Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cinematography: Xaver Schwarzenberger
by Tory Maddox
I was expecting quite a bit for Berlin Alexanderplatz. I heard it was Fassbinder’s Magnum Opus, regarded as one of the greatest narratives ever made. I assumed it was about one man’s struggle during the rise of the Weimar Republic. Instead, I got a 15.5-hour ‘movie’ (as many called it) about the plunge back into crime, abuse of women, betrayal of friends, and some others thing I failed to notice because my attention was constantly drifting.
I like to base movies partially on how often I looked to the DVD counter in order to track how long I have left. I’d say I spent about five minutes total looking at the counter across the series, waiting for the current episode to end so maybe something more exciting might happen on the subsequent one. It reached its peak during Episode Two (out of fourteen) when Franz looked like he was about to join the growing Nazi movement, confirming my suspicions of what the series was about, only to never return (except maybe in a flashback?), taking a different and far more boring turn. Even now, as I’m reading each episode’s synopsis in order to explain what it’s about I’m struggling to see what the big deal is. At the end of the day, the story just wasn’t all that interesting. Perhaps if this series was cut down by 50% it might have been more exciting. There are only so many static and extremely long takes of people yelling, crying, or talking casually before they lose their efficacy and become redundant. They go to the bar, they go back to the apartment, someone gets mad, another person shouts, and this is all I remember after finally mustering up the motivation to write about this series after a week past finishing.
I suppose the last episode is one of the best in which we enter into a surrealistic nightmare for about an hour and a half as Franz (Gunter Lamprecht) deals with the fact that he’s returning to prison. A fifteen minute surrealistic scene is long enough, let alone ninety minutes, but it’s nevertheless pretty impressive. Beyond that, though, I don’t have much to say. The movie explores all of the depths, nooks, and crannies that it needs to that adding additional commentary about the plight of criminals, or those struggling to go straight against an oppressive system seem pointless. I very much enjoy Fassbinder’s films, but even taming my lofty expectations wouldn’t have helped. This film is boring. It’s too long, too redundant, and I truly just don’t understand why it’s so revered. All of his films I’ve seen contain an equal, if not more, humanity and depth than Berlin Alexanderplatz, and at one-tenth the length, It all seemed self-indulgent; created by someone with an inability to edit his own work before it went into production.
One thing I can rave about is the look. Shot by Xaver Schwarzenberger, like A Christmas Story (1983), it somewhat feels like you’re watching a story straight from the 1930s period. The color and hazy look of it all, the sepia tone, the flashing neon lights, and the apartments and bars. If only what happened within these frames was more exciting.
BELOW: Here's a scene that gives you an idea of how most of the other 925 minutes feel
Thoughts on films, old and new
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