June 26, 2008

From our B. Alexanderplatz projectionist: part 2

Who isn’t at least a little in love with the sweet creature Mieze? I have so many feelings of excitement & anxious anticipation for tonight’s Berlin Alexanderplatz finale! Here to give us a sweeping recap and analysis of much of what we’ve seen thus far, is our projectionist Brecht. If you haven’t been following along to date, you can see ALL our Alexanderplatz posts by clicking the tag Mount-Everest-of-modern-cinema. See you tonight!

Early in the film, Franz visits the sister of his manslaughter victim, Minna, and rapes her. In the book, it is clear that he is in some kind of dream-like, hallucinatory state, in which he conflates Minna with Ida, and by “making love” to her sister somehow restores her, and himself, to life. (“Franz Biberkopf is back!”) Love, passion, violence, and the repression of reflection are all intertwined here in this German everyman.

In the film another element in the same scene is teased out of its latency: Minna’s behavior suggests some degree of complicity. However much she protests, and although she fights it, her behavior indicates no small amount of attraction for Franz. Whether she had a thing for him years before, and how much the knowledge of his violence adds to the charge are not to be known, but it can’t be doubted that both she and Franz are reflective of, and participants in, a sadomasochistic social-sexual network that rips through this city and era. The S/M nature of the world Döblin and Fassbinder are creating is elaborated in episode four, in the lyrical montage in the slaughterhouse, which is followed by a mythopoeic evocation of the God of this world – a creepy, nearly naked old man with long white hair, who takes a lamb to sit with him on a bench, then slits its throat, gentling it to its death with calming words about the necessity of its slaughter, finally leaving it to attend to his accounting at a stand-up desk, Donald Rumsfeld-style.

In the middle section of the film, Franz consorts with a series of “Satans,” who all contribute to his education. Despite, or because of (?) all these consortings with evil, Franz is seemingly rewarded: his earthly Guardian Angel Eva delivers to him yet another, more pure, rarefied angel – Mieze, who appears in the golden light borrowed from the Annunciation. With Mieze, Franz forgets all troubles, and seems delivered into a paradise, every passing moment rendered pregnant with beauty and joy. (Several of these moments are given a highly unusual cinematic treatment by Fassbinder – prolonged bouts of ecstasy, alternating with lyrically charged depictions of the everyday.) Unfortunately, this relationship means that Franz is now a pimp, which he seems to discover through the delivery of a “love-letter” from her patron into his hands, provoking one of the many flashbacks to his killing of Ida, in this case occasioned by his feelings of abandonment. Now that Mieze has made his life, or at least those moments with her, idyllic, his moments of loneliness are all the more painful, and lead to further consorting with his other love – Reinhold (the occasional black text on white screen informs us, at one point, that he loves them both). Franz is buffeted between these two, and there is a sense that somehow there is a competition between them (or at least between the archetypal forces that each represents) over Franz, and it becomes clear that they both have very different ideas about what should be done to/for him.

Franz’s tragic weakness is an abandonment-complex, which when especially exercised, leads to his “black out”-type murderous rages. The psychological roots of this aren’t given to us, other than clues that he is probably experiencing WWI trench-induced PTSD, the emblematic illness of his whole society. The scars and still-open wounds that riddle this society are sewn into BA’s fabric: stories from newspapers in the novel are related by the film’s narrator, or are discussed by Franz and other characters – tales of death, murder, suicide – all adding up to a generalized climate of misfortune and violence. At one point, Franz saunters drunkenly through the streets, singing to himself a song about Fritz Haarmann, probably the most notorious practitioner of Lustmord, whose many victims were boys and young men. The song’s jaunty lyrics (he’ll swoop down “to make liver-sausage out of you”) gets across the vogue of mass-dread in Weimar culture for these frightful figures.

There was a general sense of abandonment by God suffusing the Weimar years, and this abandoning God is the Berlin Alexanderplatz God, whose character Fassbinder elicits in his version of the story of Abraham and Isaac, told voice-over, and set to further return-of-the-repressed flashback imagery of the killing of Ida. The coldness of God’s motives in calling for Isaac’s sacrifice, His narcissistic thirst for self-glorification in Abraham’s self-denying obedience is made palpable in Fassbinder’s vocal delivery, which drips with bitter irony. Abraham, Isaac, Ida, and Franz, as well as the cultures from which they spring, are all in their turn abandoned by God.

The only redemptive element in this mix is the spirit embodied by Mieze. In some sense Mieze and Franz are made for, part of, each other. Franz’ tantrums are the classic products of abandonment by mother (“You don’t trust me”, Mieze says to him after he had threatened to lose it. “That’s because you’re a woman, I guess.”) and how could the little-girl Mieze not have enormous father-complex issues, to be attracted to, in fact, fall in love with at first sight, a portly man missing an arm, and twice her age? Her response to her own infatuation with her patron’s nephew indicates a need to show loyalty to “father”, but underneath this is a distrust of his power – when they reconcile after the beating, she reveals she had feared he was attempting to sell her to Reinhold.

On the whole, however, Mieze is purity and goodness itself, close to perfection. Her love for Franz is full – when he falls and bloodies his forehead during their game of blind-man’s buff, she cries, explaining: “It’s just that I love you so much. I’m absolutely crazy about you.” Who but a one-hundred percent masochist wouldn’t want this? And yet, for Franz, perhaps she is too-perfect. The amount of desire and contentment she provokes in him makes those moments without her all the more insufferable, putting him into a state alternating between wallowing in self-pity, and on the edge of violent spasm. “Loneliness Cracks Tears of Madness Even In Walls” runs the title of episode ten. Mieze offers Franz complete acceptance and occasional comfort, when what he needs is clearer vision, self-perception.

Franz blind-folded in the forest is the perfect image of the Weimar German. This self-willed blindness, symbolic of a refusal to seek insight by the German every-man, is arguably the cause, the spring, of all the “rivers of blood” which “must flow” to come… After the beating, Franz and Mieze are back in the forest, reconciled, but Franz is deeply troubled, for once on the verge of insight. The blood shed from his forehead there had been caused by fate, while her wounds had been his doing, his fault. She shushes him, puts her finger over his lips. “You must stop thinking about it, Franz”, she says. “You’ll just drive yourself crazy, always thinking about something you can’t change anyway.”

—Brecht Andersch

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