From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman>
Sent: Friday, October 29, 2004 8:06 AM +0100



In a way, this episode seeks to come to terms with that period of “hippy” freedom of the late 60s which it portrays with shuddering and stunning accuracy, when the zeitgeist was almost totally left-wing and the background was fuelled by drugs and popular music. Reitz is looking back some 20 years, just as Shakespeare looked back some 100 years when writing his history plays. This enables Reitz to find a distance and a perspective with which to view events in his own life. I believe that what happens to Stefan in Berlin almost exactly parallels developments in Reitz’s own career as a film maker.

All the absurdities and contradictions of the revolutionary students are shown. The episode begins with Stefan and Olga travelling together to Berlin by car. We see them arrive at the checkpoint to the DDR, where they are met by stony-faced officials and a corrupt policeman who stops them and extorts a 100 DM fine. The camera just glances at an unmended pot-hole in the surface of the autobahn. Things are not what they appear. Later when left-wing squatters have torched the building in which they had run a kindergarten a female member of the crowd that has gathered to watch the firemen yells “Why don’t they go over the Wall to the Communists?” but we know why they don’t; the Communist utopia is no utopia at all. A reporter corners Helga and she is forced to admit, “There are always contradictions”, and there are questions about violence she cannot answer. We see absurdities, such as the doors having been removed from the lavatory cubicles, and the naked Kathrin telling Hermann, who has got up in the night for a pee, that one must be prepared to shit in front of ones’ comrades and that they must put an end to “petty, bourgeois coyness”. We see the failure of members of the commune to look after Helga’s child. We see the criminality of Sigi and Trixi, as they steal cars and ransack Hermann’s apartment. We see drug overdosing!

And yet, and yet! Reitz shows us the genuine idealistic side. Just as Stefan is about to pull the plug on the film he is supposedly directing, Reitz gives Ulla these words: But it was good, these dreams of freedom and participation. They raised our hopes.” There was much anti-Americanism at this time because of the Vietnam war, but Reitz is careful to give Hermann a speech of praise for the Americans, for their love of liberty and hatred of militarism. It has the air of a rather planted peroration but it is forcefully there. “They smelled good and they loved freedom”. Schnüsschen, in some ways a very naïve character and an irritating one, does develop and progress through the ideas of female emancipation current at the time. The young are attempting to break down old barriers and divisions; perhaps to heal urban alienation through collective thinking and acting. But in the end it does not work. No filming is done because of endless discussion.

Despite the political focus it was the personal stories and the development of characters that really held my interest. For instance, we have the ending, if that is what it is, of Hermann and Schnüsschen’s marriage. A blazing row takes place in the kitchen which ends with each of them hurling their wedding rings over the balcony and into the gardens. It is all quite impulsive, not calculated. Schnüsschen is completely without discrimination in her choice of friends and those she leaves in the apartment. There have been two hash-smoking, leather clad biking types from Berlin whom the police have come and arrested. There has been a character called Manni, with a skull tattooed on his chest, who threatens Hermann with violence. We know, of course that Hermann has been unfaithful and when Kathrin makes a sexually explicit invitation over the phone to him, one sees Hermann’s eyes light up. He accuses his wife of using her studies as a means of working out her complexes and after the ring throwing he walks out and significantly flies to Berlin where Kathrin awaits. In his voice-over he describes this as a “silly row” but I suspect he deceives himself. It does not take long for Schnüsschen to regret what has happened and that night she goes searching for the rings with her little girl. We later see her in distress in Renate’s night-club and goes in search of her husband to Consul Handschuh’s. After his Berlin episode Hermann returns home only to find his wife has gone leaving a message in exactly the same words that the Consul has used. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander or the other way round.

It is interesting to see how Reitz has made Hermann very sexually orientated. Whilst the other students are making revolutionary statements to camera, Hermann and Kathrin are copulating on a giant four-poster bed [a film prop], hidden behind screens. A workman, brought in by Stephan, discovers them at play. Quite a comic moment! Later on the Kurfurstendamm one sees Hermann gazing erotically at Kathrin’s long legs and taking her hand. Even when he is making his speech about the Americans he is trying to touch her hand. I loved these little details. Talking about sex, now might be a good time to say a few words about the orgiastic scene in the commune. I thought Reitz got this scene so right as a depiction of its time.

It is shot in soft focus through green and yellow filters to suggest the miasma of drug taking. One unnamed couple is having intercourse on the floor throughout and their orgasmic sounds and cries intermingle with the hypnotic Jimi Hendrix music. We see Hermann and Kathrin chewing cannabis cake. Kalle mimes to the music using a tennis racquet as a simulated machine gun/guitar until he eventually hallucinates. Heiner, who bears a striking resemblance to Jim Morrison of The Doors, mimics a female strip tease, strips to a loincloth and works himself into a state of arousal. Hermann and Kathrin start love-making and Heiner appears to join in. He appears to mount Hermann and then something seems to snap in Hermann’s mind. Either he does not appreciate being ravaged by another male or he is offended in his own maleness by the fact that Kathrin is sexually enjoying the experience regardless of who her male lover actually is. None of this is presented pornographically, as it so easily could have been, and the viewer is caught by this depiction of trance-like states interrupted by sudden bursts and crescendos of noise. As Hermann leaves, perhaps having come to his senses and rejecting the influence of drugs….remember his wife had called him “chicken” for not being prepared to take any…motor bikes roar in.

What of Clarissa? She is increasingly seen as self-centred. I noticed that when Volker departs for Baden-Baden and says that he will think of her and the child, she replies, “I’ll think of me, too.” Her relationship with the American woman certainly seems to have something of the lesbian about it. She turns to another woman not her husband for comfort, solace, and maybe even sex. It seemed to be hinted at. Reitz makes some parallels between the two couples, I think. Both Schnüsschen [sociology studies] and Clarissa [jazz singing] make new departures and are happy in their new roles. Both Hermann [electronic studio and freedom, both artistically and financially] and Volker [commission from Sudwestfunk Radio Orchestra] are successful. Both marriages are in trouble! Both men are good fathers to their children, better than the mothers! At one point Schnüsschen has forgotten all about her child and runs out of Clarissa’s apartment desperately searching for a taxi.

This leads me naturally to what I regard as the best scene in the whole episode and the only scene which moved me deeply, very deeply! It is the final scene and it beautifully depicts the bond between father and daughter, between Hermann and Lulu. It works through the images, as good cinema always does. Father and daughter are in a cable car alone together. I was not sure of the location. Was the water below a lake or the Rhine? Perhaps Hermann has driven back towards the Hunsrück in the Citroen he buys, because his daughter likes it? They are shown with the setting sun lighting up their faces. Hermann is reading an article, by Kathrin or about her, in Stern magazine. Some of her words could apply to Hermann [e.g. “The mother smothers the child with love, the child flees.”] but her finishing words are wrong and the scene signifies this without words at all. She writes, “We speak this truth. Nothing is as it was.” But there, staring at us in the dying rays of the sun, are two faces, in warm colour. One is the face of a happy and trusting child, the other the face of a happy and protective father. Kathrin is wrong. This is one of the eternal verities. It was and it will be! That is what Reitz is telling us, I think. The sunlight reflects on the water and the credits roll. My heart missed a beat!

Ivan Mansley.

P.S.1. I am now going downstairs to root out my old Jimi Hendrix and Woodstock records and put some flowers in my hair and fly off in my imagination to San Francisco!

P.S.2. How well I remember the eternal debates of “A Time of Many Words”! In the school where I worked in the late 60s and early 70s we had endless staff meetings about the lack of discipline amongst the pupils where everyone, but everyone, had to have their say at length, while the children ran riot and then we had to analyse that. The Headmaster was not as decisive as Stefan!