Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 14:41:46 +0100
From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman>


PART 1: The First Songs, Hermann 1960

I would guess that, in some senses, my introductions to this film will be superfluous or even worse, as there must be many, many people out there who know far more about DZH than I do. I only saw it for the first time just over 6 months ago, having recorded all the episodes and then confining the tapes to my loft, with the intention of watching them one day, perhaps after I retired. In addition, to further add to my embarrassment, my expertise in the fields of music and the visual arts is virtually non-existent. I have been looking at the work of Alan Andres and Barry Fogden on the website and am mightily impressed. I wonder if they, or others, will be continuing and completing their encyclopaedic listing and identifying of the vast array of cultural references in DZH. I shall concentrate on matters such as characterisation, narrative, significances and symbols; in short, perhaps a plain man's guide/response to the film.

Well here we go! I am still suffering from Heimat withdrawal symptoms, as perhaps many of you are, but I had not realised, until now, how closely the beginning of First Songs grows out of Part 9 [Hermannchen] of "Heimat". Klärchen's letter has been intercepted and read by Maria. Anton has been sent for. The film opens with the camera panning around the kitchen concentrating on the unfinished business of slicing and preserving vegetables. The letter lies open upon the table. Hermann is shown in his room with the letter, having retreated there and locked the door. He screams, "Nein", as his mother and Anton beat upon the door, almost causing the picture of Hermann's father to fall to the floor. We had seen all this in "Heimat", hadn't we, but then we depart into new territory. He throws open the inner door and in a great burst of light he moves toward the outer window, and, in a strange orange light, Hermann makes his vow. There are religious overtones here. Strains of organ music are heard. The light from the window casts a kind of halo on Hermann's face, and, like a religious devotee, he vows to God that he will never love again, that he will leave the Hunsrück for ever, and that he will learn from the great composers of the past, for they were alone too. There is a slight problem in that our young, intellectual is a heretic, as he puts it later, but he knows God will hear him as "You are in me". This melodramatic, Romantic declaration sets the tone of the alienated artist, alone and defiant against the world, familiar in Romantic literature in both England and Germany. I think of the poets Coleridge and the young Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley. I also noticed that Hermann becomes aware of his reflection in the mirror of a wardrobe door, which has swung open; kneeling in his underpants he sees his image. I spotted this idea of reflection and image several times more, even in this first episode. Here is a man who watches himself, as it were. We return to the religious theme once more, when we see Hermann thundering out the toccata in the church. In "Heimat" Lotti had appeared through the door, hadn't she?

I was convinced by Hermann's intellectual powers by his performance in the viva examination. By his intellectual display he converts his Grade 5 in Religion into a Grade 1 without offending the Chaplain too much!! I was convinced by Hermann's musical abilities by the tour-de-force of his concerto for the school audience, which is received with tumultuous applause. Not only is Marie-Goot in the audience but also Schnusschen, whom we remember from the Rhineland fun-fair ["I showed him how to kiss"]. He rejects the Chaplain's request that he makes a retreat "to subdue his pride" but notes that, as the Chaplain moves off in the rain, "I saw that he was crying for me". Hermann has this great capacity to make others love him, as we see throughout the episode and the film. Our hero is now ready!

Do you notice how often it is raining in Reitz's films? It is September 2nd, 1960 when Hermann leaves in the early morning gloom and takes the bus out. "Leaving home I sought my second home" and he does not look back. The camera does, on a wet, dismal scene, with a farmer driving his sheep across the road in the murky darkness. We do not see or witness any farewell with his mother. On the train to Munich he meets a Herr Edel, played by Alfred Edel, an enigmatic figure who later nicknames Hermann, "Jesus". He is full of rhetorical flourishes, acts as a kind of Greek Chorus, and voices, perhaps, some of Reitz's own views. He warns Hermann and the other students, "the first of you to free himself from ideology, the first of you to succeed in that, will make it." I was reminded of the German at the Ellis Island Immigration Centre who warned Paul Simon against -"isms"; a similar thought, isn't it?

Once in Munich, Hermann falls on his feet wherever he goes. Renate is immediately attracted to him, offers him a place to sleep, and makes direct sexual advances on him. Frau Moretti is entranced by him and offers him accommodation from the end of the month. There is a wonderfully comic, and yet moving scene, where she sings Franz Lehar's "Gypsy Love" with wild and dramatic flourishes and Hermann accompanies her. All the young female workers make cow-eyes at him. She seems to have almost fallen in love with him. "Lad, you're a genius." Josef, Clemens' landlord genuinely likes him and has a key specially cut so he can practise whenever he wants. Clemens' offers him a share of his room. The porter gives him a coveted key to one of the practice rooms because he is quiet and polite. He talks to Ansgar, Rob and Reinhardt, the student film makers and makes a best friend in Juan Ramon Fernandez Supercasseaux, the Chilean with 11 languages.

In the archive of old postings on the website I read a letter whose words I would like to quote. I did not make a note of the author's name and I hope he won't mind. Here are the words: "I think there is a lot to the doubling idea of Juan and Hermann, a very common dramatic device. Both begin as outsiders. One plays the game [by cheating on the entrance exam, incidentally] and becomes an insider, the other remains excluded." Again and again I watched the scene of Hermann's entrance examination and I feel most unsure that it was Reitz's intention to suggest that he cheated. At worst, in my opinion, he took advantage of a lucky chance and I am not even sure that he was watching the reflection for his answers. He seemed to be working them out correctly to me from his vast musical abilities. Even if he were helped somewhat, what was he supposed to do? Was he supposed to say, "Stop the exam and repeat it on another occasion with new questions." I am very interested to hear other peoples' opinions on this. It does not seem to me that Reitz wants to present Hermann as a cheat. Juan does not pass, however, because his music is considered to be no more than "folklore". I thought his percussive piece and performance were wonderful but the academicians did not.

Reitz certainly conveys, with remarkable accuracy, the heady days of early student life, its excitements where all things seem possible, the unbelievable and yet touching arrogance of the young, the searching for confidence and maturity. Reitz makes much use of 1st person narrative in this episode. For instance, Hermann says, "It fascinated me [Volker's avant-gard music] as the city fascinated me." Or again, "Munich all I ever dreamed of-friends who think just like me." Anyone who has ever left home for university will find all these scenes stirring old memories. As I have written before, and promise not to repeat, I left my home in rural Derbyshire in late September 1956, four years before Hermann, but only 18 years old, for the cathedral city of Durham, where I attended the university, reading English. Reitz certainly captures that heady mix of idealism, arrogance, immaturity, and intellectual striving so well. I might add that neither I, nor my friends, if I might speak for them, had the ability of Hermann and his student friends as depicted in the film. More's the pity!

To finish, I would just like to say something about the use of musical pieces and their filming. I watched Carol Angier's film last week, where Edgar Reitz talks about the language of music and its importance. I cannot now remember exactly what he said, but it is easy to see that he is fascinated by the composition and performance of music. Look at Clarissa's cello lesson. The camera focuses in a loving way on the bow traversing the strings in close-up; one stroke forward and one back with the bow caressing the strings, echoing the description of masculine and feminine by the teacher. You see nothing but the strings and the bow. Very seductive! The high F note is paralleled by Salome Kammer's hauntingly beautiful and expressive face. In the concert the camera focuses on Volker's artistic and expressive fingers as they dance on the keyboard.

One last thing! Klärchen has sent her good-bye letter. Reitz likes doing the arrival of letters, delivered by postmen on different coloured bicycles, doesn't he? Now we begin the endless dance of attraction and distance between Hermann and Clarissa. He first sets eyes on her coming down the stairs and standing by the balustrade. As he passes they turn and look lingeringly at each other. Later, Hermann bumps into her. Apart from "Danke", as he returns a dropped item, no words have yet been spoken between them. They will be! Their relationship is to be a thread that runs through
the whole film.

Ivan Mansley.