudrillard’s “apocalypse of the Real,” resplendent with violent penguins, Siamese twin prostitutes, and assorted suffering people. A group of like-minded people follow him to his own grave, at which point he wakes up, tries to commit suicide and (I’m giving away the twist) poetically fails. This film had an understated, well-executed soundtrack, an animation style drawing from both classic Thames cartoons (e.g. Count Duckula) as well as MTV, and a fiercely sarcastic message that it manages to maintain throughout the piece. I think it’s amazing that they showed us such a bleak product as an introduction to the HFF, but it’s bold, aggressive and has a clear message. Bravo!
The Falcon’s Trail (dir. Gottfried Kolditz, GDR 1968)
Well, it turns out I watched White Wolves too early, as it’s the sequel to this film. White men find gold in the Black Hills, and so the evil capitalists maneuver to try and take the land away from the Dakotas. Kolditz’s first foray into Indianerfilm territory only sort of succeeds: he doesn’t include as many stunts with Gojko Mitic as Konrad Petzold but, man, does he go out of his way to depict an outright massacre of the Dakotas by the white men! This is a recurring trope throughout the DEFA Indianerfilme that we always find ourselves somehow vicariously experiencing some massacre of one tribe or another. This reminds me of Quinn Slobodian’s article on “corpse polemics” and the fascination among the West German tabloids for the grotesquely murdered and mutilated African bodies.
Cool Thing Gojko Does: Mount and ride a bareback horse.
The other major detail is also the crazy war dances performed which harken back to Kolditz’s musical training and serve as a precursor to the crazy alien dances in In the Dust of the Stars (1976).
Fatal Error (dir. Konrad Petzold, GDR 1970)
Okay, instead of gold, this time the white men find oil on the Shoshone’s land and conspire to take it away. The Shoshone are bribed with, of all things, alcohol to make them weak (the same trope is used in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Bouncer Vol. 6 The Black Widow) so they can simply be cheated and murdered.
Cool Thing Gojko Does: Actually, this is more Armin Mueller-Stahl’s movie (good thing his cowboy grew up with the Shoshone), but Gojko does take on drunk Shoshones armed with flaming torches who want to set fire to the oil tower on their property.
I Was 19 (dir. Konrad Wolf, GDR 1968)
Of all things, the HFF Konrad Wolf spends the first day – ta da! – showing us a film by Konrad Wolf. This was good, because I’ve seen the film plenty of times earlier and was able to see it through new eyes on a 35mm print of middling quality. I was most impressed this time with the way in which Konrad Wolf’s autobiography and his unified film vision sometimes come into conflict. He toys with details that he remembers from his past, but such details intrude on otherwise more seamless cuts and more transparent characters. Still, there are few better films to use to discuss the Russian invasion of Germany ca. late April 1945.
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