Deutschland ’83

I was tremendously hyped for Deutschland ’83 after hearing about it and watching the first episode. Now that it is finally airing in Germany it turns out that it is not doing that well. Viewership started out low and has been declining over the first four episodes.

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People are attributing this to the fact that the average RTL viewer is stupid and only used to watch plain episodic series. That may well be true, but the decline of the series’s ratings closely mirror the decline of my appetite for the show itself. By episode four Deutschland ’83 is a slog and the only thing that got me to the finish line was an empty Sunday and stamina.

The plot devolves and loses whatever internal logic and coherence it had. The characters which are enigmatic to begin with become increasingly hard to empathize with and start doing random things. Worst of all, Deutschland ’83 tries to put a neutral spin on one of the most polarized conflicts of the last century which of course fails.

The one message that does come through is that everybody on the East side was evil and psychopathic and that the people on the West side were basically decent chaps. This is a laughable depiction of the world as it was back then (or as parts of the world still are). The violence and surveillance enacted by the Soviet bloc is hardly different from the stuff the Americans did and still do around the world. The only reason we get to ridicule the East Germans in the series is because they lost.

Mann/Frau

The idea that German television is necessarily terrible has to be reconsidered. I’ve recently started watching Deutschland ’83 which is amazing (more on that later) and yesterday I finished season two of the web series Mann/Frau by BR PULS.

Mann/Frau is a mirror format byte-sized episodic where each installment details the interactions of a man and a woman their relations and lives. It treats most of the themes occupying people around my age living in Berlin but manages to do so drawing more from slapstick than from cliché.

The series is helped enormously by the fact that each episode concludes somewhere under five minutes. Brevity unfortunately is a rare commodity in Germany. The benefits of it here are that it forces them to get to the point quickly, cut rapidly and finish. Episodes of this length also greatly facilitate binge watching. I had never considered you could make a traditional format series with episodes this short, but it works fine.

Halfway through I did develop an intense distaste for the man (Mirko Lang) and the man episodes. This isn’t just because the man character is a huge doofus, but also because it turns out that the man and woman episodes are written and directed by a brother and sister respectively. The woman episodes are more punchy, contain less whining and more action.

In this interview with the brother and sister directors the problem becomes painfully obvious. During the entire interview the brother does most of the talking but doesn’t say anything of substance.

I will keep watching when the next season comes out but I might just fast forward through most of the man’s episodes.

These series may have a catalytic effect on the German television landscape. By their very existence they educate the tastes of an audience that might not have known or expected something like this to be possible. And actually creating something good in turn makes it so that other tv makers can’t hide behind the excuse that the whole landscape is mediocre. Who knows what more may be possible.

Straight outta Compton 

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I would have preferred Straight Outta Compton to be a documentary cut together from real footage and narrated by the guys themselves. There is a lot of that available which you can see bits of during the credits of this movie. The biopic is well done but the dramatization does not add much and in many parts the movie devolves into melodrama.

What is amazing is how music executives are universally portrayed as the terrible human beings which they are. This is a recurring theme up until the late movie slithering appearance of Jimmy Iovine. If you read up on the stuff that went down with Ruthless you could even argue that the movie downplays it.

The record executives bring the money which in the movie is portrayed as breaking the relationships that make the music. The main characters regularly bail out of collaborations to start from zero because their contracts won’t let them retain ownership of their work. Thinking about that and the outrageous claims still made by record companies made me look into the argument for copyright. It turns out that there’s only a fairly flimsy justification for a system that controls our lives.

I would like to see 12 O’Clock Boys now. Fuck the police.

Nakagin Capsule Tower

Yesterday I saw the documentary on the Nakagin Capsule Tower by Rima Yamazaki as part of the DOKU.ARTS festival here in Berlin. I wasn’t aware of this landmark during my last visit to Tokyo though I must have passed close by while cycling through the city. I’ll make a point to see it when next I visit if it still stands because that is exactly the topic of the documentary.

The tower is a prime example of Metabolist architecture by Kisho Kurokawa. Metabolism is a hard to define but influential strand of architecture that is described in the documentary as an architecture without timelag. It turns out that the tower by now, though charming with its tiny rooms, is outdated and unmaintainable. Most of the owners want to tear it down and have something new built there that makes more economic sense. Among architects and historians there are voices for preserving it as a monument to an important movement in Japanese architecture and other who think it could indeed be torn down.

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The main reason why I wanted to see this movie is because next week I’m moving into a building in Berlin designed by a metabolist architect Arata Isozaki. He appears in the movie as a member of the metabolist movement and as an proponent of conservation. I found his reasoning to be somewhat incoherent and overly sentimental. I’m not sure what that means for the building I will be living in but we’ll see. I’ve only been there once, but I absolutely love the building pictured above. Time will tell whether that is justified.

Another architect Toyo Ito who expressed a disillusionment with metabolism was in favor of tearing it down. His reasoning is that buildings just like people are finite and that if they have fulfilled their purpose they should be allowed to disappear to be replaced by something new. This is a way of thinking about architecture that is mostly alien if you live in Europe but that I find to be extremely refreshing. I think our local hangups on history and current efforts to construct buildings in a historicized fashion are morbid but this is the way we do things in Europe.

All along during the documentary I had to think about some William Gibson I read about Tokyo but which I cannot find right now. So instead I’ll post this from My Own Private Tokyo that I came across.

The Japanese, you see, have been repeatedly drop-kicked, ever further down the timeline, by serial national traumata of quite unthinkable weirdness, by 150 years of deep, almost constant, change. The 20th century, for Japan, was like a ride on a rocket sled, with successive bundles of fuel igniting spontaneously, one after another.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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I rewatched Once Upon a Time in Anatolia last week with my parents and it was even better than the first time. I usually think that movies shouldn’t be longer than two hours but here even a second viewing did not bore.

What I learned is that it at one point the convoy moves out of the Kırıkkale area into the administrative part of Turkey that we are from (map).

The idle chit-chat of the people in the cars is still funny but now it was easier to keep track of the interleaving stories. Pared down they rend flesh. Arap’s story about why you need a gun or the piecewise telling of a woman’s suicide are incredible. The point where Clark Gable swallows his words being one extreme example.

My memory had exaggerated the appearance of the angel halfway through the movie. It is still a key moment but not as magically-realistic as I had remembered.

The movie as a whole is about the utter insignificance of human action on all levels. Or as the poet said: ‘years again will pass and I will leave no trace // darkness and cold will encompass my weary soul’.

I am immensely looking forward to seeing his next movie Kış Uykusu which is playing in cinemas right now. And I am still eagerly awaiting Nuri Bilge Ceylan to make a movie adaptation of one of Pamuk’s big books (The Black Book or Snow).

Give Da Vinci’s Demons a shot

I’m really into the series Da Vinci’s Demons right now (thanks to Kevin Slavin) which is a light hearted affair for the off season when there’s no Game of Thrones, True Detective or Sherlock.

The trailer for the first season is kinda messed up, try the one for season two otherwise.

I had been clamoring for Game of Thrones inspired historical fiction for a while now. There are lots of dark nooks of history which with a decent treatment could excite large audiences. So many topics to choose from but how about an epic series on Khublai Khan or about Charlemagne?

With Da Vinci’s Demons this is becoming reality at least for Leonardo da Vinci’s life in Florence. This Italian city and the papal intrigue of its time proves to be a great backdrop for an occult story set around this artist/engineer/inventor. The drawn overlays are a bit reminiscent of Sherlock and the premise of Da Vinci creating outrageous contraptions in no time at all is a lot like MacGyver. Its anachronistic depiction and juiciness are like Game of Thrones though people in da Vinci’s world seem even more cruel. In its depiction of a young incarnation of a well-known figure it even reminds me of Young Indiana Jones. Maybe there’s even a bit of Dan Brown in there but I wouldn’t know because I don’t touch that crap.

As a series it may be too trivial to function as a social status signifier, but even its pulpiness has found its bearings after the first couple of episodes. The initially more evil characters are rounding out nicely with depth and conflicting interests of their own.

I was happily surprised to see that it has been renewed. After eight episodes in the first season there are at least two more seasons awaiting. Just by watching it I want to read more about Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and go to Florence. History education has never been as fun and if this isn’t the education, it’s a great gateway drug.

(All art from the show’s brilliant accompanying tumblr.)

Only God Forgives

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After a rather hectic week and day last Friday I went to see Only God Forgives in Central cinema. The movie is rather excellent if you like extreme violence or Ryan Gosling or both.

The stylized violence and disjunct story telling reminded me remotely of This Is How You Will Disappear. Probably not because any real visual similarity but because I am anxious for somebody in theater to produce something that good and ballsy again. And as this Guardian critic says, the Asian setting and lighting are reminiscent of Noé’s Enter the Void which I would recommend if you can stomach it.

But the violence and the characters in essence are Shakespearian and ‘Only God Forgives’ is how you actually should do a modern day Shakespeare adaptation. The movie is a post-modern mix of Macbeth and King Lear without a hint of slavish following. I lost count of how many bloodless—in all meanings of the word— Shakespeares I have seen on the stage. With this movie Winding Refn has also just schooled all theatre directors.

Not their mothers and fathers

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A new large scale German drama series has been making the rounds on Twitter this week called ‘Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter’ and it is interesting though flawed. I haven’t seen a production with these production values on German television before and I think we should see more of it.

The series is somewhat schmaltzy (see the screen capture above of bullet casings landing in slow motion on a group portrait) but that is to be expected from a mainstream production.

What I found problematic is the sharp division drawn between the group of five main characters and the other actors in wartime Germany. The main characters are idealized figures who are supposed to symbolize their generation and its moral choices during the war. These choices mostly center on the small evils of oversight, looking away, following orders and opportunism. The real capital letter evils are perpetrated by others, mostly those of another generation, whose appearance and motivations are far more sinister.

I know there are several opinions about this (but I am not alone if I read all the critiques in German papers), but this portrayal to me seems to exceptionalize evil which is probably not the best idea. A more naturalistic and flat treatment of the systems of the war would have been immensely more difficult but also immensely better.

Update: Now that I’ve seen the last episode I would like to discourage anybody from watching this series. Any suspense and pace that was in the first episode was gone by the end. Moreover the writing and drama was absurdly poor by then. I know that properly ending stories is hard, but how a modern dramaturg and script writer signed off on this clusterfuck is beyond me. If this was the last hope for German public broadcasting to be relevant then that hope is in vain and the entire institution should be burnt down as quickly as possible.

Games on Ignite Berlin #3

Last week I presented at the Berlin Ignite. I had been present at the last one and greatly enjoyed, so I looked what I could add to the mix.

I threw most of the thinking in the studios for the past 1-2 years on the floor with post-its and distilled the pertinent threads from that. As it happens ‘New Games for New Cities’ was the title of a presentation Kars gave some time ago to which I had contributed but had forgotten about.

Leafing through the older presentations, it is good to see that the thinking has evolved over the years. The old points still hold, but time and experience has refined our opinions and forced us to refocus here and there.

Putting the presentation together was a fair amount of work (and not something I was particularly looking forward to the week before a holiday) but all of the positive responses were more than worth it. I can highly recommend Ignite for the mix of topics it touches on, the fun and light delivery and the varied and open crowd it attracts.