[Marxism] Berlin Alexanderplatz

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 13 12:32:40 MST 2007

(Most of this article pertains to a 1931 version of Doblin's novel, 
which I may try to review. More importantly to me, even though it gets 
short shrift in Kehr's article, is th Fassbinder movie that originally 
appeared on PBS in 1980. Sigh, those were the days. It too is now 
available in DVD. I can only say that it is one of the greatest movies 
ever made.)

NY Times, November 13, 2007
Critic’s Choice
New DVDs


When the Museum of Modern Art showed Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1980 
“Berlin Alexanderplatz” in a restored version in April, the New York 
Times film critic A. O. Scott expressed disappointment that “a few sets 
and locations had to stand in for the sprawl and bustle of the vanished 
prewar capital.”

That epic television production by Fassbinder, in 13 parts with an 
epilogue, has now been released on DVD by the Criterion Collection. But 
where Fassbinder’s version still has to get by on a studio simulacrum of 
Weimar Berlin, the vanished city is very much present in the first film 
adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel. Directed by Phil Jutzi, that 
1931 “Berlin Alexanderplatz” is included here as an extra, though it is 
a powerful work in its own right that offers a vivid portrait of the 
metropolis that was about to sink under Nazi rule.

Döblin himself worked with the writer Hans Wilhelm to adapt his novel, 
and at 89 minutes, the 1931 film contains most of the major narrative 
points of Fassbinder’s 15-hour adaptation (which now runs 15 ½ hours, 
thanks to the slowdown that results when European video is transferred 
to the American standard).

Döblin’s downtrodden hero, Franz Biberkopf, is played by Heinrich 
George, a celebrated stage actor whose burly physique and proletarian 
demeanor made him a favorite of Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht. 
George’s portrayal of the hapless Franz — an ex-convict whose 
determination to lead a good life is repeatedly frustrated by the social 
and economic pressures of the city — is less self-conscious and 
self-pitying than Fassbinder’s Franz, played by Günter Lamprecht as a 
typical Fassbinder hero with a cosmic “kick me” sign pinned to his back.

And there is little in Fassbinder’s film to compare with Mr. Jutzi’s 
opening sequence, in which Franz is released from a four-year prison 
term into a Berlin buzzing with congestion and construction. A trolley 
ride from the prison to Franz’s old neighborhood is played as a 
hallucinatory parody of Walter Ruttmann’s film “Berlin, Symphony of a 
City,” in which Ruttmann’s Soviet-style montage is given new purpose to 
convey Franz’s overpowered senses and near breakdown.

Mr. Jutzi, in fact, had been placed in charge of re-editing Sergei 
Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” for German audiences. (It was largely 
his work that was undone for the recent “Potemkin” restoration.) Mr. 
Jutzi worked with the Communist-controlled production company Prometheus 
Film as the director of several agit-prop documentaries, as well as a 
“proletarian drama” called “Mother Krausen’s Trip to Happiness” (1929), 
which Fassbinder remade as “Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven” in 1975.

But these were complicated times. When Hitler came to power, Mr. Jutzi 
found his films banned and himself unemployable. He joined the Nazi 
Party, and suddenly his career prospects revived. Mr. George, a member 
of the Communist Party of Germany, also crossed over and became the 
screen incarnation of the salt-of-the-earth, working-class Nazi next 
door, most notoriously in the 1933 propaganda film “Hitlerjunge Quex.”

To watch Mr. Jutzi’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz” — offered here, 
unfortunately, in an unrestored and poorly transferred print — is to be 
plunged both into history being made and history yet to come. 
Fassbinder, for all his brilliance, can’t compete with that. (Criterion 
Collection, $124.95, not rated)

“Berlin Alexanderplatz” features in two events of the Berlin in Lights 
Festival in New York. On Saturday there will be a free reading from the 
novel at the Goethe-Institut, 1014 Fifth Avenue, at 83rd Street; (212) 
439-8700. The Fassbinder film is being screened through January at the 
P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, at 46th Street, 
Long Island City, Queens; (718) 784-2084 or ps1.org.

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