From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman>
Sent: Friday, October 15, 2004 8:32 AM +0100



Rob is dramatically blinded, fortunately not permanently, by a violent flash from one of the lamps being used for the first screening of the VariaVision film on modern transport made by Rob and associates, funded by Consul Handschuh and other financial backers, with electronic sound effects engineered by Hermann and some commentary written by Helga. The scene where this happens is fast-moving and full of tension. The main participants are struggling to be ready, as soon as Consul Handschuh has finished speaking to the press. The audience has seen Herr Zielke, a war-time comrade of the Consul’s but an ardent traditionalist who is bitterly opposed to the experiments of those he sees as snotty-nosed young upstarts, lurking beside a sparking fuse cabinet. It was unclear to me whether he had deliberately sabotaged the electrics or whether he just maliciously keeps the information about the malfunction to himself. In any case, the scene moves at speed and the tension is ratcheted up.

Through this episode we see Rob grow in stature. He has always felt himself to be under the shadow of Reinhard. In one of his commentaries he says, “He [Reinhard] was always the auteur among us…He told stories”, but later he remarks, “I used to leave it to Reinhard, but now I was an auteur.” He is finding a voice as a film-maker. The Consul says of him, “He’s an eye person. He chases images. Like the devil chases poor souls.” It occurs to me that Edgar Reitz is reflecting different aspects of himself as a film-maker in the characters of Reinhard and Rob. The former feels that the most important truths escape and are hidden from the camera, whilst the latter feels that the truth can be conveyed through images. I liked the scenes in the boathouse where Rob demonstrates his work and theories to the Consul and his party. I feel sure that by these means Edgar Reitz is conducting a debate with himself about the nature of film-making and what he feels about it.

Now what are we to make of Rob’s sudden blinding? Does it have any symbolic significance? Is this the punishment of the gods? Rob at one point arrogantly remarks to Herr Zielke, “I see truth.” Could he be being punished for such boastful claims? I am not sure how to interpret this. In addition, certainly at first, I felt that a more suitable title for the episode might have been “A Time of Blindness” or “A Time of Seeing”, but, in fact, the title is “The Time of Silence”. I have reflected on this and will outline my thoughts, but I feel there is more to be said on this subject. I hope others will contribute on this matter. Rob tells us that there was not much talking in his family. We see him with his father, a forester and hunter. They do not talk but watch. A deer is shot. Rob tells us that his father taught him to “look properly” and also that he became a cameraman because he didn’t “think much of talking”. Here we have silence. This is beautifully illustrated at the end of the episode where Rob’s father leads him gently down to the lake. Rob removes his bandages. Despite pain and tears he has recovered his sight. Not a word is spoken! Incredible and very moving!

There are other silences though, aren’t there? These are of a more intangible kind. We have Hermann’s silence to his wife about his adulterous fling with Erika Brandstätter, the Consul’s attractive assistant. He has had his eye on her since first meeting! He shows himself to be a resourceful liar, as he smears grease and petrol from a parked motor scooter on to his face and hands, before going inside and pretending to have been involved in a car breakdown. There is Schnüsschen’s inner hurt and bottled up feelings of neglect. We witness Volker’s inner hurt and feelings of betrayal at Hermann’s hands. We witness Clarissa’s growing hysteria and feelings of inadequacy. Are these “silences” included in the title, do you think?

The episode looks in considerable detail at the parallel marriages of Hermann and Schnüsschen, and Volker and Clarissa, and the interweaving of their lives. We see them altogether for the first time for a dinner party in Volker’s apartment. There is warmth and friendship. It is shot in colour. Schnüsschen is wearing her expensive Pierre Cardin dress, which has left them penniless for the rest of the month. [I didn’t like it at all, but what do I know?!!] Clarissa has bought a fish for supper which is wrapped in newspaper. This is to prove significant! The camera lovingly focuses on the pale colour surrounding its gills [Edgar Reitz is always good on food as observed before], and the purplish colour of its flesh where the body is separated from the head. Hermann does the beheading, as the women, especially his wife, are too squeamish. Even he, however, does not want to eat it if it came from the Ammersee. Reinhard’s body might have fed the fish. There is great attention to detail. We have the thump of the body as the fish is thrown down on to the newspaper and scrunching sounds as the blade of the knife cuts through the fish’s neck. We see the yellow stains on the newspaper where the fish has been wrapped, and through the stains Hermann’s eyes glimpse an article, which reveals that his soundtrack for Rob and Reinhard’s film on the cotton industry has been awarded a prize for best music at the Cannes’ Advertising Film Festival. He has never been informed, which seems a little incredible to both Volker and the viewers. This is to prove the turning point for Hermann financially. Consul Handschuh, the head of Isar Films, has accepted the prize for him  and later declares his intention to conquer “new worlds” with Hermann. I thought this scene of the dinner party worked beautifully in cinematic terms and it was the first scene of the episode where my attention was held, 100%.

Volker is left an outsider by Hermann and becomes bitter and jealous. We see the strains of his marriage emerge. Clarissa is highly strung, almost neurotic. The song she sings to her baby is full of gloomy thoughts about sorrow and grief. Is it meant to be her own composition? Or is it a lullaby known to German mothers? Her husband does not want to talk about his feelings. We see the distance, literal and metaphorical, between them as they sit at table. I liked the way Reitz intercuts the scene of Hermann’s infidelity with Volker’s visit to the Simon apartment where he finds Schnüsschen alone. They tremble on the brink of an affair, don’t they? Schnüsschen seems to lead him on a little, I thought. She introduces the subject of his love life with Clarissa, and wonders half-seriously whether he calls her “Madam” in the course of their love-making. She obviously sees Clarissa as a superior kind of person. A little later, after Volker starts to relate a little of his life-story, she says, “You’re a strange fellow. You could be a really great man, a great artist if…you weren’t too scared to show your feelings.” This seems a little like an invitation, which she makes with a half-flirtatious smile, and Volker takes it as such, but when he tries to kiss her she rebuffs him and sends him off like a naughty schoolboy with a peck on the cheek. Schnüsschen has talked of her neglect by Hermann. Through the intercutting we are made aware that Hermann is being unfaithful at that very moment and there are some interesting parallel details. Both couples are drinking wine. We have a shot of an empty wine glass on a tray by Erika’s bed. Schnüsschen is seen drawing the cork from a bottle and pouring a large glass for Volker. Both couples discuss formality of address. We have mentioned the “Madam” discussion concerning Clarissa, and Erika asks Hermann how formal she should be with him the next day at work. “Right, Fraulein Brandstätter”, Hermann replies. You can also find other neat little parallels. For instance, Volker envies Hermann [electronic studio], whilst Schnüsschen envies Clarissa [reasons unspecified].

After Hermann’s failure to tell the truth to his wife – truth goes down the plug-hole with the soap as he washes his face-Schnüsschen and Clarissa  meet [pre-arranged?] in the park. On first viewing I had marked this scene down as both compelling and revealing. It is a truth-telling session. Clarissa declares that she had never liked Schnüsschen, and the latter replies, “I know why. Because you were the love of Hermann’s life.” And then it all comes pouring out. She is unhappy, lonely and unfulfilled in her marriage. “Hermann never wrote a song for me. For you, but not for me.” So there is jealousy there too. And then I do not know whether this is a mistake by Reitz or an exaggeration on Schnüsschen’s part as she declares, “I really longed for it, but do you think I could tell him.” She had in Part 8, just before he suggests marriage, if my notes serve me right. “I’d rather have bitten out my tongue than say it to him.” She sees herself as a tragic figure. She feels unwanted, undervalued and uneducated. “I feel Hermann left me long ago, in his heart.” She is right, of course, although Hermann is a good father. Reitz points up so well the miseries men and women bring upon themselves by unsuitable marriages. And all is not well with Clarissa either. On return home she dumps the crying baby in her husband’s lap, more or less ignores her mother who is cleaning her smelly fridge, departs with her cello and returns it to the house of Dr. Kirchmeier in an act of renunciation! Marriage and domesticity have caused her to abandon music. She is anguished and in despair.

I am aware I have not written anything about the Esther story and her search for the truth about her mother. In some ways I feel this is the least interesting part of the episode, although there are silences here too. “Germany is a book with pages torn out.” Somehow I feel that this strand is too didactic. Reitz is defending himself against accusations that he has not dealt effectively with Germany’s Nazi past and as a result the story-telling becomes a little formulaic. [What was the mouse-like object in Esther’s soup in the inn in Dachau, and why did the camera dwell on it, by the way?] Nor have I written about the scenes involving the left-wing, so-called revolutionaries, Helga, Katrin and Dirk. Reitz satirises them and makes them sufficiently obnoxious; their self-centred behaviour is abominable but they were part of the historical furniture of a time I remember well!

Ivan Mansley.