Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2004 07:03:48 +0100
From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman dsl.pipex.com>
DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT. PART 5: PLAYING WITH FREEDOM, Helga 1962.
The title of the episode is in itself intriguing, is it not? Does Reitz mean to imply that the students are not real revolutionaries and that they are like little children playing in the sand pit, trying this and trying that and then going home to dinner. Is he suggesting that they are not really serious? Secondly, what kind of freedom is meant? Is it on the personal level? Here we would have young people struggling to find a modus vivendi of their own, free from the restrictions and prejudices of their parents or the previous generation. Or is it on the political level? Here there would be a search for new structures and organisation; a search for a new social order, if you like. These questions arise in the mind before we begin. What do we find?
The riots that begin on Corpus Christi, 22nd June 1962, in Munich, as depicted here, are certainly not political to begin with. They involve the arrest of 3 street musicians, but what is quickly revealed, is the hostility of the forces of law and order [the police] to the younger generation, especially students. I take it these scenes are based on actual events. I do not remember here in the UK the same level of police brutality and corruption as we are shown here, although I do remember, for instance, being caught up in a massive anti-Vietnam protest in Grosvenor Square, the site of the American Embassy in London, and being knocked to the ground! I do not remember the year. Anyway, Hermann has his precious guitar smashed on the street cobbles by an irate policeman ["It was my guitar that provoked their hatred"] and receives two pretty violent blows from a police truncheon, as he runs down the stairs and escapes from the police station, where he has gone to protest about his treatment. He makes good use of these wounds later in his escapades.
When Helga arrives back at the Fuchsbau with bleeding hand [was this self-inflicted or am I being too cynical?] Fraulein Cerphal exclaims, "Have they declared open season on students?" and thinking back to the Nazis, "The mob is in uniform again." Hermann has been venting his anger upon the piano, but, after Elisabeth Cerphal attempts to reassure him that he will eventually be a success, he gives us an outline of his political cum creative position, which is not that of a left-wing radical but more a statement of a belief in individual freedom not freedom for others. It would be deemed hopelessly elitist and selfish by many. "I'll never do what pleases the masses, I swear it. The masses are sick and crude like the state. Long live the individual!" He shows no desire for any kind of corporate action. They are more the words of a creative anarchist, perhaps.
The tour de force of this episode is undoubtedly Hermann's seduction in Dülmen, not by two women, as at the age of 16, but by three women this time; Dorli, Marianne and Helga. The scene is brilliantly done. Everything seems so natural as it happens, and yet, in reality, it is out of this world. Hermann sits at the piano playing Beethoven and is gradually stripped to the waist as he plays, whilst the three women caress and soothe his wounds and sexually excite him and themselves. The scene is tremendously erotic but is never sordid or spoilt by shots of genitalia and tumescence, as in so many modern, exploitative films. The three sirens/enchantresses are sexual and beautiful, especially Marianne, played very sensuously by Irene Kugler. In a masterstroke of daring a little later, after the dinner party for Helga's 23rd birthday, Hermann escapes from the house and joins the bold Marianne in her apartment in scenes of abandoned and beautiful love-making. I remember the great swish of a wonderful piece of peacock blue and red drapery being towed into the bedroom.
I used the word "sirens" to describe Helga, Dorli and Marianne. I did this deliberately, as Reitz sets up all kinds of Homeric echoes for us. I do not know if we can make exact equivalences all round, but Hermann is certainly Odysseus. Hermann himself tells us as he arrives at Helga's house: "I tried hard to stay in control. I was Hermann W. Simon, the brilliant composer, with no roots, no Heimat, like Odysseus, cast up here by chance." At the door we have the Cyclops, the door keeper to Hades, the underworld; the port-hole in the door, through which Granny peers, is her one eye. We will see what a Hell is inside later. He is refused entry. After finding Helga and her friends in the street he is fed [Marianne pops a piece of hot-dog into his mouth] and he is not reluctant to reveal his wounds in order to elicit sympathy. In Dorli's attic food and drink are presented to the wounded hero. All the riches of the world, in the form of cakes and more cakes smothered in cream, are brought before him. It is a scene of excess. The camera focuses from above on writhing limbs and hands and feet and skin. It is noticeable that Helga takes a back seat in much of the action, quotes Nietzsche, I believe, and eventually faints. This brings proceedings to an end and Hermann is left as Dorli's prisoner. He reflects: "For a while I had a feeling anything was possible. Was this the start of something new? Freedom.I was afraid." He is certainly not talking about political freedom. What does he mean? Does he mean freedom from earlier experiences; from Munich; from Clarissa?? What exactly does he mean by the word "this"? Has he realised for the first time how attractive he is to women!!
Helga is in love with him. She had rebuffed him in the Cerphal library when he had tried to take her quite suddenly and violently on the couch, calling him an "animal" but she wished she had not turned him away. She has bought new sexy, black underwear to turn Hermann on, but all her efforts are undone by her repulsive and prowling grandmother. Hermann is unable to perform, although, of course he has Marianne's invitation on his mind as well. However, did you notice a grimace pass over Helga's features [twice, I think] as she prepares to receive Hermann? She reminds me of Renate in her obsession/overwhelming desire for sex with Hermann, but there is something hard and off-putting about her character. She is a virgin, as a question to Marianne reveals, and may be partly afraid, but she is shown as lacking all warmth and spontaneity. The calculation is all too obvious! When I saw this episode for the first time I find I had scribbled these words on the list of episodes: "Hermann betrays Helga with Marianne. He makes the right choice!"
Hermann definitely succumbs to Marianne, the enchantress, the Circe of this episode. Her friends find her beautiful. Dorli says at one point, "If I were a man" and does not finish her sentence but means she would "fancy" Marianne. As Hermann and Marianne walk ahead Dorli and Helga whistle/sing "Here comes the bride" and mock with these words: "A nice couple especially from behind!" Marianne and Hermann make love passionately but also tenderly. Although there is an element of bravado in Marianne's behaviour [she is married with two twin girls] she seems to love Hermann very deeply. There is a wonderful touch from Reitz when he causes Hermann to find Marianne crying in distress underneath the twisted sheet. It is left unexplained. Is she crying for her lost youth [she is 11 years older than Hermann]? Does she feel guilty about the betrayal of her husband? Or most likely is she riven with anguish because she knows she will have to give up this youth of her desires? She must let him go! The beautiful enchantress and siren has now turned in to tragic heroine! She is perceptive. She can tell Hermann has been hurt in the past. She finds him gentle, unlike her husband[?] and does not want to lose him. "You're a dream", she says, but she is intelligent enough to know that dreams do not last. Your aged correspondent was deeply moved by this!!
I was moved in a different way by some of the characterisation. Did anyone else find Helga's grandmother a total caricature? She is the patroller of the corridors, the keeper of the gate; she drinks heavily from her bottle of Bols, stuffs her face with chicken legs, and makes coarse and vulgar remarks about, for instance, Dorli's family. She interferes in her grand-daughter's life and has a horror of sex but has no compunction in damning those of whom she does not approve. I did not believe in her for a moment! Neither do parents come out of things very well in DZH. Helga's father is prejudiced, right-wing and authoritarian as well as being argumentative and dogmatic.
There is a little hell in that suburban house and it is easy to see why Helga becomes what she does. The stiffness and formality, as they all sit around the dinner table, tells us all we need to know about this bourgeois, suburban family.
Edgar Reitz writes very interestingly about his choice of Henry Arnold to play Hermann in "Drehort Heimat" [see archive of old posts, page 952/3]. He says that "It would have been fatal if I had made a hero out of Hermann" and that "nothing better could have happened to the film." However, it is this episode that made me feel the inadequacies of Arnold's acting. He seems to lack depth. He portrays deep emotions by raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes. Reitz seems satisfied that he should appear to be comic. He writes: "Hermann, who with his pipe dream of immortality comes out of the provinces and becomes an artist, manoeuvres himself again and again into life-situations that are downright comic: because again and again he demands too much from himself, both in an artistic respect and also in love. Henry Arnold could play a Hermann that one might laugh over. I offered him the role." To me, he constantly has the look of a small boy with his hand caught in the sweetie jar. Perhaps that was why Marianne was given the line, "Your eyes are so questioning."
I am not sure I want a Hermann to laugh at, nor was Marianne. Nor is Clarissa!! Did you notice the moth fluttering on the window sill of the room in the house in Sylt? Could it represent Hermann trying to find his way? I liked the mentions of England, especially when Hermann reflects as he arrives in Sylt on a day of evil black weather with rain and wind; "I imagined England beyond the horizon." You can say that again!!
Now to the ending! Back at Fuchsbau Clarissa is suddenly framed in the window. Her hands and wrists are bandaged, caused perhaps by over practising her cello and Hermann's piece? She asks Hermann about his music and he replies: "Mistakes" and "Detours". He is talking about his personal life, not music, as I think she realises. He knows his true love is there next to him. I found it strangely refreshing to see her again, such is the power of Salome Kammer's performance. The whole of this episode has in its own way been a long and interesting detour!! But Hermann has not found freedom on
any level, has he?