(Kat is coming Sunday afternoon! The excitement had to be noted.)
Saturday proved an intensely social time for the solitary little me. My first engagement was helping my friend Jan F. (from my Grinnell years) paint his old apartment in Friedrichshain. Most people might’ve said “Spend an afternoon in Berlin painting? No way!” I see it differently: activities that make me feel like a real person within a larger community are always welcome to me, and what better activity than applying white paint to not-so-white-anymore walls accomplishes this? Our chief concern was actually the fact that I hadn’t brought any “old clothes” to Germany (would you – seriously – bring along your painting clothes as part of your luggage?), so we rigged together an outfit out of a garbage bag for the day, which worked rather well in the end.
After whitifying ~1.5 rooms in Jan’s apartment, my arm grew tired and I departed for the Yellow Sunshine Diner, an excellent and affordable Berlin eating experience for the vegetarian and vegan-inclined among us, to meet Beverly and Kira. Our food was delicious – I had the Lappland Burger – and then we migrated to Café Bilderbuch in Schöneberg for drinks and dessert. A fine day overall!
Monday marked our second day of shooting for the HFF Konrad Wolf film. Again we experienced no problems (our final cut of the film is already turned in, in fact), and were even able to eat/imbibe some of the props… I will conduct a thorough analysis of our own film after its initial release on Friday, given that its premature summary jeopardizes its humor value.
(In between reality and fantasy, there’s interpretation. Here are a couple of academic books I’ve read in full and can discuss in brief):
Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks, Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race
This was a highly engrossing book, complicated in its argumentation but simple enough in premise: the world’s problem isn’t racism, but race as a construct, and it is specifically a product of whiteness, a Lacanian master signifier that organizes the paradoxical forces of identity (heritage: where you come from) and visibility (what do you look like, and what’s non-white about it). Using the Lacanian logic of gender difference to explore the interaction of whiteness as master signifier with non-whiteness as a closed-system of pre-determined (and stereotyped) meanings, Seshadri manages to philosophically clarify what the heck do we mean by race and how we signify it. Then she heads into her discipline – English literature – for a plethora of philosophical examples to illustrate her points. A great work of scholarship, if a bit biased toward issues primarily concerning English departments nowadays.
Mark Cronlund Anderson, Cowboy Imperialism and Hollywood Film
Anderson’s book is what I would consider a historian’s academically fueled rant against the right-wing politics of frontier westerns and their pernicious legacy across other genres. Replete with swear words and hard-line diatribes, his argument basically contends that Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 essay The Significance of the Frontier in American History has provided an academic justification for the American imperialism of the 20th and 21st Centuries, best sugar-coated through the cinema presence of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and others. Some of his film selections proved rather interesting: he prompted me to watch Howard Hawks’ classic Red River (1948) in full and consider Mario van Peebles’ Posse (1993) an extension of the frontier myth through the semblance of re-writing the race rules of the western genre – all useful for the dissertation. I just wouldn’t recommend the work for those who want an academically disciplined, post-colonial genre discourse analysis across a broad range of national cinemas.
The Power of Nightmares (dir. Adam Curtis, UK 2004)
I remember watching Century of the Self a year ago and thinking it was a fairly decent intellectual history of public relations and the Freudian basis of modern advertising (not to mention commercial narrative, in general). The Power of Nightmares is kind of like that documentary mixed together with Peter Davis’ Hearts and Minds (1974), the recap of what Vietnam was really about. Three hours of comparing neo-conservatives (as if they were different from neo-liberals, but I digress) to the radical Islamists in the Middle East actually proves quite interesting, since Curtis managed to snag crucial interviews from both sides, delivering a very even-handed and sober account of the web of fear and lies concocted by either party to support their political agendas. Maybe in ten years we’ll get a documentary about all the domestic damage the neo-cons have wrought too.
The Piano (dir. Jane Campion, UK/New Zealand 1993)
A heavy work of post-colonial, Freudian melodrama, complete with primal scenes, sado-masochism, and conflicts over the power over sexuality and the means of self-expression. I thought Anna Paquin’s character really held this film together, though all the actors – including Harvey Keitel in his standard “I’m naked!” scene – contributed to the high quality of this film. And Michael Nyman’s soundtrack is still one of the best modern piano scores out there. ‘Twas overall better than Forrest Gump (1994), but was probably too haunting (and too “directed by a woman”) to win the Oscar that year.
Lovers on the Road (dir. Jessey Tsang Tsui-shan, China 2008)
There’s an Asian Women’s Film Festival happening at the Kino Arsenal, so I figured I should go take a look at the offerings. It turned out the filmmaker was present for the screening, which was a short feature about a relationship on the rocks after the couple moves from Hong Kong to Beijing for the boyfriend’s graphic design career. Our female protagonist leads us through the ambivalence of passionless life transitions, which ultimately leads her to have an affair with an itinerant Japanese barista and then decide perhaps to do something else with her life (we don’t know for sure). One particularly great portion of the film involves audio interviews conducted with various (one presumes) real people who have recently come to Beijing for assorted purposes. This documentary realism provides a welcome diversion to an otherwise introverted and claustrophobic (one might say “angsty”) portrayal of relations between two fictional characters. Ah, alienation.
Apaches (dir. Gottfried Kolditz, GDR/Romania/Poland 1973)
This was/is, bar none, the most popular GDR Indianerfilm, and there are many good reasons for this. Reason #1: Gojko Mitic actually co-wrote this one, which means there are lots of scenes of him doing neat things and kicking ass. Reason #2: All the moralizing of the earlier Indianerfilme was stripped away for a basic good vs. evil scenario: evil capitalists mass-murder the Apaches because they could, and then the Apaches exact bloody revenge. Sergio Leone would’ve been proud. Reason #3: The cool thing Gojko does is firing a flaming arrow at a covered wagon, which then explodes. If I were 10 years-old and watching this thing (sort of like the logic that drove the recent G.I. Joe movie, in fact), I would’ve been mesmerized.
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