Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Beheaded Rooster

I wrote a comment to the film The Beheaded Rooster over at the IMDb site. I watched it this morning and enjoyed it. It got mixed reviews, and two of the three comments at the IMDb site also were pretty negative. I'll limit my comments here to supplemental information. 

As an aside, my grandfather left Siebenbürgen before 1913 when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He went to Vienna and then on to the US. He spoke a clear high German with a slight accent colored by his time in Vienna with just a touch of Slavic inflection. As the press for the film points out, the history of Germans in Siebenbürgen goes back 800 years.

I thought both female leads -- neither of whom I was familiar with -- were quite good and that both could have careers in Germany, if not in the US.  As it turns out, one of them "Alicja Bachleda" did subsequently appear in the film Trade, which also got mixed reviews.

Alicja Bachleda played the
Jewish girl Gisela

Ioana Iacob played the rich girl Alfa

The film is based on a novel by Eginald Schlattner.  It is set in a German-speaking section of Romania before and during World War II.  It is a tale of growing up in a particular time and place.  I'd recommend checking out this english-language site to get some more background on the film.  Schlattner himself also is quite an interesting figure, as well as being somewhat controversial in Romania.

"Among the few [Transylvania Saxons who did not flee and who were not killed after WWII] (today there are an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 compared with 250,000 earlier) was the novelist Eginald Schlattner, born in 1933, a Transylvanian Saxon. Schlattner started to write after the Second World War. He was captured by the Securitate secret service and tortured by them until he betrayed five German-speaking writer colleagues and even his own brother. They were sentenced to long years of forced labour. Schlattner himself was sentenced to two years for 'failure to denounce high treason'. The victims never forgave Schlattner and he has never reconciled himself to the betrayal, as he admits himself."

The film focuses more on the relationships between and among four young Transylvania Saxons and their graduating class.  The political environment plays a secondary role.  Only at the end of the film does the war come to the village where the film is set.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that Alicja Bachleda appears to be married to Colin Ferrell now.  Maybe he recognized her talent.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Fucking Basket of Coal

Some people, as they approach the end of their lives, wither, some burn more brightly. Roger Ebert is going out with a bang. He can no longer speak or eat, but his writing is clear, passionate and copious.  He inspires awe. Esquire Magazine has paid tribute to Ebert with an interview entitled “Roger Ebert: The Essential Man”. The picture of Ebert says it all. The normally macho, image-oriented Esquire gives high praise to a man who has been crippled by disease and who is horrifying to look at, but whose spirit is unbent.

The quote that inspired me the most was:

"I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."

If you are interested, Ebert also has a blog. He’s been posting away, and he regularly responds to comments. I’ve been particularly pleased to note that Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, a great American novel and one of my favorites, has provided Ebert comfort these past months.  See also here.

Here is Ebert on Suttree:

"I have read all of McCarthy's fiction, and for my money this is his best novel, but ("therefore," I want to add) appears to be his least-mentioned. Just read this:

It is little more than dawn when the general comes down Front Street slumped in the front of his coalwagon, the horse named Golgotha hung between the trees and stumbling along in the cold with his doublejointed knees and his feet clopping and the bright worn quoits winking feebly among the clattering spokes. (...)

It was six degrees above zero. Suttree crawled from his bed, pulled on his coat and got his trousers and climbed up onto the bed so cold the floor was. He squatted and fished his socks out from beneath the cot and shook out the dust and pulled them on and stepped into his shoes and went to the door. Mist swirled about him. The old black coalpedlar sat his cart, the horse sidled and stamped.

Couldn't you just leave a basket and go on?

I see you ain't froze, said the general, climbing down.

The novel is written entirely with that attention. You haven't even started it until you've started it the second time. After weeks of depression, hopelessness and regret, realizing the operation had failed and I would probably not speak again, after murky medications and no interest in movies, television, books or even the morning paper, it was the bleak, sad Suttree that started me to life again. Spare me happy books that will cheer me up. I was fighting it out with Suttree. I didn't want a condo in Florida. I wanted a fucking basket of coal."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Berlinale 2010

As you might have noticed, I'm a bit of a film buff. I've been hoping to attend the Berlinale one of these years, but each year I seem to find myself just a bit too far behind work -- and the bank account just a bit too empty -- to justify the trip. This year, however, is the closest I have been in recent memory to being able to take the time off. If I am diligent and don't get sidetracked, as so often in my meandering life, I hope to report from Berlin next year.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Berlinale. Last night there was a real treat on German TV. The Berlinale presented a new, restored original cut of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The Old Opera House in Frankfurt also had a simulcast with a live orchestra. We sat at home and watched the film on TV. Not only was there live orchestral music, the music was based on the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. Here is a quote from the blurb linked to above.

"For decades crucial scenes from the film - whose restoration in 2001 led to it being the first film recognized as belonging to the UNESCO World Documentary Heritage – were considered lost. Due to the sensational discovery of a 16-mm negative in Buenos Aires in 2008 and its current restoration, Metropolis can now be shown in its almost completely restored - more than 30 minute longer – original version."

Metropolis really is a seminal film that has influenced so many later directors. An added treat this year is that Werner Herzog is the head of the prize jury. For some reason he has not been celebrated as much here in Germany as abroad, so this is a belated embrace of the great director whose films have had such a big influence on me and others.

Shades of Bladerunner

My Favorite Scene

Dr. Strangelove I Presume?

1927 -- Intimations of Things to Come?

Winter Memories

We had another fresh frosting of snow on Friday.  It somehow got me to thinking about a trip Fräulein Bloggerboy and I took with two friends to Austria in 2009 so that Fräulein Bloggerboy and her friend could take a week of skiing lessons.  I learned how to ski at the ripe old age of 22 and almost ruined my hands and knees in the process.  After close to twenty outings in the Pyrenees, I decided that alpine skiing did not interest me, primarily because I find it absurd to go into the mountains to be near nature and then spend my time on manmade slopes and lifts with traffic as bad as on the Autobahn.  Nope, not for me.  I later tried cross-country and found it much more to my liking.  I have to put up with a bit of ribbing from Europeans who think of cross country as a sport for old folks, but it gets me into the woods and, occasionally, away from the crowds.  But everyone should have a chance to learn how to ski.  We found a reasonably-priced pension in a family-friendly place that included breakfast and a warm meal every evening, and off we went.  The village is located at about 1,400 meters, so snow was a certainty.

A Village in Tirol

A Retaurant with an Old Cart as its "Logo" 

Another old Building in the Center of Town
(notice the solar panels?)

The Cross Country Trails were Mostly Empty

Dawn in the Mountains

I was self-taught at cross country and collected numerous bruises to prove it, so I was happy to take three half-days of lessons while everyone else was on the slopes.  The teacher was a crusty old local guy who worked for the local ski club and spoke German with a heavy Austrian accent.  I think I was the youngest in the group, but not the best.  I gather that many older people for whom the slopes have become too tiring or dangerous retire to cross country.  They generally adapt quickly to cross country.  I finally learned how to brake with cross country skiis.  It is not an efficient process, a bit hard on the knees, and it demands a bit of skill, snowplowing with one ski while the other one remains in the track.  On our last outing, we tried a black run, but we ended up having to cut it short because everyone was falling.  I used the next two days to try out an interesting range of blue and red trails that led up and away from the village.  My big reward came on the second day when I climbed for what seemed like two hours.  My heart rate kept climbing up to 140 to 150 beats a minute.  I stopped on a sunny, quiet stretch of the trail overlooking an uninhabited valley to eat a lunch that I had packed from our breakfast buffet.  Finally, after a few more minutes of climbing, at a trail head between a black trail that climbed to over 2200 meters and the red trail that returned to the village, I headed back and enjoyed a two kilometer glide through silent woods.  The incline was so mild that I did not need to brake at all.  I just bent my knees slightly, let my poles hang and enjoyed the silence, the snow and the woods.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowpocalypse -- Real Winter II

An American Weather Report
(No wonder they think we're crazy)

Things have gone back to normal here in mild Frankfurt.  The East Coast of the US got hit badly last weekend.  A friend of mine in the suburbs of DC got hit hard.  She said that they lost electricity for seven hours and that it took a while for her street to get dug out.  Losing electricity in a blizzard must be a scary feeling if you don't have an alternative means of staying warm.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Real Winter

Having grown up mostly in the South and having experienced mostly mild winters in Germany since moving here, this is the first time in almost fifty years that I have experienced a real winter.  A low front named Daisy brought snow on January 9 that covered the entire country -- the so-called geschlossene Schneedecke.  I bet that looks neat from space.  We have had snow on the ground ever since.  The temperatures have not been extremely cold.  Using my trusty metric converter I can tell you that the lows rarely get below about 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10° C).  It generally gets close to 32°F each day, or even a bit warmer, just enough to allow a bit of thaw and to prevent large amounts of snow from collecting in the streets.  But it snows regularly, sometimes daily, allowing the geschlossene Schneedecke to maintain a pristine gloss.  I'm the only one in the family not complaining about snow.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime treat for me.  Had I spent years in Michigan or Ohio, I'd certainly be dreaming of Florida by now.  I just opened up the balcony door for a few minutes to let in some fresh air as a new round of snow began to fall.  Boy is the air clear.  To let in fresh air is called to "Lüften" (literally "to air"; Luft = air).  That will be the subject of a later post.  There is a whole science and philosophy about Lüften, and Frau Bloggerboy and I have a running dispute about the proper way to Lüften.  Whenerver one German decides to Lüften, another German usually complains that "es zieht" (there's a draft).  It's a German thing.