Gedeck-Fest!

I declared this weekend Gedeck-Fest! I wound up having an impromptu marathon of Martina Gedeck movies the other day.  Who is Martina Gedeck?  She’s the first German actor or actress I could name (truth be told, the total number has grown to a whopping two–I can also name Sibylle Canonica*.  I’d have 3 if I could ever remember the name of the chick from Run Lola Run–she’s been in plenty of other stuff, including The Bourne Identity, but I can never remember her name for more than about 5 minutes.  No commentary on her skill, only on my crappy memory).

Out of the 5 of you here, I’m sure at least 3 of you have seen Mostly Martha.  This means you’ve seen Martina Gedeck.  She’s Martha.

Gedeck-fest did not actually start with Mostly Martha.  It began by accident when I finally decided to watch Night Train to Lisbon.  It looked interesting, and I recognized her name on the summary of the cast.  At this point, other than Mostly Martha, I’ve only seen her in one other film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, which was disturbing, but good.  Still, two movies with good performances was enough to give her street cred with me.  The scales were tipped and I opted to give it a shot.

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The Book Thief Stole My Time

I am not going to say the recent film adaptation of The Book Thief was a bad movie.  I’m just saying that in my expectations that it would be as good as the book, I walked out feeling like my time had been vampire’d because I could have waited to let it come out on video and been just as well off.

First off, I do recommend The Book Thief as a book.  I had originally shied away from it because coming of age stories in Nazi Germany with the obligatory hidden Jew element are, frankly, almost a cliché.  Been there, read that.  When I finally picked up the book and read it, I ate a bit of crow because while this may have some of the necessary ingredients for the same old same old, it is put together in a way that made it a fabulous read.

What I should have realized before I saw the film was that what I love about the book are the little details, and the awesome narrator.  If anything is sacrificed in a film, it is the details, and narrators are usually under-utilized.  So, clearly, I was doomed.

Of course, being doomed in this way won’t stop me from complaining.  For the narrator, I will only say that the narrator of the book was one of my favorite narrators in any book I’ve ever read.  Full of insight and dark humor.  I can more or less forgive the drastically reduced role the narrator plays as I know that it can be tricky handling narration on film without the whole thing sucking.  I’ll grudgingly give the film a pass on this.

I’m not giving on the details, though.  Not completely.  There are some that, okay, fine, so the house didn’t fit the description completely.  And the random German words were minimized.  I can live with that.

But I  maintain that other details do matter.  When an author specifically calls out the main character’s eye color, and does so in terms connected to the time and setting (the author specified that Liesel had “dangerous” brown eyes.  Kinda mattered in Germany at the time), maybe the filmmakers ought not to go dead opposite (we’re talking full on Elijah-Wood-hobbit-ass big baby blues).  Really, there’s a detail that’s not too much to ask, in my opinion.  Also, if you are going to insert a death scene in the film that was not shown in the book?  Do not give it to a person who, while all right enough on screen otherwise, cannot actually act a decent death scene (if you watch, you will know this one when you see it.  It screams out for a whole new award category for Most Terrible Death Scene That Should Not Even Be In The Film). But the real kicker was a seemingly tiny change that I am sure the film makers thought nothing of, but which changes a fundamental element.  In the book, Liesel has an innate gift with words.  She struggles with reading and writing, but actually forming sentences and choosing how to describe something she does without any help or assistance, and does remarkably well.  She does not necessarily realize it is a gift until it is pointed out to her by another character, but it already exists in her.  In the film, rather than having her produce the description on her own, they chose to have that other character coach her to better describe something.  Totally killed a fundamental for me.  There is a difference between doing something naturally and having someone coach you to do it.

I hated that moment.

All that said, the costumes were great, and I appreciated that they did retain a modest amount of the little German words and phrases thrown throughout the book (which I totally ate up).  And there were some fantastic performances from the cast (bad, unnecessary death scene notwithstanding).  It’s the first time that I’ve watched a movie with Geoffrey Rush where he didn’t creep  me out (not saying he’s been bad in other things, just that I’ve found him creepy–on that list of people I don’t want to meet in a dark alley, like Christopher Lee).

Since it was in such a limited theater release in my area before the holidays, I assume that by now, I probably don’t need to warn anyone not to pop for theater prices, but if you see it screening, go see something like The Hobbit instead and wait for this one to come out on Netflix.

Or, just read the book.

Movie Review: Gloomy Sunday

Title:  Gloomy Sunday (German title: Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod) – 1999

Director: Rolf Schübel

Writers: Rolf Schübel (screenplay); Nick Barkow (novel)

This movie has a lot going for it just from the start where I’m concerned: (a) it’s based on an urban legend, and who doesn’t like those, right?  (b) it’s set in Budapest, a city I fell in love with on my short business trip visit and which I plan to visit again someday (c) it’s in German, which I love because it’s not easy to find German language media to bolster mein Deutsch.  All this makes me pre-disposed to like this film (certainly more than if it were not based on a urban legend, set in Cleveland and in French).

The film is adapted from a novel that I think I need to get my hands on.  The story is loosely based on the urban legend surrounding “Gloomy Sunday” a song by a Hungarian composer that allegedly drove multiple people in Europe and America to commit suicide in the 1930s.  It focuses in particular on the love triangle between the composer, a restaurant owner and a beautiful hostess.  And because this is a 1930s period piece in Europe, you can bet your ass that it involves Nazis.

The love triangle is, well, odd.  Not really ménage à trois, but definitely not conventional.  I can’t say the relationship gives me warm and fuzzies, but it’s well done enough that I also don’t feel like bleaching my brain (a common problem when European film romances get weird).  It’s well done for what it is.  And, because this isn’t your typical mainstream Hollywood BS, one of the two male leads is, well, not much to look at.  I appreciate that about a lot of foreign cinema, but in this case, being a German film, you see Mr. Mediocre-Looks’s bare ass which I, personally, could have done without (not so much because of my prudish American tendencies as because, well, it’s not a hot ass, so what’s the point?).  For male viewers, you also get plenty of bare-breasted shots of the female lead (who is good looking).  I was neither offended (meh, I have my own.  Whatever) nor impressed (meh, I have my own. Whatever).

The scenery, is, of course, fantastic.  I really do love Budapest.  Seeing the movie meant I got to spend a lot of time squeeing and going “The Széchenyi  bridge!” and “OMG, I WALKED THERE!”  And it’s not unfounded squeeing because the city is beautiful (except in those places where the hideous Cold War construction crept in….thankfully the eye-sore of a Marriot I stayed in was skillfully avoided by the cameras).  There are plenty of good establishing shots to feast your eyes upon.  On a more interior note, Lazlo’s restaurant in which much of the action takes place is VERY similar to two of the restaurant’s I dined in while there.  And the focus on the Hungarian rouladen, was nice because I had some of that….and a lot of other really friggin’ delicious dishes in that city (it’s entirely possible to gain weight just thinking about the food in Budapest).

Of course, since the movie is named after music, the music in the film is wonderful.  Very classical.  The theme is a truly beautiful piece.  Piano is the primary mode of transmission, but there are some excellent incidences of violin as well (which actually fits more with the music I heard in Budapest).  I’m strongly considering picking up the soundtrack to this one.

One of the downsides to the film is, well, inevitable.  As I mentioned, it’s set in 1930s Europe.  This means you will NOT avoid Nazis and Jews.  It’s that damn elephant in the room you can’t avoid.  But….at this point in time, even though it’s real and it’s true, it’s almost become cliche.  Particularly because the German officer featured in this film is completely stereotypical in terms of his appearance: blonde, fair, etc.  I can’t help rolling my eyes at that visual because the most-recently-off-the-boat Germans in my family are NOT blonde, blue eyed or fair.  In fact, they literally “pass” for Mexicans (the Hungarians and Jews in the film look way more like many of my family than the German characters).  I’m not saying I like the idea of my homies being associated with Nazis, but if we’re going to embrace the reality of Nazis being in every film about that era, we may as well embrace that not all Germans are fair and blue eyed.

Of course, the war and the Nazis are integral to the plot and you see that part coming a mile out.  The relationship complexity adds the real flavor, though the plot still seems to drag a bit at times while you’re watching.  I know this because I make notes.  And because it’s a European film.  I also know that the ending to this one makes me forget the drag every time I watch.  It’s a more awesome ending that you get in a lot of European films, so double bonus on that one.

All told, I’ll give it 3 and ¾ jars of peanut butter.  Deductions for the buttshots, the occasional plot drag and for the cliche German.

 

Coffee with Johann Gottfried Herder

Would we drink coffee with Johann Gottfried Herder?

Kristy: Well… I spent the morning reading about him for the umpteenth time and historiography really isn’t my thing, so off hand I kind of want to say no. But on the other hand, my academic discipline owes him a huge debt, which means that I owe him a huge debt. Many of his assumptions about the Volk were hugely problematic, but you have to recognize what a huge deal it was at that time for someone to actually see value in their artistic expressions. And I’m particularly interested and impressed by some of his ideas about vernacular languages. Also, it’s hard not to be amused by a guy who was so entranced by reading Ossian that he didn’t notice when the ship he was on nearly sank. (I realize this story is likely apocryphal, rest assured I will ask about it.) So yes, I will share a cup of coffee with the man. I’d be interested to hear how he feels about the present state of ethnology and folklore. I’d like to know how he feels about his legacy–his ideas have led to great things and horrific things. Was it all worth it?

Cammy: Dude, he’s absorbed in all things German which means I would definitely love a chance to pick his brain. It seems like he was trying to boost German self esteem even before they had their current national self esteem problem brought on by the Holocaust. Rather ironic given that his original attempts to bolster some pride in the German language, history and culture was later perverted to justify and support the shit Germany pulled in WWII. Like Kristy, I’d like to have him talk about that one. And, he had a hand in influencing Goethe, which means I owe him coffee since Goethe is to German literature as Shakespeare is to English literature. As far as discussion of Volk, I’m pretty sure I’ll leave that anthropological-folklore-historiography-other-big-academic-words lifting top Kristy, but even then I’m sure I can take something away from listening in.

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Symphonie

My obsessive play of the week is another international tune.  I decided that two versions of “Symphonie” by German rock band Silbermond just weren’t enough.  I was perusing Amazon and located a third “Orchester Version.”  More strings and (drum roll please) an Oboe (double reeds, represent!)

The song is, at its core, a rock break-up ballad.  The hook, in this case, is  “Symphonie…und jetzt es ist still um uns” (Symphonie…and now it’s quiet around us).  It’s solid stuff, though I’m taken more by the overall sound than the lyrics.

The initial version I encountered was pretty much pure rock.  Again, solid stuff.  It helped to branch my collection of German musik into a cool middle ground between the head-banging, angry-time music of Rammstein, the synthesizer-of-the-80s-live-on sound of the “Schlager” pop music (I love it, but I recognize it’s not for everyone) and the truly ol’ skool folk music my family brings out for holidays and reunions (think beer halls and yodeling).  I needed something that was solid rock-pop, and this (along with the rest of Silbermond’s repertoire) fit the bill.

I was even more pleased when I found the second version, still rock, but with a touch of orchestral strings.  Very classy.  The orchestral touches made the sound more melancholy while letting the guitar build up bring home the gut-wrenching aspect of a failed relationship.   I completely support cross-musical-genre-efforts, but we’ve all seen some forced disasters.  This was not one of them.  I was more than impressed enough.

Until they added the French Horn and the Oboe.

There is very little in this world that cannot be made better with a French Horn and an Oboe.  Rock ballads get better.  Symphonies reach their pinnacle.  The weather gets nicer.  Babies stop crying.  Ice cream tastes better.

No, really.  I swear.

This final arrangement took the increase in melancholy from version 2 and ramped that up, but they still retained the rock build up.  As with the second version, the combination of the classical orchestra sound worked with the rock band–no feeling of shoe horning.  The added instrumentals made the slow, quiet beginning even richer, and they even seem to play a larger roll once the guitar and drums kicked in, which is nice.  I thought the drum entry was a teensy bit heavy, but the points gained with the added orchestral parts out-weigh the split second when the transition seems too sudden.

The downside of this ear-worm is that I went looking for even more Silbermond MP3s on Amazon only to find there are very few.  The only full up album is Verschwende Deine Seit from 2004.  The rest are 2-3 track single albums (be warned, if you buy from Amazon, watch those singles albums–several are priced at $9.99 for the album, when there are only 2 tracks which you can buy individually for $0.99).  The selection of albums on CD is larger, but the prices are significantly higher.  And, unfortunately, most of the official videos from the group on their YouTube channel are geo-blocked for those of us in the USA (we deserve it, I know).

 

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Making it A Better Time for the Optimists

In case you missed my whining, and the fact that I haven’t posted on time (again), I’ll tell you that this has been a helluva last two weeks.  I’ve been working long days, on weekends, and generally busting my ass.

This level of sustained activity involved in something I’m not really keen on doing requires a certain level of musical stimulus to maintain my sanity and my energy level.  “Zeit für Optimisten” by Silbermond has been in my playlist rotation fairly heavily.

If you like fast paced, solid rock music, you will be able to enjoy this song without knowing German.  Musically, I won’t say this is my favorite Silbermond song (I think that would go to “Symphonie”), but it’s got the right tempo to offer a pick me up when Excel spreadsheets are bogging me down.  There’s also the note of, not quite anger, but definitely something less than happy lurking under the upbeat sound, which mirrors my level of frustration just about perfectly.

If you DO know some German, the lyrics complete the package to make this a perfect addition to the job-dragging-me-down playlist.  “es ist ‘ne schlechte Zeit für Optimisten” repeats the chorus….literally?  “It’s a bad time for Optimists.”

Ain’t.  It.  Just.

And rather than offer empty hope about improvement for the Optimists, the song takes the bull by the horns suggesting “Also lasst sie uns ein wenig unterstützen / Wer will schon gern alleine sein?” That is, we should help the optimists….who wants to be alone?  That’s right.  Instead of bench warming it with the pessimists (me), we ought to be out there finding a way to make things a little better for those lonely optimists.

A nice sentiment, really.

Of course, being a pessimist I could suggest that the other option for Optimist loneliness is to convert them to pessimism.  Clearly Silbermond has more optimism than me.  And that’s good, because they give me rockin’ songs that make me momentarily think I should abandon my pessimism if I want to see things improve.

Once again, for the daring samplers out there, a legal version is up on YouTube.  The video is a couple of years old.  Don’t ask me about the TV-headed people.  I didn’t get it when the song came out and I still don’t get it, though I am amused by the guy on the crapper and the kid on the mini four wheeler.

 

 

Musikalisher Mittwoch: Only Works When I’m Too Angry to Think

When I hit a certain level of pissed, I go beyond the point where some laid-back Jimmy Buffett is capable of unwinding me.  I’m angry, livid, out-of-my-head seething….and I have no intention of letting that feeling go.

It is in these moments that I turn into a fan of German heavy metal, including the only such group most Americans know: Rammstein.

There are a few Rammstein songs I can jam to when I’m not in a homicidal rage, but one in particular I can really only deal with when I’m too angry to think about what it’s actually saying, and that’s “Bück Dich.”

The first time I heard the song I was in Dallas traffic that was moving, but full of total assholes who were tailgating, cutting people off, and weaving in and out at excessive speeds.  I had popped in a recently acquired Rammstein album, thinking that “Du Hast” would fit the mood.  It fit, as did some of the following songs, including “Bück Dich” until the point where traffic had thinned out and I was starting to relax.

As I morphed back to a human from being like a mental-Incredible-Hulk whose dearest wish is a top-mounted antitank weapon on the roof of my car, the part of my brain where my college German lessons are stored kicked in.

“Bück dich befehl ich dir / wende dein Antlitz ab von mir / dein Gesicht ist mir egal / bück dich nocheinmal”

Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot.

Did that say what I’m fairly certain that just said?  “Bend yourself over”?  “Your face doesn’t matter to me?”

O-M-G.

Yeah.  Therapeutic as it is to hear those creeptastic vocals (if I had to imagine the voice that would most likely make me pee myself if I heard it coming from a dark alley?  The vocalist for Rammstein would have it), and the pounding, grinding music to go with the blinding anger coursing through my veins, it’s only that level of anger-out-of-my-wits that manages to block me from thinking about what the hell the song is actually saying.  I mean, a creepy, angry German man is growling about screwing someone in a very uncomfortable place (Kevin Smith fans chorus “Like the back of a Volkswagen?”) in a very not nice way.

I can’t say I hate the song.  When I’m mad enough that the only part of me that’s tuned to music is a monkey-brain that wants to head bang and doesn’t speak German, it’s perfect.  But the moment I come back to my senses, “Bück Dich” goes back on the shelf.

Sunlight to the Time Vampire?

Um.

I have no time vampire for this week.  Really.  Unless you want to count my job.  Which, theoretically, shouldn’t be a time vampire since it’s A) what grown ups are supposed to do with their time and B) brings a paycheck.

B, at least, holds a significant amount of attraction.

Unfortunately A does not yield fun times or anything worthy of comments.  Annoying, stressful,….and run times averaging over 10.25 hours.

Together A and B combine to slay any time vampire that might attempt to consume my hours with mindless, un-productive fun.

So maybe work is a time vamp.  An evil time vamp.

Verdammt.

 

Stille Nacht

In the Cammy Countdown of Christmas Favorites, Silent Night is, and always has been, number one.  And since it’s my birthday (at least it is on the side of the dateline  where I’m hanging out this holiday season), I find it oddly satisfying to get to discuss one of my favorite pieces of music.

Whether you believe the tale that Stille Nacht came into being because a snow-bound Austrian village suffered a broken pipe-organ and the priest and organist decided to team up and compose a fitting musical tribute to Christmas Eve that could be played on a guitar instead., or that  it was that the priest wanted a song that his congregation could sing in their native German tongue as opposed to the plethora of Latin hymns available, the song is, simply wonderful.

Emphasis on the simply.

It’s really not a complicated melody.  It’s simple, easy, versatile.  I’ll admit that I was shocked when I first learned that it was originally written to be far more upbeat and snappy than the slow lullaby-esque version most of us are familiar with.  It works either way.  Speed it up, slow it down, use a full bodied orchestral arrangement, or strip it down to a single vocalist with an acoustic guitar–musically, it’s the little-black-dress of tunes that works no matter the occasion.

Maybe it’s the flexibility of the tune that’s led to the spread.  It’s been translated in to dozens if not hundreds of languages.  I’ve heard versions in Norwegian, Italian, English and, of course, German.  It’s been a common denominator in a pause on a battle field (“Belleau Wood” by Garth Brooks being a fine musical take off on Silent Night in the Christmas Truce….just try to ignore the fact that the battle of Belleau wood was fought in June).  But mostly?  It gives me the warm and fuzzies like no other piece of music in the world.

So, no matter what your beliefs or non-beliefs, and no matter whether your share Cammy’s obsession with Silent Night, we here at MTV, MPB hope you all get the warm and fuzzies tonight, tomorrow night and every night throughout the winter season (onces it warms up, we only wish you fuzzies, not heat).

My Favorite Movie

My apologies to Kristy for this, I know she is not a fan…

In my previous post I mentioned an example of my night-owl-hood in my childhood habit of staying up until all hours on the weekend watching musicals.  This reminded me of a yearly vigil I had yet to keep, and which I will not have the opportunity to take care of after Thursday.

I have watched The Sound of Music once per year, minimum, since I was about 6 years old.  I stopped counting the number of times I’d seen the movie sometime in high school.  At that time it was 82. If I were a little more Sheldon Cooper-esque, I wouldn’t have stopped counting.  And I wouldn’t feel quite so ashamed about the size of that number.  Or of the fact that I can recite every word, name all the supporting nuns (my favorite is Sister Sophia–played by Marni Nixon), and point out the scene in which the real Maria von Trapp walks through the background along with two of her daughters.

At this point, I get that it’s sappy, schmalzy and utterly saccharine in the eyes of most of the universe.  I honestly wasn’t too aware of this until I moved to Virginia and encountered the ridicule of a “friend” in high school who liked to mock me and use this as evidence of my banal and parochial musical tastes (which, in turn, evidenced how parochial I was in general).  He was a narrow minded douche, but I was forced to acknowledge that this movie is not deep or sophisticated.

I’ve stopped trying to convince people that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I have totally accepted that my best friend will never, ever like this movie (but she doesn’t give me shit about it though, for which I’m eternally grateful).  And, until this particular post, I’ve definitely been keeping it on the D.L. with new friends and colleagues.

But that doesn’t mean I can let it go.

The bloody thing is completely entwined in my life.  It was the impetus for many a learning experience: European geography ( “Daddy, where’s Vienna?”), Catholicism (although, for the longest time I assumed all nuns were nice), WWII, the division of Germany, communism (Dad’s lectures go on for a while and branch out quite a bit), submarines, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, WWI (“Daddy, how can Austria have a navy if they aren’t by an ocean?”) telegrams (which I thought were the single dumbest idea in the world and yet I really hoped I would get one someday–still haven’t)….  I spent a good decade measuring my age against the ages of von Trapp kids.  Turning 13 was awesome because Lousia was my favorite of the kids.  Turning 17 was honestly daunting because I was completely without a point of reference, except Rolf, and really, who want’s a Nazi as guidepost?  Not me.  And, God help me, I really, really, really want my own puppet show.

But the biggest connection came in 6th grade. My English teacher, who was truly a kindred spirit, initially connected with me because I’d checked out The Story of the Trapp Family Singers from the school library (the last person to have checked that one out was my teacher when she was back in junior high).  She, it turns, out, had always loved the movie herself.  That led to me being willing to reveal to her that I liked to write.  She was the first adult I ever talked to about writing, and she read, edited and encouraged in a way that (unfortunately for all of you) led me to believe it was something I could do and do well (well actually, all you have to worry about is the part where I think I can write.  The “well” part was adequately obliterated by the College of William and Mary).

So, you see, at some point, this became more than a family-friendly musical of extreme length–it became a focal point for a lot of memories, and the starting point for a lot of education.  When I put in this movie as a comfort flick once a year, I get to wallow not just in nostalgia for the movie itself, but in the nostalgia of late nights in the living room of my old home as an elementary school kid up way past bed time, of spreading out maps on the floor in front of the TV with Dad point out borders, of sitting in Mrs. D’s classroom after school reeling at the wonder of a grown up taking me seriously.  I can see that it’s sappy, but, unlike the douche who mocked my tastes, I also see more than just what plays on the screen.