Previous posts in this discussion:
Post"The Death of Stalin": Thumbs Down (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 06/19/18 4:10 pm)
I, on the other hand, did not enjoy The Death of Stalin. Certainly the subject is worth making a movie about, but I don't think Iannucci's effort remotely does justice to the subject. It trivializes events which had awesome significance for Soviet people and all of mankind. The personalities are not believable and the small details are all wrong, and the post-modern flippancy of the whole business is completely unappealing to me. The Brooklyn accent of Khrushchev spoils the whole experience just by itself, for me.
What really happened, at least the way I imagine it, but based on a considerable amount of study, did contain a number of the farcical circumstances shown in the movie, but was not in any way such a trivial comedy. What really happened was full of murderous evil, and the protagonists were far more serious and far more seriously evil, than what is depicted here. The power struggle inside Stalin's inner circle was surely in many ways like the power struggles around any dictator, but few dictators, not even Hitler, made it such an immediate matter of life or death, whether one was in favor or out of favor.
Thus these trivial personalities are simply not believable--the historical figures depicted in the movie were all people who had survived 25 years of Stalinism by the time of Stalin's death, who had managed to avoid several purges, who had seen their revolutionary colleagues and best friends and brothers and sisters-in-law sent off to the camps or shot on a whim or for no reason at all, and who had themselves survived up to that point not in this bumbling way, as depicted in this film. The subject deserves a more nuanced, serious treatment.
JE comments: Cameron Sawyer's criticism begs a larger question: is it ever appropriate to turn mass-scale human suffering into comedy? As an extreme case, would a light-hearted, farcical treatment of the Shoah/Holocaust ever be acceptable? I think not, but Benigni's Life is Beautiful came close.
In any case, I want to see The Death of Stalin.
Hitler Humor: "Iron Sky"
(Tom Hashimoto, UK
06/20/18 4:34 AM)
JE's comment on suffering and comedy (and his example of Life is Beautiful, 19 June)) reminds me of the movie Iron Sky.
Premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012, this Finno-German movie puts Nazis on the moon, Hitler is mechanised, and a lady who reminds us of Sarah Palin is the US President. The movie is so bad to the point that it is self-satirical.
In any case, it was premiered in Berlin--I believe this is important in terms of national "memory." The ill sense of humour is somewhat forgiven precisely because the movie is neither accurate nor dramatic. Perhaps, the Finnish humour (which I adore for some reason) was necessarily to make suffering into a comedy.
JE comments: I must see this one, too. Tom, when you get the chance, give us a primer on Finnish humour. I wouldn't begin to know how to describe it. Is it particularly deadpan? Low-key?
How about this topic for WAISly discussion: name the worst "significant" movie you've ever seen. Bad films fall into many categories--the over-budgeted bomb (Heaven's Gate), the amateurish shocker (Pink Flamingos), and the critically acclaimed yet unwatchable "slow" film (Moonlight--OK, that's my opinion here). Some movies, like Iron Sky, are so bad that they're good. Others are simply bad.
Worst Film(s) Ever
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/22/18 3:51 AM)
With this discussion of bad films, I'm amazed no one has mentioned either of the two most famous bad movies in film history:
The Room, by Tommy Wiseau, 2003, which is so spectacularly bad that it is fascinating to watch. This movie has become a kind of cult classic, and another movie (!) was actually made about the making of The Room--The Disaster Artist, 2017, by James Franco, with a significant budget and some great actors in it. The Disaster Artist--a movie about the making of a bad movie--is actually very good! I highly recommend both of these to WAISers. What is bad art actually gives great insight into what art is altogether.
And then of course that great classic of bad movies--Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959--which is a paragon of '50s shlock "B" movies, almost a self-parody, starring the dying Bela Lugosi, who did actually die in the middle of the production, to be substituted in hilariously unconvincing ways. Also highly recommended!
JE comments: Plan 9 also had a film made about it: Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp. It's a very elite group of films--many of them "bad" or merely bad--that get their own meta-movie. How about Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982), which was followed almost immediately by the documentary Burden of Dreams? Both are fascinating for a Latin Americanist, the documentary even more so.
- Worst Film(s) Ever: How about TV? (Enrique Torner, USA 06/22/18 4:15 AM)
Worst film ever? This is an easy one--my pick is bad, yet hilarious, and I laugh my head off.
But it's not a movie.
It's a TV show, and very old, but given the average age of WAISers, many might remember it: Get Smart. I doubt our moderator has seen it. You can see many episodes on YouTube. Laughter is great medicine for physical, emotional, and spiritual "disease," so I should watch it more often. For some odd reason, we watched it a week ago with our two daughters (10 and 15), who had never watched it, and they loved it!
Our youngest one kept saying: "He's so dumb!" It was even more fun seeing them laugh so hard as well. Check it out!
JE comments: Ah, bad television--is the term itself a redundancy? You've opened Pandora's Box, Enrique. I have seen some episodes of Get Smart. And yes, in the immortal words of Leonard Pinth-Garnell, it's "irredeemably bad."
Two of my selections for BTV (bad television) are Canadian: the unintentionally funny DIY series from the early '80s, Do It for Yourself, and the unwatchable teen drama from later in the decade: Degrassi Junior High. Lest I be labelled Canadophobic, one of my favorite shows is also from north of the border: Kids in the Hall.
- More Hitler Humor: "Er ist wieder da" (Patrick Mears, Germany 06/22/18 4:58 AM)
Apart from Iron Sky, another "dark comedy" about Adolf Hitler is Er ist wieder da or, roughly, He's Back, which was released in 2015.
The plot of the film involves Hitler's time travel from the Führerbunker in 1945 to the former location of the Reich Chancellery near the Brandenburg Gate in the present. Hitler wakes up in his military garb shrouded in a cloud of smoke and is disturbed by three children playing soccer nearby. His first question, which is posed to the children, is "Where is Martin Bormann?" The children then scatter, wondering what kind of nut this guy is.
Der Führer then wanders over to the Pariser Platz near the Brandenburg Gate, where tourists believe that he is an actor and engulf him with requests for selfies. After being given refuge in a nearby kiosk by its owner, he spends his time reading newspapers to catch up on what he has missed during the last 70 years. From there, he is given a role in a television variety show in the belief that he is a comedian who is satirizing his namesake. From there, Hitler begins to realize the so-called needs of the "dispossessed" in German society and begins to appeal to their dark side. I will leave the rest for you to gather by watching the film or reading the novel on which it is based.
I first viewed this very clever film in an arthouse cinema in Heidelberg and, like many in the audience, I thought that it was hilarious until suddenly, the mood of the film changed. Looking back now in light of the "rise of populism" and "decline of democracy" throughout the world, the film is very timely. Er ist wieder da has since been released on video in Germany and can be watched with English subtitles. I am not sure if the film has yet been released in the USA or in other countries.
JE comments: Netflix has it (in the US), with the title Look Who's Back. It's on my list. For Hitler humor with a post-modern twist, it's impossible to beat ten hours of "Bring me Fegelein!" (I think I posted this link once before, but it merits a replay. You get the idea after just an hour or two.)
Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui"
(John Heelan, UK
06/24/18 6:02 AM)
One should also not forget Bertold Becht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, consciously a highly satirical allegory of Hitler's rise to power in Germany and the advent of the National Socialist state.
All the characters and groups in the play had direct counterparts in real life, with Ui representing Hitler, his henchman Ernesto Roma representing Ernst Röhm, the head of the Nazi Brownshirts; Dogsborough representing General von Hindenburg, a hero of World War I and the President of the Weimar Republic (his name is a pun on the German Hund and Burg); Emanuele Giri representing Hermann Göring, a World War I flying ace who was Hitler's second in command; Giuseppe Givola representing the master propagandist Joseph Goebbels; the Cauliflower Trust representing the Prussian Junkers; the fate of the town of Cicero standing for the Anschluss, which brought Austria into the Third Reich" (all from Wikipedia). I seem to remember its being turned either into a film of a TV play.
JE comments: Sometimes allegories are so transparent that they cease to be so, and turn into a roman (film?) à clef. I am reminded of Emmanuel Goldstein (1984) and Leon Trotsky. Is Arturo Ui in this category?
Bertolt Brecht, Stalinist Stooge
(Nigel Jones, UK
06/26/18 4:29 AM)
John Heelan admiringly cites Bertolt Brecht for his satire Arturo Ui on the rise of Hitler.
It shouldn't be forgotten that this old Marxist hack was a Stalinist stooge who ended his days as a pampered pet playwright of Ulbricht's East Germany, a dictatorship as bad in its way as Hitler's.
The now distinctly out-of-fashion BB is nobody's hero, besides which it has been revealed that much of his work was actually written by the unfortunate women in his life!
JE comments: Brecht did pen his wry "dissolve the people and elect another" in response to the East Berlin uprising of 1953 and the government crackdown. Granted, the poem "Die Lösung" (The Solution) long remained unpublished.
What do we know about Brecht's popularity in Germany today? Is he totally passé, or has he benefited from the Ostalgie sentiment? (I wonder: is Ostalgie itself passé?)
Is Brecht Still Popular In Germany?
(Patrick Mears, Germany
06/26/18 9:59 AM)
In response to Nigel Jones's post, I can say that Bertolt Brecht is still very popular here in Germany.
Since moving here in 2014, my wife (who is an admirer of the writer) and I have attended performances in Heidelberg of St. Joan of the Stockyards and The Good Person of Szechuan and also a performance of the Brecht/Weill musical, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. His plays are often performed on a regular basis by the Berliner Ensemble, which Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, founded in East Berlin in 1949.
I have also visited since moving here the Brecht-Haus on the Chausseestraße in Berlin, which served as his residence from 1953 to 1956. This structure contains his archives and a small museum containing his furniture, books, etc. Brecht is buried close to the rear of his former East Berlin home in a small cemetery. His birth house in Augsburg is also a museum. By all accounts and my observations since coming here, Brecht is still very popular in Germany notwithstanding his embrace of the DDR and its institutions after World War II and after he left the United States in October, 1947, which occurred shortly after he was interrogated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities („HUAC") in Washington, D.C. . Here is a link to the transcript of his testimony before that committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
My first exposure to Brecht, however, was when I maybe 10 years old and would watch The Ernie Kovacs Show. For those of you who remember this variety and comic program, it was very eccentric with witty humor that was not always conveyed in words but often by "dumb show." One sketch, a favorite of mine, that often appeared on the show was a recording of "Mack the Knife" from the 1931 film of Three Penny Opera directed by G.W. Pabst. This work, first performed on the Berlin stage in 1928, qualifies as the work that made Brecht and Weill famous. The song, as sung in the film by a beggar showman in the London slums, was tracked by an oscilloscope on the television screen and in the background would be a series of comic dumb shows performed by Kovacs and his cast, which included the singer and his wife, Edie Adams.
After graduating from Michigan Law School and moving to New York City, I considered myself very fortunate to attend performances of Three Penny Opera, which opened in 1976 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater and was produced by Joseph Papp, and Happy End, another Brecht-Weill musical, which was performed the following year at the Martin Beck Theatre and featured the then-newcomer to the theater, Meryl Streep.
An informative book about Brecht and his exile in the United States from 1941 to 1947 is titled Bertolt Brecht in America by James K. Lyon and published in 1980 by Princeton University Press, which I found by burrowing through the stacks at King's Books in downtown Detroit.
JE comments: So much wisdom in one massive bookstore! (I think I have shared with WAISworld that John King-Detroit is indirectly responsible for my coming to WAIS.)
Pat Mears is clearly an expert on Brecht. Many thanks, Pat.
New Bertolt Brecht Film
(Patrick Mears, Germany
08/22/18 7:05 AM)
Just a short postscript to our fairly wide-ranging WAIS discussion a month or two ago about Bertolt Brecht.
I just noticed that a German film, entitled Mackie Messer-Brechts Dreigroschenfilm, will be released in Germany on September 13th and will open here in Heidelberg on that day. The film, directed by Joachim A. Lang and starring Lars Eidinger as Brecht, is the story of the success of his play, The Threepenny Opera, on the Berlin stage and the subsequent making of a film of the play.
Here is a link to some clips from the film (in German) and the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5hPQyMjUd4
Here is a link to the performance of the song, "Mackie Messer" (Mack the Knife) in the 1931 G.W. Pabst film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxVcDPtDnjM
I hope that this film is eventually released in the US with English subtitles.
JE comments: That performance (second link) is a rare gem. The song sounds much more modern than 1931, or 1928, when Weill and Brecht wrote it. Thank Bobby Darin and The Doors, I suppose.
- Bertolt Brecht and the DDR (John Heelan, UK 06/27/18 4:25 AM)
Nigel Jones (26 June) misunderstands me.
I was "admiring" the parody of the humour in Brecht's "Arturo Ui," not the writer himself, having been behind the Berlin Wall (aka the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart) and personally experiencing the scariness of Ulbricht's dictatorship and the influence of the Stasi.
No doubt a Stasi file still exists on my trip to give lectures to the James Bond-sounding East German Import/Export Agency--see my report titled "Beyond Checkpoint Charlie" written some years ago.
JE comments: Here is John Heelan's 2009 report on his time in the DDR. I had the chance to visit John's destination, the socialist "time capsule" town of Eisenhuttenstadt, some years later (2012). It was beautiful in its very bleakness--bleak chic? We Detroiters appreciate such things.
Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart--this is a euphemism for the ages. Mr Trump should take notice for his border wall...why not call it a rampart?
- Bertolt Brecht and the DDR (John Heelan, UK 06/27/18 4:25 AM)
- New Bertolt Brecht Film (Patrick Mears, Germany 08/22/18 7:05 AM)
- Is Brecht Still Popular In Germany? (Patrick Mears, Germany 06/26/18 9:59 AM)
- Bertolt Brecht, Stalinist Stooge (Nigel Jones, UK 06/26/18 4:29 AM)
- Worst Film(s) Ever: How about TV? (Enrique Torner, USA 06/22/18 4:15 AM)
- Worst Film(s) Ever (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/22/18 3:51 AM)