A note on Alex de la Iglesia

I’ve been momentarily distracted from Fassbinder and in the midst of an Alex de la Iglesia mini-binge. There’s a view in Spain that he’s somehow a great filmmaker who’s never made a great film, a contradiction if there is one, but nonetheless plausible, if, in my estimation, wrong. I thought Day of the Beast/ El día de la Bestia (1995) and Common Wealth/ La Comunidad (2000)were great and recent viewings have not changed my view. Muertos de risa (1999) and The Ferpect Crime /El Crimen Ferpecto (2005) have risen in my estimation from my first viewing; 800 Bullets/ 800 balas (2002) is a film every lover of Spaghetti Westerns should see; As Luck Would Have It/ La chispa de la vida (2011) is a kind of remake of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), and I thought it brilliant except for a sentimental and righteous ending that would have made Wilder gag. I loved Elijah Woods in The Oxford Murders (2008) and Terele Pávez and Carmen Maura in Witching and Bitching/ Lasa brujas de Zurramagurdi (2013). Mutant Action/ Acción Mutante (1993), with all its imperfections and more than a tinge of misogyny is a splashy announcement of a new sensibility in Spanish cinema (one introduced by Almodóvar). As to Perdita Durango (1997)? Bardem is great; and it’s made from the same source material as Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990)…and it’s got a fantastic homage to Burt Lancaster. But…


José Arroyo



Biberkopf goes to see Reinhold, who’s suspicious. What does he want from a man who’s caused him to lose his arm? It seems Biberkopf wants nothing but Reinhold’s friendship. He loves the man. And that love – non-sexual, rather mysterious, and more than a little bit masochistic – is one of the fascinating things about the series. Reinhold is resentful of Biberkop’s good nature, his physical strength, his social ease – all a skinny stutterer might aspire to: throwing him out of the car was pure impulsive malevolence. Biberkopf’s view is that resentment won’t make his arm grow back so why deny himself a friend? Reinhold wants all Biberkopf is and possesses, and that includes Mieze; and if he can’t get it, he’s happy to destroy it.

In ‘The Anti-Television Film’, the first essay in the pamphlet that accompanies the Criterion box set, Tom Tykwer writes that BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, ‘enraged the national spirit and occasioned assaults by the yellow press and (in the wake of this) protests from ‘millions of television viewers’ who felt themselves ‘robbed of their subscription fees’ (Bild newspaper).


‘The public protests against the work, which everyone who was in the vicinity of Germany at the time remembers. – and many remember the outrage even better than the film itself – was directed against the television stations, the filmmakers, the ensemble, and naturally, above all, against the director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Although the film’s alleged unacceptability in technical matters (it was accused of considerable flaws in image and sound quality) was thrust into the center of attention, these problems, it appeared, were hardly worthy of such a storm of indignation. The pain caused by the film somehow went deeper, and with each further episode, broadcast one week after the other, it seemed like a dirty thorn was boring itself deeper and deeper into the wound of this republic’.


According to Tykwer, the ‘night shots, which were obviously composed for the big screen and a sensitive film emulsion, were watered down into a faint, flat, grey-black blur on most of the German Telefunken TV sets available at the time’. They are fascinatingly dark, even in the restored version, and the work being shot on 16 mm, which makes the focus soft, and brings a faded quality to the image, adds a historic  quality to the image, like photographs turned yellow with age.


But it’s important also to remember that what undoubtedly enraged German viewers forty years ago, is something most likely to enrage viewers today: That crime is presented as a viable option not only to survive physically but to preserve one’s dignity; that Biberkopf is a pimp; that the film creates a view of love that encompasses loving more than one person at a time, and whilst selling sex for money; that Biberkopf loses control and almost kills Mieze, just as he did Ida, and she nonetheless, with all her bruises still fresh, pronounces her love for him. These are not conventional views of relationships, friendships, feelings, motivations for actions, or ways of conveying them.

Mieze’s Scream

Mieze’s scream, when she believes Biberkopf doesn’t love her and is out to sell her to Reinhold, is theatrical in its performance, staging and  duration – I’ve seen camp imitations of that moment by friends – yet remains a startling and effective scene in the film. Indeed, it’s a startling episode in what remains a radical conjunction of the intervention of film and television into public discourse.

José Arroyo



Thinking Aloud About Film: Comrades (Bill Douglas, UK, 1986)

In the accompanying podcast, we discuss Bill Douglas’ fourth and final film, COMRADES, very different from his earlier trilogy: A three-hour-long epic of the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’, a group of early 19th-century agricultural workers who band together to unite against the lowering of their wages, form The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, an early form of trade union, campaign against rich landowners, end up on trial on a spurious charge — swearing an illegal oath — and get shipped to serve their sentence in Australia.
References to early forms of cinema structure the film’s narrative; the story is told through an account of the pre-history of motion pictures: shadow play, magic lanterns, camera obscura, heliotypes, dioramas.
The story is fascinating because it is a pre-history of the union movement and also pre-Marx.
We discuss how the film becomes less interesting in the second half where the narrative moves to Australia, partly because we lose sight of what happens in Britain: the rallying, the support, the organising. In Australia, the Tolpuddle martyrs and indigenous people are seen to share an experience of oppression. But we also see the limits of this, how some of the white oppressed themselves become oppressors as soon as they get a little power.
We also discuss how the FILM might be both an unwieldy mess and a very great film. What is beautiful about this movie is the way Douglas films working class people and landscape. There’s a real tension between the narrative and the poetic. The storytelling is tortured. Interesting to compare with MY WAY HOME, in which the Scottish section seemed stronger than the last part where he goes into the army and abroad. At it’s best, the film brings to mind Chahine’s THE LAND. At its worst, it feels uncompromising and a little bit self-indulgent.
The film has a very great cast with famous actors playing the upper classes (Robert Stephens, James Fox, Vanessa Redgrave) and then unknown actors playing the workers (Imelda Staunton, Keith Allen, Phil Davies).Barbara Windsor, falls somewhere in between and offers a wonderful turn.
England is shown as inhospitable, unfair, unjust. It’s a real condemnation.


The podcast may be listened to here:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Those interested may find a good background article on Comrades here: https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/about/bills-films/comrades/

The  Bill Douglas article about the pre-cinema stuff in the film that Richard references in the podcsat may be accessed here:  https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/about/bills-films/a-lanternist-and-his-comrades-by-bill-douglas/

The film is available to buy on BFI blu ray,  and is also available for rent on BFI Player and  on Amazon Prime in a very good print.


José Arroyo

Confusion by Stefan Zweig

Finished reading Stefan Zweig’s CONFUSION last night. It’s a title that never cropped up in those days when I tried to read every novel I could find on the subject of homosexuality, perhaps because the author himself was heterosexual, or maybe because it was written in German. Yet, it is surprising that a novella on the subject, from 1927, by one of the most popular and important authors of the day, simply didn’t figure, at least in my particular context.

Zweig has a particular style, one as distinct as a 40s melodrama and as easy to parody as the Queen Mother’s thank you letters. It’s easy to reject but very beautiful and powerful if one lets oneself be taken over by it.

In CONFUSION and old professor at the end of his career looks over his Fettschrift and notes that it covers even the most minor aspect of his bibliography but bears no trace of the most important person in his life. As a young man he happened upon a lecture on English Literature that so enraptured him that it changed his life. He fell in love with the lecturer’s mind, gave over his life to helping him put those thoughts on paper, and was vulnerable to the older man’s every word and gesture, seeking approval. The confusion arises because the older man is interested in more than the young man’s mind. This finally comes to a head, when after a series of events, the young man sleeps with the older man’s wife and is so ashamed he gets ready to leave. Before he leaves however, the older man gives him an explanation for all the mixed signals and what they signified.

Near the end Zweig offers a dramatic condensation of all the ways homosexuals were oppressed in the period: blackmail, police raids, furtive and dangerous assignations etc. There’s a class bias in those views of sailors and workmen, but it remains sympathetic and powerful. And the last line, where the once young man, now a distinguished and retired professor, looks happily over his career, his life, his wife and children but notes of the older man, ‘I have never loved anyone more,’ is to me incredible in a novel from 1927.

Many thanks to Dan Callahan for bringing it to my attention.


José Arroyo




Fassbinder sub-titled BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: ‘A Film in 13 Parts With an Epilogue’, and I’m now beginning to realise that this is not just some aggrandising claim for the series. Certainly, as his work in EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY or WORLD ON A WIRE demonstrate, Fassbinder embraced the medium of television, worked easily in it, and knew how to use its forms. I finally clued in to how BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ is different – and I’m a real dummy; it took me a while; this is the tenth episode – when the title of the episode appeared almost exactly halfway through rather than, as is usual, near the beginning. For a while I thought my attention had lapsed and I’d missed it. And then it struck me that the consistency of structure from episode to episode that one expects of TV series was missing here. Episodes began differently, sometimes ended abruptly. There are a series of settings that get revisited (Max’s bar, the newsagents in the tube, Franz’s flat, etc.) but each episode can go in wildly varying directions. What is consistent is that there is a linear narrative, sometimes accompanied by almost incantatory flashbacks, such as the murder of Ida, and that that is accompanied with an underlaying of synchronic elements (songs, passages from the bible, the politics of the day, news headlines) to contextualise this particular story at a very specific historical moment: to evoke ‘the structure of feeling’ of a specific historical moment in the telling of this story.

This is a tragic and moving episode whose affect comes from an undercutting of expectations: Mieze wants to give him a baby but can’t so arranges for Eva to do so; Franz is obsessed with how the loss of his arm is the loss of his manhood but the only thing that seems to be working for him is his dick; he’s found love but is asked to give up his friend Willy, politics, and alcohol, i.e give up what has so far made life bearable; Mieze is in love with him and willing to ‘work’ for him; his tragedy is he’s now her pimp but he loves her so much he can’t bear for her to be with anyone else. The episode ends with Franz weeping as Mieze goes off with her John, ‘cause a girl’s gotta work.

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Berlin Alexanderplatz was not a ratings success and the ninth episode vividly conveys why that is so. Biberkop’s murderous attack on his wife is shown at the beginning and the middle of the episode. In the beginning during a fainting fit as Eva is trying to rationalise why becoming Mieze’s pimp is best for everyone. In the middle, as Fassbinder in voice-over reads the parable of a father’s sacrifice of his son to fulfil the will of God.

The parable of the sacrifice

This is also the episode where Bieberkopf goes to confront Reinhold. Reinhold through him out of the car, tried to kill him, caused the loss of right arm; he’s the reason Bieberkopf is once more a pimp after all his attempts at leading a decent life. Why did Reinhold do it? He really ought to kill him. After all, he’s less than a man now, chicken feed. What’s the use of cripples? Better to do away with them altogether, they both agree. But of course they are both crippled in different ways, and this is the episode that shows how they’re tied together through a bond that is equal parts love and resentment.

The episode also has an extended discussion of the state and of capital, of how workers are exploited and of which system might benefit workers most. Bieberkop goes to a political meeting for lack of anything better to but during the speeches he drifts away into dreams of sex. Besides, he’s no longer a worker, he’s a pimp. Morover, The German Reich is a Republic and anyone who doesn’t believe it will get a bullet through the neck.

One can understand why viewers might nor rush to their TV sets. But it is great.

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Biberkopf had a lot to learn about life. He thinks a man who’s lost an arm, particularly a right arm is done for. But he’s got to make a living and he’s vowed to go straight. His business dealings are all in disarray. He’s in discussions with Willy (Fritz Schediwy) about fencing low profile stolen goods that don’t seem to lead to much.  It’s the  women in his life who seem to be there for him, even though he’s served four years in Tegel for the involuntary slaughter of his wife Ida (Barbara Valentin). Mrs. Bast (Brigitte Mira), the landlady, who witnessed the murder, tries to cheer him up, brings him coffee and offers suggestions as to how he can earn a living with his one arm.

Fran meets Mieze

Eva (Hanna Schygulla)  is going out with Herbert (Roger Fritz) in love with Franz and screwing Johns out of their money with Herbert’s help. Franz was Eva’s pimp once, but he doesn’t want to live off women any more. Yet forces conspire. Eva still desires him. And she arranges to find him a nice girl. She introduces Franz to Mieze, known about town as Sonia but really named Emilie, and they quickly fall in love. Fassbinder shows the sequences where they meet with great tenderness. But the scene by the lake where we are shown the progression of their feelings is filmed in long shot, at a distance. Love is always a problem for Fassbinder and for Döblin. Franz discovers a love letter to Mieze from another man. Is their affair over, or will it go in a new direction? Mieze is in love with him so why can’t she do nice things for him, Eval tells Biberkopf. By the end of the episode Franz and Mieze are in love and he’s basically become her pimp, forces outside his control once more drawing him into a life he’s vowed to leave.

Mieze in love

Another brilliant episode with as complex a view of human relationships as I’ve seen. Biberkofp is like the canary imprisoned by forces outside his control.

José Arroyo



Biberkopf has survived being thrown out of a running car but has lost an arm. How will Pum’s gang react? Will Biberkopf squeal and let everyone know Reinhold did it? What happened to Scilly? Will Biberkopf overcome his loss? How will he make a living? These are some of the questions overhanging this episode.

Biberkopf’s  had bad luck losing an arm but he’s caused bad luck by killing Ida, however unwittingly. He’s lost an arm but he’s no eunuch. What is a man and how to continue to be one in spite of the loss of his arm is a running theme. He considers all kinds of thing but rejects them because they won’t make his arm grow back. Besides, his bad luck is the world’s way of giving someone else a break. The important thing is to be free.

Free Man or No Man At All

What caught my eye in this episode is how Reinhold and Scilly are filmed behind bars and in shadows before eventually coming to light in the end.

The appearance of Udo Kier as a queer billiards player.

Biberkopf decides to go out

The voice-over narration read by Fassbinder about Biberkopf’s need to face the outside world.

The extraordinary red-light-district/ Whore of Baby long sequence (see above). What  could be shown on German television in 1980 remains startling.

The tour de force of acting that is the sequence of Biberkop talking to his beer, filmed mainly in long take. Lamprecht is extraordinary:

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The opening scene startles with its use of blue, a colour that pierces the amber/brown colour scheme of the whole series and announces something important. Reinhold wants to offload Trude, his new girlfriend, onto Franz. But Franz refuses. He’s happy with Scilly. Besides which, ‘even broads are human beings and have feelings’. Reinhold will have to learn how to end his own love affairs, which by the end, he does, brutally. But not before betraying Franz.

Cursed be the man

Franz gets lured into a robbery. He’s so nice, easy-going and trusting that he doesn’t have a clue until he’s in the middle of it.  By then, it’s too late, and his attempts at resistance annoy Reinhold to the point that Reinhold throws him out of the getaway car, and Biberkopf gets run over. ‘Cursed be the man who trusted in man, saith Jeremiah, For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall inhabit the parched places, in a salt land, not inhabited. The heart is deceitful and wicked. Who can know it?’

The Fassbinder Stock Company

What caught my eye in this episode was the preponderance of the Fassbinder stock company (Karl Scheydt, Irm Hermann, Lilot Pompey, Ivan Desnay, Volker Spengler, Gunther Kaufmann) and the way lights are reflected in the actors eyes.

There is no cause for despair

Fassbinders’ narrational voice-over, all seemingly taken from Döblin’s novel, are very allegorical and poetic, and read by Fassbinder with a real world-wearyness even though the last line in the episode is , ‘There is no cause for despair’

Lights reflected

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Meck (Franz Buchrieser) introduces Biberkopf (Günther Lamprecht) to Pums (Ivan Desny) and there’s the fateful meeting with Reinhold (Gottfried John), stuttering, thin, avoiding alcohol, obsessed with women, and visiting the Salvation Army to try and save himself from what he knows is a compulsion.

The women

This episode has two axes, the unfolding relationship with Reinhold, and then the inter-related trade in women he subtly seduces Biberkopf into. As the episode begins Eva (Hanna Schygulla), his old flame, whom he used to pimp, has been paying his room for him whilst he’s been away. It’s the same room where he stuck down Ida (Barbara Valentin) , where he lived with Lina (Elizabeth Tissenaar), where Reinhold will send him Fränze (Helen Vita) and Cilly (Annemarie Düringer), and where he will offload Fränze onto the newsagent (Klaus Höhne). He no longer wants to be a pimp but he seems to have no trouble trading in women, and gaining some advantage from him, that whilst not monetary, is still material (shoes, furs, services), and where doing a friend a favour begins to thin the line between using women, increasingly oblivious to their feelings, and living off their earnings. Cilly accuses Franz of being a pimp and worse than Reinhold, which he insists he’s not.

First fateful meeting with Reinhold


What I found particularly compelling in this episode was the rhyming of the initial meeting with Reinhold to the later meeting just before they go into the Salvation Army, here Fassbinder as narrator, intones: ‘There is a reaper whose name is Death, with power from Almighty God. He now whets the knife all the better to slice. He’ll soon shear his path, then we’ll feel his wrath.’ The viewer knows something about Reinhold that Biberkopf can’t yet even begin to intuit,  and the discrepancy between who Reinhold is and who Reinhold takes him to be, will develop into tragedy

Fassbinder’s narrational interjection

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Biberkopf (Günther Lamprecht) is drinking himself into a stupor in a new boarding house. He walks around the streets in an alcoholic delirium mistaking a delivery man for a pastor.  In his easy way he makes friends with the caretakers, the Greniers, who tell him all about the other tenants, their jobs and their plights. Baumann (Gerhard Swerenz), another neighbour, and via the wonderful parable of Job, dramatized via a card game, tells Biberkopf that the angels and the devil all want to help Biberkpof, each for their own reasons, but nothing will change until he helps himself. Eva arrives to help him out, tells him she still loves him and will always look out for him, but he doesn’t want to be a pimp and tells her he needs to find his own way out of his plight, which by the end of the episode, he does.


What caught my eye in this episode is the way Fassbinder dramatises:


  1. Visually the bottles and the sick
  2. He creates a whole world just through having Frau Grenier describe the other people in the building in some detail.


The limp-dick episode

3. The ‘limp-dick episode’ that plays out over the solicitor reading out his views on venereal disease resulting from male heterosexual adulterous sex.

4. The parable of job playing cards is brilliantly enacted.

The abbatoir

5.The parable of the slaughterhouse, poetically read by Fassbinder himself, with vintage pictures, is wonderful

The shepherd

6.The parable of the shepherd killing the sheep is a moment of dreamlike theatricality, very effective.

7. The dramatization of the Grenier’s dealings with the gangs, their double-crossings and their arrest. A major chapter in the Döblin novel, here told through others, almost as background, and wonderfully effective as social context and also as a critique of what seems respectable but is not.

8. The narrative tying to gether of seemingly loose ends begun with the poetic voice-over read by Fassbinder (see above). The encounter with with the news-seller where we get the beginning of the diatribe against marriage, and then the reunion with Meck (Franz Buchrieser), a step up towards criminality and a way of finding out what happened to Lina (Elizabeth Trissenaar), and a pessimistic and unsentimental view on relationships.

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Franz Biberkopf (Günther Lamprecht) is trying to turn legit and the world won’t let him. He’s had to quit a job selling a Nazi paper because he has to wear the swastika and it’s turned former friends against him. His girlfriend Lina ( Elizabeth Trissenaar)is too religious to let him sell the sex-education booklets. There are ¾ of a million people in Berlin. How are they to live? Lina’s ‘uncle’ Otto (Marquard Bohm) advises them to join him selling shoe-laces door-to-door door-to-door. Franz meets a vulnerable widow. He looks like her husband. They have sex and she gives him money. Franz makes the mistake of telling Otto and sharing the money with him. But Otto betrays him and uses the knowledge Franz unwittingly provided to rob the widow. Betrayed by the people he trusted most, Otto runs away. His girlfriend goes in search of him in the dosshouse he’s staying in  but he doesn’t want to be found. There are some lessons he’d rather not have learned.

What caught my eye in this episode was

  1. The whole brown and amber of the film, even more pronounced in this episode.
  2. The way so many shots include a background separator –store-fronts, internal doors and windows, mirrors, that frames faces or cast shadows.
  3. The way Fassbinder adopts Döblin by including bible passages, songs into the narration itself.
  4. The way intertitles re-direct narration (see below).
  5. the beautiful passage where he goes buy flowers for the widow (see below).



Flowers for death

José Arroyo

Episode Two of Berlin Alexanderplatz: How Is One to Live If One Doesn’t Want to Die

What caught my eye in the extraordinary second episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz is as follows:

The credit sequence. It’s most unusual in that the opening credits acknowledge the contributions of the main pillars of Fassbinder’s team, and this includes not just actors but also camera crew, sound people, production managers, editors etc. The end credits to each episode convey credits more conventionally (see above).

The denunciation of marriage as an institution, which is repeated twice (see above).

The heartfelt anger over Paragraph 175, first expressed by the newsagent then read in a beautifully expressive way by Gunther Lamprecht as the story of a man whose life was ruined because he met his sunshine, the boy who gave his life meaning and made it all worthwhile. Further proof, if needed, that who makes movies matters (see above).

The standoff with the communists in the tube, with the extraordinary shot where they all remain still, a tableau, as the camera circles around them 360 degrees, and Fassbinder in voice-over, speaks poetically, alliteratively in a way that comments on the action and reproduces some of what Döblin in the novel does with sounds, found poems, bits of the bible, songs etc (see above).

José Arroyo


Thinking Aloud About Film: Stella Dallas (Henry King, USA, 1925)

In the accompanying podcast, we discuss the latest in the series of magnificent Film Foundation Screenings, the 1925 version of STELLA DALLAS directed by Henry King and restored by MOMA. It’s a glorious experience to see a film now almost 100 years old, looking brand new, probably seeing it in a better condition than most audiences would have seen it upon first release, particularly if they didn’t live in major metropolitan centres. The quality of the image, the toning, the tinting: it’s a sensuous joy. We also praise the film itself. It’s a work that continues to move. We compare it to two later versions: King Vidor’s 1937 film with Barbara Stanwyck and John Erman’s 1990 version with Bette Midler. We discuss the treatment of class in all three films. José argues for the superiority of the 1937 version and praises Stanwyck and the extraordinary last shot of that film. That aside, we also discuss why we love this marvellous silent film, praised as a masterpiece when it first came out and then sidelined as a mere ‘woman’s film’ for many generations.

An experience greatly enhanced by Stephen Horne’s wonderful score, orchestrated by Ben Palmer.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Support materials for the film screening, including an introduction by Gina Telaroli, interviews with film critics such as David Kehr etc, may be accessed here here: https://delphiquest.com/film-foundation/restoration-screening-room/stella-dallas?fbclid=IwAR2CdlBDagS0zPCFNiUI0S7SHkN0Cqaxb4RzUT8Ms944SPHrt4QG-Sq0gN8

The ending of the 1937 version of Stella Dallas:




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Berlin Alexanderplatz (Burhan Qurban, Germany/Netherlands/Canada, 2020)

The over-arching question in BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ is how to be a good man in a society that’s corrupt and wicked. In the novel, Franz Biberkopf killed his wife in drunken rage. He knows he can’t atone for it but, after serving his sentence, he desperately wants to live the rest of his life as a good man. What the novel then dramatizes in its detailed, montage-y, kaleidoscopic and cacophonous manner is the impossibility of such a quest in a society’s whose single-minded pursuit of profit reifies and dehumanises. Biberkopf won’t be allowed to be a man at all much less a good one. Ideas of masculinity and goodness are intertwined and central to the novel’s drama and its critique.


The strength of the narrative through-line, and the elasticity of its central, now archetypal characters, is evidenced in Burhan Qurban’s 2020 adaptation. Franz (Welket Bungué) , formerly Francis, an undocumented refugee from Guinea-Bissau, arrives in Germany having seen and done terrible things to get there but now determined to be good. The impossibility of that is narrated by Mieze (Jella Haase), the woman he loves and who he ends up pimping. Reinhold (Albrecht Schuch) is here a misogynistic repressed homosexual with an unacknowledged desire for Franz and an active hankering to impede every happiness that’s not shared with him. The world they move in is one of human trafficking, drugs and sex work. And it’s one that’s updated from the novel to include people of colour and an expanded range sexual identities (there’s an important trans character).


It’s a very slick film told in five episodes lasting over three hours. It’s a pleasure to see but ultimately unsatisfying. Whilst the filmmakers do an interesting job of reinterpreting the world and the characters in terms of race and sexuality, they’ve not quite updated the attitudes to gender. Thus practically every woman we see in the film is a prostitute. Of course, we are seeing a particular world, but they could have made Pums, the gang leader a woman, or had women drug-dealers or nightclub owners. It’s a problem and creates a particular tension in the film, one somewhat mitigated by having Mieze narrate. Though this tension between Mieze’s narration and what happens to Franz also sadly sideswipes the particular sexual fetishization involved in black masculinities in a white culture. It’s not acknowledged therefore the film can’t dramatize how Mieze and Fritz negotiate such questions between themselves to arrive at a more personal and human interaction.  Lastly, the film also has a utopian epilogue that seems to betray everything the film (and the original novel) has been about. That said, a very interesting work that  I’m very glad I saw and recommend.

Those of you interested  in comparing the novel, the 1931 version, and the TV series will enjoy this lively and informative discussion between Peter Jelavich and Johannes Binotto. Jelavich considers the Qurban 2020 version a masterpiece:


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Berlin Alexanderplatz (Phil Jutzi, Germany, 1931)


Tegel to Alexanderplatz

In preparation for Fassbinder’s sprawling  15-hour television adaptation of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, I’ve been reading Alfred Döblin’s magnificent novel and looking at other adaptations. The 1931 version directed by Phil Jutzi is included in the Criterion box-set of the TV series. Jutzi joined the Communist Party in 1928 and, conveniently, the Nazi Party in 1933, and the ideological tensions and opportunism are evident in the film. I saw it last night and enjoyed it, though at 92 minutes it necessarily cuts out much of the novel’s plot and complexity.

It does capture some of the montage-y aspects of the novel, though you’d expect the film to be more inventive in this regard and it’s not. For Berlinophiles such as myself however, watching all that documentary footage in the film of Alexanderplatz as it was between the wars is a real pleasure. There is also a ‘People-on-Sunday’-ish interlude that well evokes the simple pleasures working people take even in very challenging economic times.

No government can forbid it…

The film has several songs, of which my favourite goes something like ‘Love comes, love goes, no government can forbid it.’ There’s a Weimar feel in the film’s attitudes to love and sex, and a depiction of a picaresque and dark Berliner humour. I also thought Heinrich George made for a very appealing if uncomplicated Franz Biberkopf. Döblin worked on the adaptation so he presumably sanctioned and had a hand in what was done to his novel. A not particularly good film of a great novel, though not without its pleasures.

The End

José Arroyo

THE THIRD GENERATION/ Die Dritte Generation (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1979)

Fassbinder, after THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, once again handling the camera as well as directing,  and in a more Godardian mode: a searching intelligence trying to make sense of the world he lives in and unafraid to use whatever is within his reach to try to understand, dramatize, critique and convey.

The film has a collage-y dimension: the use of graffiti from men’s rooms, a class that begins by asking the significance of the revolution of 1848, a phrase from Schopenhauer used as code (“the world as will and imagination”), readings from Bakunin, discussions of Bresson and Tarkovsky. Fassbinder in intellectual mode and with a very precise setting — the place and dates of shooting: Nov. 1978 to Jan 22, 1979. The narrative nonetheless still clearly conveyed, the collage-y aspect in tension with the precision of the setting and a relatively linear narrative, with aspects clearly meant to irritate: there are overlapping sounds that become difficult to distinguish; the burnt-in text passing too quickly to fully comprehend.

At the beginning, the film promises: “A comedy in six parts about social games full of suspense, excitement and logic, cruelty and madness, like the fairy tales told to children to help them bear their lives unto death”. The plot revolves around a rich industrialist, P.J. Lurz (Eddie Constantine) who works in computers and surveillance, but his stocks are down as there is currently no demand for the services he provides. To fix that he’s funding a terrorist cell made up of ordinary middle-class people — a secretary (Hannah Schygulla, record shop assistant(Harry Baer), pianist (Udo Kier), housewife (Margit Carstensen) and teacher (Bulle Ogier – to kidnap rich industrialists, increase fear and thus increase demands for his products. What we see is a divided nation, a police state where truth is mediated through images. It’s a society of spectacle where, taking of from and reversing Godard’s famous dictum, ‘Film lies 25 times a second’, the extra second to take into account films on tv running a second faster. This is the film that begins with a computer screen and ends with an action and a television screen’s mediation of that action. within the same frame.

Manufactured Terrorism

According to Thomas Elsaesser, ‘after the first generation of idealists and the second of pragmatists comes the third generation of opportunists’. Here that third generation is a disorganised idealist bunch, alarmingly quick to submit unquestionably to the rules set hierarchically by the group, in all aspects of their lives, including sexually. Volker Spengler is the double agent, in Lurz’s pocket financially, and the one who betrays the groups in a Shrove Tuesaday that turns into a bloody carnival as cameras record a relatively open-ended ending. It’s a film I’ll need to think about some more.

Lies 25 frames a second

Ian Penman, worth quoting at length (from THOUSANDS OF MIRRORS):

“140. The triumphant rise of the Consumer Society is interrupted by its apparent nemesis or antithesis: terrorism. But is it really threatened by this danger – or ultimately strengthened? Isn’t terror in fact its mirror-image doppelgänger or twin? Ready at a moment’s notice to prop up its threatened values and unreliable economy. This is why Fassbinder’s The Third Generation is such a eky text: Consumer Society + Terror State x Digital Info +Surveillance = The Future. “

José Arroyo

Natasha Rambova’s designs for Camille (1921)

A bonus of the Warner Archive blu-ray of Camille is the celebrated 1921 version directed by by Ray C. Smallwood, a lesbian-lead project (Nazimova starred and produced, June Mathis wrote it, Natasha Rambova designed the production). The sets and costumes, a combination of art nouveau and arts and crafts design, is very striking, as indeed is Nazimova’s startling performance. Valentino plays Armand, completely at ease and clearly already a star:

The opening with the introduction of Valentino and a real star entrance from Nazimova:

Elisabetta Girelli has written an excellent piece on Valentino, which begins with a nuanced analysis of the acting in the opening scene (above).  It can also be accessed here: Girelli_2015_FI_TheSheik_AM

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Water Drops On Burning Rocks (François Ozon, France, 2000)

Today’s Fassbinder is a podcast on François Ozon’s adaptation of Fassbinder’s play, WATER DROPS LIKE BURNING ROCKS (France, 2000). This is the second of Ozon’s adaptations of a Fassbinder work, the other being  PETER VON KANT, which José thought dreadful. We discuss the play, which remained unproduced in Fassbinder’s lifetime; how the theatrical is rendered cinematic in Ozon’s fine adaptation; how it is amazing that a 19 year-old Fassbinder can imagine and do such a fine job of dramatizing this roundelay of relationships (homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, transexual) in 1964 Munich: lucid, clear-eyed, aware of interpersonal dynamics, of sexual power plays. We discuss the extent to which the play brings in elements we know of Fassbinder’s own biography; we relate it to Fassbinder’s other films (FOX AND HIS FRIENDS)…. and much more:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


There are different productions of the play available to see, interesting to compare to Ozon’s film, and they can be accessed here:

A different production :
José Arroyo

THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN/ Die Ehe der Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1979)

The personal is always related to the social in Fassbinder’s work. With THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, the personal and the social are also interlinked to the historical. The film has been read as an allegory for the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutchsland) during the period of the ‘Economic Miracle’ – Maria Braun with her fine clothes and furs but dead inside – and is considered to be the first of what’s been called the ‘BDR’ trilogy, alongside LOLA (1981) and VERONIKA VOSS (1982).

It’s true that the film begins with a picture of Hitler crashing down, ends on a scene of the BDR’s victory over Hungary in the 1954 FIFA World Championships, where we hear the Federal Republic of Germany declared ‘Champion of the world’ over the radio, and then the final images, negatives of all the BDR chancellors to the time the film was made with the exception of Willy Brandt, who had exiled himself from Germany during the Nazi regime, and shown as negatives except for the last one where we see the transformation of the negative into the positive, giving the impression of devils made flesh. There’s no question that the film is making a commentary on history and the nation.

Germany in Ruins

That said it’s important the film also be considered as about Maria Braun. It’s a woman’s film and a melodrama, not unlike MILDRED PIERCE in some ways. A woman with responsibilities, living through hard times that make for difficult moral and ethical decisions but who ends up a successful business-woman. As books like Marta Heller’s A WOMAN IN BERLIN and Miriam Gebhardt’s CRIMES UNSPOKEN: THE RAPE OF GERMAN WOMEN AT THE END OF SECOND WORLD WAR, the period between the end of the War in 1945 and the end of the occupation in 1955, resulted in an unprecedented period of sexual violence.

Maria’s material success

Maria has few choices, she dabbles in the black market, she becomes a ‘hostess’, she navigates the world sexually: lucid, clear-eyed, intelligent and unsentimental about what she’s got to do to keep what’s left of her house fed, clothed, warm. Her mother prays for her soul but end up sewing her the type of dress she needs for her new ‘business’. The way she jumps on a cigarette, a sweet of a sip of alcohol whenever Maria brings something home vividly expresses the basic privations of the period. Yet as Maria says, ‘My mother loves me, supports me and cries with me over my pain but she leaves all the thinking up to me, thus leaving me no time to dream’.

The Mata-Hari of the Economic Miracle

The film is a melodrama in that you do side with the powerless, it’s ‘excessive’ and it’s designed to make an audience cry. The most important thing in her life is her marriage. But she only gets to enjoy it for one afternoon and one night after which her husband is sent to the Eastern Front. We see her with his picture on her back going day after day to the rail station to see if anyone’s seen him. She’s later told he’s died but he hasn’t. He returns to find her in the middle of coitus with a black man she’s now pregnant with. In the ensuing fight between the men she kills the American GI, Bill, who she’d been fond of. At the military hearing, when her husband hears her say she was fond of Bill but loves her husband, he decides to take the rap for her. She loses her baby. When the husband’s jailed, she vows she’ll learn to work and make enough money to build the house he would have built for them. She seduces an industrialist who falls in love with her and does exactly as she promised. Only to find in the end that it was all for nought. Except for her husband and her family, she’s put aside all feelings, feelings don’t keep you warm or fed. But it all blows up in her face.

Defiance Amidst the Ruins

If the film is about Maria, it’s also about marriage: THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN. Maria fervently believes in it. There’s that wonderful screwball scene at the beginning when in the middle of a bombing they chase after the document and make sure it’s stamped. An institutional approval of their love. The certainty of her feelings for her husband, of her wish for a married life, is one of the films that make the film so romantic. Her husband feels the same way. Hearing of her love for him is what makes him take the rap for her. But this marriage, bounded between two explosions, what has it amounted to? One afternoon and one night of married life. After which, she’s cut of her feelings and sold her body. He’s suffered prison and ends up pimping her out. There illusions are romantic, the reality as with Fassbinder is something else again. It’s a film that begins with marriage but also with deadly explosions.

Marriage as Romantic Prison

A great film, I think, with a mysterious and charismatic performance by Hannah Schygulla. It’s the film that made her into an international star, and it was also West Germany’s biggest box office success internationally to that point.

José Arroyo