"The Punishment Begins"
Beginning this Thursday and continuing each week the month of June, we’re showing (in collaboration with the PFA & the Goethe Institut-SF) the West Coast premiere of the remastered, brand-new 35mm version of Fassbinder’s retelling of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel: optimistic but explosive criminal Franz Biberkopf leaves a prison stint with a hope for making the straight life, and with ‘an absurd faith in love.’ The dark epic serial of Berlin Alexanderplatz chronicles the destruction of that hope and that faith.
Called the “Mount Everest of modern cinema” by Andrew Sarris, Dominic Willsdon & I have been saying that the 15-and-a-half-hour endurance test of Berlin Alexanderplatz will be fun in the way mountain-climbing is fun: grueling, terrifying, emotional, and exhausting; but also fantastic, exhilarating, & great for a chat with your cohorts once you’re done. So, together with my friend the poet Brandon Brown, we’ve been working on getting a group together for a Berlin Alexanderplatz film-club for the duration. We’ll watch the four-hour program each Thursday night and then head out from ‘the literal and moral darkness’ (that’s Dominic) for the well-deserved drink. And we’ll see if we can follow up Friday afternoons with a group discussion here on the blog.
Would you like to join us?
If you can’t turn out every Thursday, the programs repeat on following Saturday afternoons, and you can still keep on with the conversation.
Program One, this Thursday June 5 at 6:30pm in the Wattis Theater, and again on Saturday at 2pm: Part 1 —The Punishment Begins — Part 2 — How Is One to Live If One Doesn’t Want to Die? — Part 3 — A Hammer Blow on the Head Can Injure the Soul — Part 4 — A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence
More detailed info on Fassbinder and on the film below. We’re looking forward to seeing/meeting/watching with you—
SS, DW, BB
Here’s the PFA’s description of the film:
“Restored in 2006, Berlin Alexanderplatz is the summa of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s art, and the culmination of his lifelong relationship to Alfred Döblin’s monumental novel of Berlin in the 1920s-a book the filmmaker said was “embedded in my mind, my flesh, my body as a whole, and my soul.” Fassbinder pours knowing tenderness into the characterization of Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht), an unemployed lumpen worker who earns his living as a thief and pimp following a stint in jail for murdering his mistress. Franz is a jovial if explosive figure in the Alexanderplatz district of Berlin, a man with optimistic dreams, a determination to “go straight,” and an absurd faith in love. Berlin Alexanderplatz chronicles the destruction of this faith, amid the poverty, hypocrisy, and violence of Berlin in the years just before Nazism took full hold. Unable to find work, Franz takes up with the hustler Reinhold (Gottfried John), who becomes his “best friend” and then betrays him in a number of important ways. Franz is also involved with several women during the course of the drama, but when he meets the young prostitute Mieze (Barbara Sukowa), he declares her “his most beloved in all the world.” It is upon losing her that Franz succumbs to despair-and allows himself to be transformed into a “useful member of society.” The film’s famous epilogue is Fassbinder’s comment on that.
With a hundred leading and supporting actors, including members of Fassbinder’s excellent stock company (along with Lamprecht, John, and Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla is featured as Franz’s friend Eva and Volker Spengler as the gang leader Pums), Berlin Alexanderplatz is filled with the characters and stories of Döblin’s Berlin. And at fifteen and a half hours, it comes closer than most film experiences to the engagement that a good novel offers. The beauty, richness, and cohesion of Fassbinder’s style can here be fully appreciated as it links one chapter to the next.”
&, Fassbinder on politics and Berlin Alexanderplatz: