HEIMAT: A CHRONICLE OF GERMANY BY EDGAR REITZ. (1984) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

HEIMAT: A CHRONICLE OF GERMANY. (1984) WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY EDGAR REITZ. STARRING MARITA BREUER, HENRY ARNOLD, SALOME KAMMER, MATTHIAS KNIESBECK, MICHAEL KAUSCH, NICOLA SCHOSSLER AND JAN DIETER SCHNEIDER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘All soldiers go to Heaven and get a white robe.’

‘I hear that gypsy women shave themselves down below. Is that true?’

‘And now we see our women bed down with Frenchies.’

‘They call me a French whore. Must I pay forever because there was a war?’

This magnificent series, composed entirely of eleven feature-length films, is the brainchild of Edgar Reitz, born in 1932 with a skilled craftsman for a father, like his protagonist Paul Simon. Yeah yeah, you can call him Al, lol. Get it out of your system now, ye messers.

Anyway, properly entitled A CHRONICLE OF GERMANY, it tells the story of a German family from 1919 to 1982. They live in the fictional rural village of Schabbach and their quiet country life is offset against the wider political developments in Germany, which was known as the Weimar Republic from 1919 till the early 1930s.

The Weimar Republic was famous for its cultural revolution. The Arts were fully embraced during this period and women also began to Americanise themselves, cutting their hair short, smoking and shortening their hemlines to match their jazzy hairstyles. The cultural revolution of the Weimar Republic was known as a Golden Age for Germany. Many marvellous films were made here then, books written, music composed and pictures painted.

The word HEIMAT itself means ‘homeland’ or ‘home place,’ but there’s no exact English equivalent. I know what you guys are all dying to ask and that’s this: Is Hitler in it? Is he in HEIMAT? Believe it or not, Hitler didn’t just spring fully-formed from the mouth of hell in 1939, just in time to start the Second World War. That’s what we kids used to think in school. Even as early as 1919, he was working away in the background, doing stuff.

Between 1919 and 1928, the timeline for the first film of HEIMAT which we’ll look at today, Hitler was a busy man. He was gaining a reputation for himself as a great public speaker, setting up the Nazi Party, and taking part in the Beer Hall Putsch, writing MEIN KAMPF (MY STRUGGLE) while languishing temporarily behind bars for his part in the Putsch.

He was also meeting and befriending Goebbels, who was later to become his reviled Propaganda Minister, and making his first hate-filled speeches against ‘the real enemies of Germany,’ the Jews. Obviously he did many more things as well. This is just a broad outline of what he ‘achieved’ in this time period.

Although it’s something of a dubious recommendation, Hitler himself would have adored this first film of HEIMAT, known as FERNWEH or THE CALL OF FARAWAY PLACES. He loved all things rural and had an idealised vision of Germany where shirtless, sweaty men worked and tilled the land and fed the nation while women with shiny flaxen plaits breast-fed the babies and looked after the home and their men.

He had a real thing for women in traditional old German dress, and was never happier than when Eva Braun put on one of these flouncy-aproned, puffy-sleeved frocks for him at the Berghof, his beautiful mountain hideaway in the Obersalzberg mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps above the market town of Berchtesgaden.

He loathed anyone smoking, especially women, so Eva Braun had to have her puffs in secret, and he also hated women who were caked in heavy make-up. One imagines, therefore, that he wouldn’t have been happy about this short-haired, more mannish new look women were embracing during the period of the Weimar Republic’s cultural revolution.

At the start of HEIMAT, we see the protagonist Paul Simon (yeah yeah, where’s Art Garfunkel…?) coming home from the Great War. He’s young and handsome and appears physically unharmed at least, unlike his friend (HEIMAT‘s narrator) Glasisch Karl, whose hands are all over scabs and rashes from the mustard gas used in World War One. What an awful thought.

At first, Paul seems completely out of it. He feels like a stranger amongst his large family and the wider community of villagers. His parents own a farm and a forge and, now that Paul is back, he’ll be expected to work at one or the other or at both. ‘Father wants me in the forge and in the fields, to carry on his work.’

His sister Pauline does both housework and farmwork and his semi-invalid older brother Eduard (‘Eduard, your lung!’) has an obsessive love of photography. (The story of HEIMAT is told through the hundreds of photographs he takes.) Many friends and relatives are constantly hanging around the farmyard kitchen, the central or focal point of the narrative, so, as you can imagine, there’s not much opportunity for quiet reflection.

We quickly discover Paul’s main talent and biggest interest. He spends hours up in the loft fiddling with radio wires and batteries for his radio transmitter. In the early days of radio, Paul, who learned Morse Code during the war, wants ‘to make a short-wave radio receiver with which he can listen to the whole world.’

He does manage to pick up Mass from Cologne Cathedral during a village picnic in the ruins of an old castle and the old folks are thrilled. There’s nothing old folks like more than a good Mass. Except for maybe a good Confession, haha. Nothing like a nice spiritual enema for clearing the crap out of you. Shudder.

Meanwhile, Paul’s older brother Eduard, already an amateur but extremely enthusiastic photographer in his spare time as we’ve said, is trying to cash in on the massive monument business that grew up after the end of the War. So many German men died in that war. Now they must all be commemorated by having their names chiselled permanently onto huge memorial stones lugged from the quarries, which are doing great business these days.

Eduard is unveiling at this particular memorial stone ceremony not only the monument itself, but also his top-secret patented invention for unveiling monuments. It’s so funny, this bit. It’s something I never gave any thought to before, the fact that so many mens’ deaths had to be commemorated via a monument of stone that someone actually invented a contraption for their smooth unveiling.

It’s really just a series of pulleys and whatnot rigged up to lift the sheet off the monument, which looks like a giant ghost reaching up towards the sky. It turns into quite a beautiful and moving scene, with the umbrellas and the rain and the choir of schoolgirls singing angelically to commemorate all the fallen soldiers. Karl Glasisch comments irreverently here: ‘If I’d fallen in Flanders, I’d be on this memorial and people would lift their hats to me.’

What’s most memorable, however, is the speech being made here by the local bigwig. At the time, Germany, having been deemed to- ahem- have been responsible for the First World War (no waaaaaay…!), was being crippled by the terms of the Versailles Treaty.

They had to pay x amount of money in reparations (whatever it was, it was humongous) and were positively forbidden from re-arming themselves. Of course, when Hitler came officially to power he said ‘fuck this shit for a game of soldiers’ and, just like that, he threw the whole thing out the door like an old carpet, the whole Versailles treaty. But for now, the Germans were feeling the pinch, and what the officiating bigwig says at the monument-unveiling ceremony is actually eerily prophetic:

‘Germany will one day arouse the genius of its blood who will deliver us from this dungeon of humiliation like a Saviour. Already we sense his shining presence in the distance, then peace will come. A peace necessary for the strong future of our state and which will influence world history. Our loved ones did not die in vain…’

Well, he’s literally just predicted the coming of Hitler but whatevs, let’s move on. Time passes and Paul marries a local girl called Maria and they have two baby sons together called Anton and Ernst. It’s obvious to the viewer that Paul’s still madly in love with a dark-haired girl called Apollonia who’s had a child by a Frenchman, leading the prejudiced natives to call her a gypsy, a whore and a traitoress. Nice people, eh?

Apollonia offers Paul the chance to run away from Schabbach with her, but he can’t leave his radio battery and his precious wireless. He could always have taken them with him, but no. He’s not far-sighted enough to work this out. Oh well, it’s his loss, and Maria’s waiting in the wings anyway, for her own chance to nab Paul.

Hitler would have hugely approved of the women singing at their looming and weaving, and of the man who says at the village picnic in the grounds of the old ruined castle, quoting a favourite idea of Uncle Adolf’s: ‘What we need today are really feminine women and masculine men, inwardly and outwardly.’

Come to Schabbach and meet the boy whose brother put his eye out with a fork at their Confirmation, the baker who lost three sons in the Great War and, my personal favourite, an old geezer who can unfailingly tell the weather from the condition of his cellar steps.

You can also meet Paul’s sister Paulina Simon’s older husband, Robert, a jewellery-maker who can fashion wedding rings from your own gold and who shares a house with Jewish businesses, whose windows are already being shattered by hooligans as early as 1923.

There aren’t really any Jews in the village of Shabbach, so we only hear about their fate in World War II second-hand, such as when Maria’s handsome blonde younger brother, Wilfried Wiegand, who’s in the SS, makes a casual reference at a party to how ‘the Final Solution to the Jewish problem’ was continuing at a galloping pace, with the Jews all going ‘up the chimney,’ with an accompanying ‘poof’ sound. Paulina asks her brother what he means by people’s ‘going up the chimney,’ but he doesn’t explain and she doesn’t push the issue.

The years go by, anyway, as they tend to do, and Katherina and Mathias Simon, the original materfamilias and paterfamilias of the family, grow older and eventually go to the churchyard.

Paul goes off to America and later returns, Eduard marries Lucie, the ambitious former madam of a brothel who’ll push him farther than he probably would have gone on his own, and World War II happens.

Anton and Ernst go off to war and come back and Maria, their mother, has a child called Hermann with their pre-wartime tenant, engineer Otto Wohlleben, who comes to the Hunsruck area to build the highway, and later defuses Allied bombs for the benefit of the German army.

The action in HEIMAT goes all the way up to 1982, and ends with a scene of Heaven on earth in the town hall during a village fair that leaves me blubbing like a baby every time I watch it. Be warned. It’s a five-Kleenex ending, at least…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline.You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

VAMPYR. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vampyr leone

CARL THEODOR DREYER’S ‘VAMPYR.’ (1932) BASED ON JOSEPH SHERIDAN LE FANU’S WRITINGS, ‘IN A GLASS DARKLY.’ DIRECTED BY CARL THEODOR DREYER.

STARRING JULIAN WEST (BARON NICOLAS DE GUNZBURG), MAURICE SCHUTZ, RENA MANDEL, SYBILLE SCHMITZ, JAN HIERONIMKO, HENRIETTE GERARD AND ALBERT BRAS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘This is the phantasy-experience of young Allan Gray, who engulfed himself in studies of demonology and vampire-lore. Preoccupation with the crazed ideas of past centuries turned him into a dreamer and a fantasist, lost at the border between fantasy and the supernatural.’

This surreal, fog-wreathed German-French early talkie, with so few words of dialogue that it could nearly pass for a silent movie, is the most gorgeous, ethereal and dream-like old vampire film I think I’ve ever seen.

It doesn’t have a linear storyline, in which, say, a Jonathan Harker is ordered by his employer to travel to Transylvania, there to meet with a Count Dracula to discuss a property the Count is desirous of purchasing in England, and then everything that happens after that follows a straight enough course to the climax.

Rather, it’s non-linear and dreamlike, and the lines between fantasy and reality are very much blurred. Also, some of it makes little or no sense but it looks so good ‘n’ spooky that it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

It has a sub-title of THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF ALLAN GRAY, Allan Gray being played by the handsome young aristocrat, Baron Nicolas De Gunzburg, who put up the money for the production in return for being allowed to play the lead role. Well, if it’s your money, then I guess you can ask for that privilege…!

Allan Gray is first seen travelling to an inn close to the village of Courtempierre with his fishing tackle slung over his shoulder. He locks his bedroom door at night because of very uneasy feelings he has about the place, but the sanctity and safety of his chamber is nonetheless breached later that night by a terrified old man.

‘She mustn’t die, do you hear?’ he says cryptically before depositing a wrapped parcel on Allan’s nightstand. ‘TO BE OPENED UPON MY DEATH,’ the old man has written rather ominously on it. It is an ancient book on vampire lore, and the man is the owner of the local chateau, who is at his wits’ end because he and his two adult daughters are under siege by vampires.

Next day, Allan finds this fabulous, rather run-down old chateau, but the master, his nocturnal visitor from last night, has just died in mysterious circumstances. Was he already dead when he came to Allan in the night, begging Allan’s aid for his two daughters? According to the book of ancient vampire lore, much, much stranger things have happened. Allan is involved now, and the fate of the chateau-dwellers is now to be his fate too.

The master’s daughter Leone is confined to bed, her life-blood being drained away from her bit by bit by the local vampire. Two marks like the bite of a rat can be seen on her neck. The scariest sequence in the whole film is when she rises from her sickbed and her eyes follow the progress of an unseen entity around her sickroom, even on the ceiling, while a manic, evil grin adorns her face. Her horrified sister Gisele, played by a beautiful young woman who worked as a Paris photographer’s nude model in real life, looks on helplessly.

Gisele is glad to have Allan’s help with her dreadful problem. The local doctor, played by a Polish poet who’s a dead ringer for Nobel prize-winning scientist Albert Einstein, is in league with the vampire so he’s deliberately not being much help at this terrible time.

The old servant at the chateau is really the hero of the hour. He reads the old book of vampire facts and thus learns what must be done if the chateau, and even the village, is to be saved from this demonic plague of creatures of the night.

He spearheads the operation of tracking the vampire down to an old grave in the churchyard and staking it through the heart with the help of Allan in a scene that bothered the censors greatly back in 1932. He even has a nasty surprise in store for the evil doctor in another scene that drew the censors’ wrath down on the film back in the day.

While Allan is sitting on a bench in the cemetery waiting for the trusty family retainer to bring the staking instruments, he drifts off into two Allans and has an horrific nightmare. He is in his coffin now, not dead but merely paralysed by nefarious means, and he is fully conscious while watching a man above him apply the turnscrew to the coffin nails and lock him away inside his forever-box.

The vampire also looks triumphantly down on him as his coffin screws are nailed down. Then the paralysed Allan sees the sky and the trees above him for the last time as his coffin is carried in a solemn procession to the cemetery. It’s a terrifying scene and one that could easily have inspired film legend Roger Corman when he made THE PREMATURE BURIAL for American International Pictures a few short decades later.

A few random facts about the film now, if you will. No sets were used, the whole thing was shot on location in a real inn, a real but marvellously derelict chateau, a real disused ice-factory (there’s nothing spookier than an abandoned factory, unless it’s an abandoned hospital or mental asylum) and a fully-operational plaster works for the grand finale.

The chateau looks truly magnificent in the film. I especially love the room randomly discovered by Allan in his wanderings (it’s not in the chateau, I think) which contains the old dusty books, the skull and what looks like a child’s skeleton standing intact upon a window-sill. If that’s not a room where you can practise your black magic or study the occult and the dark arts, then I don’t know what is. The whole film is stunning to look at. Catch it if you can at all, that’s my advice to you.

‘Imagine that we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered; everything in it has taken on another look; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because WE have changed and the objects ARE as we conceive them. That is the effect I want to get in my film.’

Carl Theodor Dreyer on describing to his crew the kind of film he wanted to make.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE BLUE ANGEL or DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

blue angel bigger

THE BLUE ANGEL/DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PROFESSOR UNRAT’ BY HEINRICH MANN (BROTHER OF THOMAS MANN).

DIRECTED BY JOSEF VON STERNBERG. PRODUCTION COMPANY: UFA.

STARRING MARLENE DIETRICH, EMIL JANNINGS, KURT GERRON, ROSA VALETTI, HANS ALBERS AND REINHOLD BERNT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

There’s something eerily magical about this classic Weimar Germany film, even today, nearly a full ninety years after it was made by Josef Von Sternberg, who returned from America to Germany especially to direct it.

After seeing Marlene Dietrich perform in the Berliner Theater in Georg Kaiser’s cabaret ZWEI KRAWATTEN (TWO NECKTIES), Von Sternberg knew that he had found his leading lady.

Though still recognisable, she hadn’t yet grown into her famous face, if you get me, the same way you can look at a young Brigitte Bardot in MANINA or a young Joan Crawford in GRAND HOTEL and think, is that really them, they look so different when they’re young…? 

Although Von Sternberg would modestly shrug off suggestions that he ‘discovered’ Dietrich, I think it really must be said that he did. She went on to have a long and varied career after THE BLUE ANGEL, which led to a contract with Paramount Studios, served as a more than efficient springboard or launching-pad to international stardom.

Josef Von Sternberg, a dark-haired, rather sad-faced man who looked small next to some of his taller contemporaries, made a few minor changes to the story on which the film was based, PROFESSOR UNRAT (PROFESSOR GARBAGE) by Heinrich Mann, but the basic plot remains the same.

A college professor who teaches English Literature, among other things I’m sure, to the boys and young men who attend the Gymnasium, a German word for college or place of learning, meets and falls head-over-heels with a beautiful cabaret singer in a nightclub. This reckless act of impulsivity leads directly to his downfall only a short few years later.

Professor Immanuel Rath makes his way to the nightclub, THE BLUE ANGEL, after a spate of saucy-postcard-hoarding by his students. He sees Lola Lola for the first time as a scantily-dressed image on a kinky postcard (these passed for porn back then…!) and is straightaway taken and intrigued by her. How much more taken will he be, then, with the flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional Lola Lola when he encounters her for real…?

He goes to the nightclub ostensibly to complain about its performers corrupting his young pupils. All thoughts of his moral responsibilities vanish from his mind when he meets the enchanting Lola Lola backstage in her dressing-room.

To the unmarried Professor in his forties, whom we can imagine as having led a very sheltered, bookish life up to now, Lola Lola is sexiness- and sex- incarnate. The magnificent Dietrich is very young here, but she has already learned how to use her eyes and lips to devastating effect. The poor Professor doesn’t stand a chance against such an onslaught of raw sexuality. He’s smitten from the off.

Of course, Marlene Dietrich was always about the legs. The legs, the legs, the legs. This film could also have been called ‘FRILLY KNICKERS AND STOCKING-TOPS’ because that’s what she’s dressed in for most of the movie. She elevates the taking off and putting on of stockings into an art form as she teases and tantalises Rath with a private little striptease in her cramped backstage dressing-room.

She (or maybe I should say they, both Dietrich AND Lola Lola) holds the- mostly male- audiences to the cabaret spellbound as she belts out songs like ‘FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN’ and ‘YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, YOU’RE THE SALT IN MY STEW.’ They are utterly in thrall to her sexuality and mystique, as is Rath.

When Rath proposes to Lola Lola, I’m always gobsmacked that she says yes. Rath is a portly, not very attractive school-teacher who’s probably not rolling in money. He’s a figure of fun to his students. They don’t respect him. They have nothing but contempt for him.

What on earth does Lola Lola see in him? A kind of father figure, someone who represents security and stability to her, maybe? Or maybe she just says ‘yes’ in the spirit of yeah sure baby, why not, I don’t care either way, it’s all bullshit anyway and, who knows, it might be a blast to try it for a bit…?

Either way, they get hitched, much to Rath’s delight and, four short years later, we come full circle right back to Rath’s origins and it’s not a pretty picture. The marriage has destroyed him, although I can’t give you the details.

His self-respect is non-existent, he’s a figure of fun for all now and not just for his pupils, and his reputation, such as it ever was, is in shreds. Was it worth it, Rath, Von Sternberg seems to be asking his male protagonist, was she worth it…? Would he do it again?

The dark, cramped, narrow little slanted streets surrounding the Blue Angel nightclub look like they’ve come straight out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or any other masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. There’s a fabulous town clock in the film that’s worth looking out for too, the creation of set designer Otto Hunte, and a sad and rather chillingly portentous scene involving a late parrot.

Who is Lola Lola? We know nothing of her background or origins. Is she hard and cold because she’s had to be or because she enjoys it? Is she immoral? Is she promiscuous? Does she have a heart at all?

Does she take pleasure in Rath’s downfall or, as is probably more likely, does she simply regard him as being big enough and old enough to look after himself? She’s his wife, after all, not his mother or his nursemaid, and he’s a grown man.

I don’t think she’s particularly malicious, although she’s certainly mischievous. I think she just doesn’t care, but not because she’s uncaring or heartless. She has enough to be doing looking out for herself. Whatever her motivations anyway, in Lola Lola we’ve been given a timeless creation of sheer sexiness and sensuality whose appeal doesn’t dim with the years.

Marlene Dietrich was a truly beautiful woman and an acting legend on two of the finest legs to ever grace a stage. In THE BLUE ANGEL, Josef Von Sternberg has bottled this legend and encapsulated it for us for all time. Kudos to you, Joe dear. Kudos to you.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor