BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: MY DREAM OF BIBERKOPF’S DREAM BY ALFRED DÖBLIN – AN EPILOGUE: THE DEATH OF A CHILD AND THE BIRTH OF A WORTHWHILE HUMAN BEING
The epilogue to Berlin Alexanderplatz is a two-hour work, one of the greatest endings to any audio-visual work I’ve ever seen, and done in a very different vein to the rest of the series. Franz has been arrested for the murder of Mieze, has gone into a catatonic stupor, is tied up and force-fed in an Insane Asylum, and is drifting in and out of consciousness. This is the motivation for the narrative to go in a more experimental and poetic vein. Is Franz in purgatory? There are two angels watching over him as he walks over the ruins of his past, trying to make sense of the life he’s led, his attempts at being ‘decent’, the circumstances that prevented him from being so. The dream logic of the episode permits an intersection of theatre/film/ television; a narrative that can flit omnisciently from past to future, with extraordinary imagery that brings to mind the Holocaust: people as animals in an abattoir, bodies piled up, the infamous striped uniform. It also underlines the moral and ethical dimension of the work: Franz’s murder of Ida, a source of original sin the series constantly returns to, is given another spin. Ida, all broken up, confronts him by her very presence. It wasn’t my fault he says. I didn’t mean to do it. I served my time. He doesn’t seem to get that she’s dead, that doing four years at Tegel doesn’t compensate for a life, certainly not to her. The moral and ethical dimension of the series is sharpened, clarified and offered as a punctuation point to the work. All the different strands of the narrative – the characters, the betrayals, the bible readings, the Whore of Babylon, are brought back; set to an incredible range of music; opera, electronic, pop songs by Elvis, Janis Joplin, Dean Martin – and poeticised for power, clarity, and further reverbarations of meaning. It’s really extraordinary.
The Epilogue also brings to the fore the queer dimension of the work. Reinhold is in jail, hiding from the law. He’s stolen a purse under a false identity. What safer place – from the law, from the gangs and from Biberkopf – than jail? But he’s fallen in love with a man in prison, and at least in Fassbinder’s accounting, his previous womanising is clearly the result of a repressed homosexuality that love has now brought to light. But that love also brings the fear of its loss. So here we get an intersection of the personal, political, social and sexual. It’s an indication of the kind of work that was being done in the pre-AIDS era that make one speculate on how it might have developed had AIDS, its decimations and the resulting re-marginalisation of queers not happened. Fassbinder’s work makes the New Queer Cinema films that appeared subsequently seem so partial, inward-looking, narrow in focus and in scope; works of mourning and militancy but with a clear separation from the dominant culture, its narratives and its history. This epilogue brings together queer desire as a driving force into the history of a person but also a city and a nation; brings bible and myth into its understanding. Queers are central to the culture. There is no separation. And because of that, there is also no absolution. It’s extraordinarily ambitious, formally daring, in-your-face poetic work such as I’ve rarely seen. I’ll have to see it again, read on it, and think about it some more. It’s a work that makes one want to.