Wednesday, February 21, 2007


You’ve seen it sitting there in the far right column for some time now (the only thing far right about this location, come to think of it).

The little box that informs you that Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 15-hour epic Berlin Alexanderplatz is being restored for re-release in 2007. Well, it’s true. The word’s come down that Criterion will be releasing it in its entirety on DVD later this year.

I haven’t seen it in about 20 years, but when Public Television aired it back in the ‘80’s, it felt like one of the most mesmerizing things I’d ever seen. It appealed mightily to that part of me that believed that the world was an abattoir and/or charnel house, full of unending and unrelieved misery. I mean that in a good way, of course.

How could I not love a story that opened with a man leaving prison and a title that informed us, “The punishment begins”?

Not to mention the fact that its last installment is a surreal tour-de-force that gives the last episode of Twin Peaks a run for its money and justifies every second you spent watching everything that led up to it.

Plenty of time to talk about it when it gets here, but along those lines, let me mention that I finally caught up with the striking Werckmeister Harmonies, the Hungarian film from director Béla Tarr that came out in back in 2000.

If you’ve not seen it, it’s a black and white film shot with very few cuts, maybe about 40 in the course of its two hours plus change. At this deliberate pace, we discover that a truck has arrived in a small Hungarian town bearing the carcass of a large whale. We see flyers trumpeting its arrival posted about town, but there’s a very sinister undercurrent to this so-called circus. It is, in fact, a distraction that allows certain political entities to foment suspicion and violence, rendering the village easy pickings as it prepares to move on and do the same thing to the next.

The villain of the piece is, in fact, played by Hanna Schygulla, who is so crucial in Alexanderplatz and so many other Fassbinder films. One could be forgiven for concluding from this description that the movie lands just this side of an old “Dieter” SNL sketch (“Ants! Ants! Ants!” “Nun! Whore!”), but it feels uncomfortably topical, especially here in the home of the brave where we can’t seem to get our fill of circuses these days.

Having said all that, the movie I’m really looking forward to at the moment is Grindhouse.

You’ve heard about it: Tarantino and Rodriguez each contributing a 90-minute homage to the B-movies of the past, with some fake trailers in between as a sort of palate cleanser.

I’m going to love every minute of it.

Back when I was going to school in center city Philadelphia and dependent upon public transportation, I discovered that if you rode the subway to the terminal at the end of the line (this is right across the street from the fabled Tower Theatre, which does not belong to Philadelphia so much as Upper Darby), you’d find a small movie theatre that was built into the complex.

Known as the Eric Terminal (it was an appropriate name in more ways than one), it showed cheap double-features of the kind celebrated in Grindhouse and I spent many an afternoon there, missing classes and soaking up all the Eastwood/Leone pictures, Super Fly, Black Mama, White Mama…it was sort of a Tarantino repertory theatre, come to think of it.

But the best part was that, because it was built into a subway station, every ten minutes you’d hear this rumble from behind the screen as another train pulled in.

It only made it better.


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