Writers have blogs, but dissertation writers probably shouldn’t.  I realize this after I woke up this morning and realized there’d been a week since the end of the Berlinale and I hadn’t so much as hinted at my experiences there.  Too much other writing going on.

Since I probably have too much to describe anyhow, I will use the woefully insufficient writing device of bullet points to summarize.

During Days 3-10 of the Berlinale 2010, I…

* …attended three retrospective panels with film artists in attendance.
* …discovered an excellent bistro: Marcann’s.
* …helped the HFF and sehsüchte host the Filmhochschule Party at HBC.
* …began planning a DEFA conference.
* …found myself watching more Japanese films than German or American.
* …saw Katrin Saß, Sylvain Chomet and Hanna Schygulla in the flesh.
* …met Gojko Mitic, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Günter Reisch, F.B. Habel, Stefan Haupt, Anton Kaes, Rainer Rother, Ralf Schenk, Günter Agde, Wolfgang Mühl-Benninghaus, Wolfgang Klaue, Karl Griep and Bernd Plattner.  I leave this to be examined by DEFA scholars.
* …regularly got up at 6 a.m. to get my accreditation tickets at Potsdamer Platz.
* …was threatened with physical violence by an angry old woman who thought I had unfairly cut in front of her in the ticket line.
* …wrote eight pages of solid film theory for my dissertation (dork moment).

What films did I watch and what did I think of them?  Scroll down to Fantasy.

Here’s some photographic evidence of my meeting DEFA director Günter Reisch:

Günter Reisch and Evan Torner

Günter Reisch and me at the Progress Reception


The Illusionist (dir. Sylvain Chomet, 2010)

Utterly brilliant. Read my thoughts here.

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (dir. Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillét, 1968)

A history of Bach that preserves its own historicity.  I must have seen this one about six or seven times.  Yet I still have trouble ordering all the images in my head, but they look fantastic in 35mm.

The Law of Desire (dir. Pedro Almodòvar, 1987)

A tightly controlled meditation on the sensual possibilities of film and film-writing through melodrama.  Anticipates Almodòvar’s entire career.

Red Sorghum (dir. Zhang Yimou, 1988)

A Chinese nationalist epic that starts off on the right foot and somehow ends on the far right foot…

Summer Wars (dir. Mamoru Hosoda, 2009)

This is the must-see anime of the year: a look at cyberwarfare through the story of a shogun family in modern times.  Reminds one of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika (2006), with perhaps a far less open ending.

Kyoto Story (dir. Yoji Yamada, 2010)

A declaration of love to Kyoto Uzumasa, site of the former film studios.  A fictional love triangle is masterfully interwoven into the daily lives of real shopkeepers on a real street.


The Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) is now underway, and I’m here to offer a brief report.

DAY ONE – Feb. 11, 2010

After meeting by chance a friend (Hilary Bown) on the way through Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, I shuffled by the sleeping ticket-hopefuls on the Ground Floor (where the festival tickets are to be had if you’re not accredited) to the accredited individuals line.  This was about 8:30 a.m., which is important because the most optimal time to get in line to pick up the tickets is about 7:00.  Fortunately, I only wished for a single Retrospective ticket (see short film review below) and got it fairly easily after about 20 min. in line.  Then I boarded the train to Potsdam-Babelsberg, so as to work on my theory chapter for the dissertation.

Upon my arrival at the HFF, I noticed a few things were funny.  One was that a ridiculously large crew of technicians had assembled tents and camera equipment next to the HFF entrance.  The second was the giant atomic logo proclaiming the “Universität für Natur und Technik” hanging above the entrance.  The third was the elaborate security desk set built inside, accompanied with a sudden increase in the number of “students” in the school in the form of extras.  Having a lot of work on my plate, I ignored all of these things until I saw the name of the film on the back of the director and producer’s chairs: Unknown White Male.  “Isn’t that the film they’re shooting with Liam Neeson?” I said to myself, remembering some U-Bahn “news” on a monitor.  Then the film crew called the first take, and I saw none other than Liam Neeson round the corner.  The whole HFF library stopped and gawked as they did several takes of him walking around the corner, surrounded by fake students.  Then they moved to do interior shots, wherein Neeson is storming down the stairs of the HFF.  We in the cafeteria had to “keep our voices down” during the shoot…

No actual Berlinale events were attended, but I imagined that they involved other celebrities as well.  I’d already had my celebrity for the day, however.

DAY TWO – Feb. 12, 2010

Again, I stood with the accredited people, though this time at 7:00 a.m.  There were a group of accredited HFF students there this time, so it was a more social experience than the previous occasion.  The ticket for Lights of Asakusa was secured, and I returned home to eat a big breakfast with Kat before heading to Cinemaxx for our first film: Tales of Hoffmann (1951).  Just before I left, I was notified through acquaintances that a Ph.D. student at Cornell University writing on Weimar cinema would be present at the screening – and so he was.  We all burrowed our way past the filmmakers giving interviews and the jostling bodies of old filmmakers and movie-goers alike to get to our screening (short film review below).  We then went out for coffee at our dear local Café Kleisther, and then spent the rest of the evening with pizza, conversation and bad movies.

So a cosmopolitan sort I am not, but I am seeing the festival!


BERLINALE (Retrospective) – Tales of Hoffmann (dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1951-52)

Seen in CineMaxx on Potsdamer Platz.  Jacques Offenbach’s opera delighted audiences at the first Berlinale, and I daresay people were pretty into it this time around.  The combination of theater, literature, opera and film in an awkward, schizophrenic mix adheres to Powell and Pressburger’s trademark style seen in The Thief of Baghdad or The Red Shoes.  Nevertheless, there are so many Technicolor feasts for the eyes that this piece still stands out as somehow more opulent.
(Not everyone was as entertained as I.  The guy next to Kat was quite literally snoring.)

Alraune (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1952)

A fairy tale about the evils of artificial insemination: a mad scientist creates a woman from the semen of a hanged criminal and the womb of a prostitute.  Angst and melodrama ensue as his resultant “daughter” Alraune (played by Hildegard Knef) proves irresistably attractive and fatal to all the men around her.  Karlheinz Böhm plays Alraune’s repressed cousin and Erich von Stroheim the mad scientist.  Edgy stuff for 1951?

Buffalo and the Indians (dir. Robert Altman, 1976)

A brilliant and definitively overlooked backstage drama posing as a western.  All of Buffalo Bill’s arrogance vis-à-vis his own mythologization comes back to haunt him in the form of one man:  his act Sitting Bull.  Of all the Altman films I’ve seen, this one is probably the one with the clearest “take-away message” while still maintaining open narrative (“What did Sitting Bull want to ask Grover Cleveland?”)

Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)

The first time I saw it in a room full of people.  I didn’t laugh once.

The Number 23 (dir. Joel Schumacher, 2007)

A highly flawed thriller that nevertheless contains something I like:  a family that sticks together in spite of the paranoid delusions of one of its members.  What didn’t work were any of the flashback sequences in which Jim Carrey’s character Walter “imagines” himself into the book The Number 23.

Chaplin (dir. Richard Attenborough, 1991)

A combination of overt textual seriousness and terrible editing (including the overuse of, above all, the barn-door wipe) makes this possibly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.  This was part of a spat of 1990s sentimental films (I’m thinking Forever Young) that couldn’t muster proper affective potential for the subject matter.  Do not touch.