Neve Campbell May Wish to Avoid Denmark

This unsettlingly thorough 'Danish Neve Campbell Webpage' is a pretty good candidate for inclusion in the list of 23 ancient websites that are still alive. It raises more questions than it answers: Why Denmark? Why Neve Campbell? Is there a dank basement waiting in Copenhagen for Neve if she ever meets the website's founder? And most pressing of all, hvorfor er stedet ikke på dansk? 

Danish Neve Campbell Webpage
At any rate, you can follow Neve's latest news by installing AvantGo on your Hewlett-Packard PDA (note: you may have to return to 2002).


Ed Philp Reviews the Hunger Games

Sometime guest-blogger Ed Philp has a neat sneak preview of the movie sensation of the year in the US which will probably be the movie sensation of the year in Germany soon:

Hi, it’s Ed Philp, gratefully guest-blogging for a “Retourkutsche” post (is there an equivalent word in English?). Germany needs to prepare itself for the next installment of verifiably non-European teenage entertainment that is about to arrive at cinemas throughout the country, namely, the movie version of the bestselling book  “The Hunger Games”, or “Panem” for the German version.

 The Hunger Games is a quintessentially American teenager book (yes, I am aware that the Japanese Battle Royale preceded it). It posits a dystopian future in which – as a result of various events – the US is divided into various districts and the Capitol. Each year, the Capitol organizes “Hunger Games” in which teenage participants fight to the death until there is one survivor, egged on by millions of (semi-compelled) viewers. US entertainment has a very long tradition in this genre; Blade Runner, Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and many others. What makes The Hunger Games somewhat unique?

 It is pitched to teenagers, involves virtually no sex among 17 year old protagonists (if I recall, the heroine of the book had never kissed anyone before being drafted into the Games, and then did it only under duress for various complicated survival reasons), and includes remarkable levels of violence. Poisoning, knifing, spear-throwing, animal mauling and several explosive endings all play a role in ensuring that the final couple make it the end of the Games. Sound a little bit familiar? It’s Twilight on steroids (chaste love story that otherwise features dismemberment, murder, the walking dead and pledges of love “to the death”).

 The book leaves various components of the story open: We are provided in the book with remarkably little information on the protagonists, Katniss and Peeta, except that one has “breasts” (mentioned once during the book) and one has blond wavy hair and is strong and compact, like all bakers. The film fills in these details, of course casting exceptionally good looking people in the roles. The sexual tension/pitch will be immediately evident just based on the trailer. These two perfect examples of teenage male and female will ultimately get together and… produce babies (which is indeed how the whole Hunger Games series ends). In the meantime, wholesale slaughter will ensue. Once again, it is remarkable how US culture shuns natural sexual relations while placing a premium on ultraviolence. The entire Hunger Games book turns on the various vivid ways in which people die, have died, will die.

 I imagine that The Hunger Games will be avidly watched in the US, and I somehow suspect that it will make particular inroads in various conservative districts. What story could be more compelling in an election year – an essentially fascist Capitol holds an honest, simple and hardworking (largely agrarian and trade-oriented) District population in bondage, forcing them to serve up their prime and innocent youth for the spectacle of the elite masses each year. The only social construct on which one can have any reliance is family and maybe friends. Homespun regional traditions and icons loom large as symbols of resistance to the Capitol. Individual resourcefulness and essentially god-given luck play a role, as do cunning, Teamwork and social collaboration are paths to doom. Individual sacrifice is accorded its due, but collective sacrifice is never an option. Those closest to the ground (who know how to hunt birds with a bow and arrow) are of course the best off, since guns have – of course – been confiscated and prohibited. Other nations and a global economy do not exist in the storyline. In numerous instances, salvation – coming from the sky – is provided through essentially capitalist elements, namely sponsorship by donors. Private charity is key to those in dire circumstances; public welfare does not exist. The “public” and the state are, as a whole, the enemy.

 I’ll be extremely interested to see the German reaction to this most American of movies. I, for one, have already reserved tickets. This will be a small cultural icon, and I want to see how it is received here.

As for me, I have remained completely ignorant of the HG hype up to now, not out of any aversion, but just because I like to see movies completely, stone-cold ignorant of everything about them. In fact, for precisely this reason, I didn't even read Ed's review, so I hope he didn't anything defamatory in there...


German Joys DVD Review: 'Crime and Punishment' by the BBC

Over the weekend, I watched the BBC's 2002 adaptation of Crime and Punishment, which is now available on DVD. It's brilliant. The whole show lasts just over three hours; the plot has been judiciously and respectfully pruned to fit into this time. John Simm plays Raskolnikov with splendid intensity, but for me, Ian McDiarmid as Porfiry Petrovich is the high point. Just the right amount of creepy faux-camaraderie mingled with oleaginous charm. There's rather a lot of directing going on, with plenty of close-ups, jump cuts, intriguingly framed shots up and down stairwells, and a dream sequence or two. But there's nothing self-indulgent about all this: the dissociating directorial techniques force the viewer ever closer to the core of Raskolnikov's disintegrating personality.

Much of the film was shot on-location in St. Petersburg during the summer, and the characters have the sweaty, unwashed look of authenticity. Carriages splash mud and horseshit everywhere, wallpaper peels off, windows are grimy and cracked. You get the sense that keeping clean -- for that matter, keeping alive -- is a constant uphill struggle for those condemned to live in cramped, dingy tenements. Raskolnikov's gradual unraveling is handled masterfully, with each successive stage marked by one of Raskolnikov's successive visits to police headquarters, located in a giant amphitheatre-shaped building which seems to have already 'caught' anyone unfortunate enough to stray into its giant, vacant courtyard. The director, Julian Jarrold, succeeds in showing the combination of external and internal pressures that force Raskolnikov to his confession. Just as in the novel, the tension increases until the viewer's nerves fray, making the final, cathartic moment that much more of a paradoxical relief.

Strongly recommended!

 


Aguirre: The Wrath of Perry

Werner Herzog is apparently making a documentary about death row inmates in Texas:

ZDF Enterprises has picked up Werner Herzog's forthcoming docu "Gazing Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life," about death row inmates.

In the film, Herzog -- who is enjoying a hit with his docu "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," examining prehistoric paintings in Gaul's Chauvet cave -- discusses life and death with the prisoners and examines their stories and crimes, which he describes as "a gaze into the abyss of the human soul"..

Among the inmates are two men convicted of triple murder, another who killed his girlfriend and her two mentally retarded sons, and a woman, one of only 10 on Texas' death row, charged with abducting a baby and killing the child's mother.

I am ordinarily somewhat wary of foreign news crews covering capital punishment in the U.S. The results can be tendentious and sentimental. However, I have a lot of faith in Herzog, who continues to be capable of making brilliant films.


Werner Herzog as Pharma Giant

In an upcoming Simpsons episode, Werner Herzog will play a "German pharma industrialist" (h/t JR).

Herzog describes his "ecstatic" idea of truth in this lecture, hosted by Boston University's website (h/t SK). Excerpt:

History offers one analogy to the extent of [change brought about by] the virtual, other world that we are now being confronted with. For centuries and centuries, warfare was essentially the same thing, clashing armies of knights, who fought with swords and shields. Then, one day, these warriors found themselves staring at each other across canons and weapons. Warfare was never the same. We also know that innovations in the development of military technology are irreversible. Here’s some evidence that may be of interest: in parts of Japan in the early seventeenth century, there was an attempt to do away with firearms, so that samurai could fight one another hand to hand, with swords again. This attempt was only very short-lived; it was impossible to sustain.

A couple of years ago, I came to grasp how confusing the concept of reality has become, in a strange way, through an incident that took place on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. A friend was having a little party in his backyard—barbecued steak—it was already dark, when, not far away, we heard a few gunshots that nobody took seriously until the police helicopters showed up with searchlights on and commanded us, over loudspeakers, to get inside the house. We sorted out the facts of the case only in retrospect: a boy, described by witnesses as around thirteen or fourteen years of age, had been loitering, hanging around a restaurant about a block away from us. As a couple exited, the boy yelled, This is for real, shot both with a semi-automatic, then fled on his skateboard. He was never caught. But the message [Botschaft] of the madman was clear: this here isn’t a videogame, these shots are for real, this is reality.


German Porn Seen by an American

Thanks to loyal Joyster Ed Philp, who spotted this interview with a graduate student in Germanic languages as Columbia. It's part of Nerve Magazine's 'Talking to Strangers' series, in which reporters talk to strangers about their sex lives, and then publish the results under a large photograph of the interviewee. So much for the context. Here's what our man had to say about German pornography:

Can you give us some tips on sexy stuff to say in German?
Well, if you watch German porn from the seventies or eighties — what's really funny is that German is this incredibly flat and formal language. It's very expressionless. And there's this one German porn movie where this older dude is getting jerked off by this famous porn star — well, she was famous in the seventies because she looked twelve even though she was eighteen. And she's like "Das ist ein gutes Gefült für den Schwanz?"  Meaning "Is that a good feeling?"And he's like "Ja. Fur mein Peni ist das optimal."

And what does that mean?
It's like "For my pee-pee, it is optimal."

You seem to have this porn memorized.
It really stuck with me.

Is there anything shorter and sexier that you can recommend that's not... creepy?
No, actually.

...

Can we talk more about German porn?
I think people would assume that German porn is really perverse. But I think the truth is that American porn is by comparison really perverse. The women look horrifying and made-up. That whole Jenna Jameson look. Whereas, German people like a good story, I've noticed. The aesthetics of American 1970s porn carried over well into the late '90s for Germany. Pubic hair, they're into it.

Yet another data point, if one were needed, to support two theses: (1) Germany imports trends from the United States with a 10-20 year delay; and (2) Even its porn is more wholesome and humanistic than America's airbrushed, corporate überproduct.


Tarantino's Repellent, Shallow Cynicism

Hiram Lee over at the World Socialist Web Site (!) pens by far the best review of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds I've read so far. Hat-tip to SK for the link:

Inglourious Basterds is a dreadful film. In spite of the ostensibly more serious setting of the Second World War, one finds in this work the same elements one has come to expect from Tarantino's films: gratuitous and psychopathic violence, endless pop culture references, the glorification of revenge, drawn-out and tedious scenes of incidental dialogue, a self-conscious use of camera movement and editing, and pervasive cynicism. All of this is delivered with a sly wink toward the audience. The pyrotechnics, as usual, cover up for the film's lack of depth and essential tediousness.

Tarantino has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history, or portions of it, but it doesn't do him much good. He takes the path of least resistance at every point. The writer-director favors low-budget "grindhouse" material: martial arts films, "blaxploitation" works from the 1970s, "midnight movies" and spaghetti westerns. Treated entirely uncritically, these have been the primary influence on Tarantino, and not works that would have provided a richer understanding of life. Anti-intellectualism and laziness are here made into a program.

Tarantino's obsessive, unfocused interest in all things cinematic and his lack of concern with real life is a fatal weakness and leaves the director open to the influence of definite social processes that he hasn't even begun to understand. This is not to say that Tarantino is simply an innocent who stumbles blindly into the foul territory in which he so often finds himself. He is drawn to it, delights in it, and actively promotes it.

The "heroes" of Inglourious Basterds are sadistic killers who relish their mission of torturing, killing and even scalping their enemy. Fighting fascism with fascism. Precisely what is one to make of this?

...

As it is, Tarantino's use of World War II and the Nazis in his latest work is entirely false and gratuitous. Tarantino's motivation for setting his film during the Second World War had nothing to do with making sense of that period, the history of which he rewrites at virtually every step of the way. Rather, as Tarantino told the Los Angeles Times, he thought "It'd be really cool to do a spaghetti Western using World War II iconography." In other words, the war is simply another setting Tarantino can exploit and use as his own playground for self-indulgence.

...

In the film's final moments, Aldo Raine carves a swastika into the forehead of a prominent Nazi. This, like the rest of the film's violence, is shown in graphic detail. The camera angle then changes so that we see Aldo from the tortured Nazi's point of view. Raine looks at his carving (and into the camera) and says proudly to a comrade and to the viewers in the audience, "I think this might just be my masterpiece." The film ends with this comment. It is a moment that deserves to go down as one of the most cynical in recent film history.

Not much to add, except that Christoph Waltz was rather good, and was the only reason I watched this stupid and coarse movie to the end.