Titles: Une Emision proposée par Philippe Grandrieux / Berlin 10/90 / Filmé par Robert Kramer / Berlin, 25 Octobre 1990, 15 h 15 > 16 h 15
Music begins playing offscreen. “These are the kinds of things which turn around and around in my head in Berlin. This is what Berlin is for me, the crossroads of the whole thing, everything we’ve lived in the past century.” Camera pans left, passing window, down to a television on the floor of the bathroom, playing a video of a horn band playing by the Brandenburger Tor. “The Brandenburg Gate. That was the day after the reunification. Coming at me through the television, my images through the television … Here in this huge apartment … my spoils of war.” Video of Kriegsschatz, spoils of war being sold at the Polenmarkt. “Sold by the Russians who have nothing as they try to survive. Sell their Kalashnikov machine guns to the skin-heads in East Berlin. This is gonna be a violent place.”
“Crossroads of world history, and of my phantoms.” Video shows Museuminsel, Spree river. “My father was a medical student here for ’30 to ’33 at the Charité. A big hospital, it must be 5 minutes from here, on foot.” Video shows walls with bullet holes. RK narrates simultaneously with his own voice on video. “Bullet holes, all the walls here have bullet holes.” “Traces of history, bullet holes… The real history. Bullet holes everywhere…Bullet holes… My body.” -- Real history marked by physical violence, not by the historical narrative established by political institutions.
The Reichstag… “That’s when he knew it was time to leave.” (the Reichstag fire) “The code of these friezes, that have been done and redone, to know what the layers of history are that you’re looking at.” Buildings: “like animals in the city, lurking among the banal modernness.”
Video playing on television shows shots of RK’s temporary apartment in Berlin. “Haven’t seen space like this since my parent’s house. That’s it. Berlin is the continuation of all these traces back towards that past…” Shot of wife: “and it’s true for Erika too.. who is at home here in a way that surprise both of us” Video pans down to shot of Erika’s breasts, hidden behind folds of kimono. RK speaks of reignited passions during stay here. “The time running out away from us, so fast. Because Berlin is about the sense of loss. It’s about how totally and absolutely one can disappear.” “The fragments which need to be shored up against the ruins, because the mind is a wizard, dashing through time and space.”
“What was this Buchenwald story?”…“The [Buchenwald] monument looks out on the Weimar value, the very cradle of high German sensibility and spirituality. Intelligence, clarity, Goethe. So we left, and [story of car crash…]”
And so I also wonder what it was like for my father to be brought by history to the acknowledgement of his Jewishness, as an American moving away from all of that, into the modern world, away from the shtetl of his parents… Then here, 30-33, the flames bursting out of the cupola of the Reichstag. Sort of saying: whatever you think, this is the way it is.”
“Life in New York was a sort of fabrication, an invention based on some idea of German culture. Buddenbrooks, restraint, a mannered, intelligent distance to terrible passions and darkness in each social situation and in each person. A Thomas Mann universe of bourgeois values and bourgeois decorum as the only restraint to the dark, demon-infested, demonic, unbearable yearning for destruction. I was choked with it, I was suffocated by the books, by the sense of greatness. Beethoven is great, Mahler is great, Rilke is great, Kafka is great. This idea of greatness is a killing idea, is another form of the authority that says: “Things must be this way.” “Es muss sein.” “To each his due.” [inscription from Buchenwald] It made me afraid to work, to explode, to try my way… The same people… Heavy, well-cut fabric, solid shoes, warm coats—and authority. Not [wags his finger] that kind of authority, but [cross his arms awkwardly, extends fingers of hands] Knowledge of the world, as it is— it is.” Grimaces, punches wall twice, then slaps wall violently with right hand, grimace fades. (As if expressing frustration at not clearly expressing ideas, or maybe fluffing the take, trying to decide whether to stop and start again or to continue, finish hour-long take) Sits facing camera for another minute, then stands up, pans camera back to screen, where conversation between three militants continues.
Men compare Marxist pamphlets, The Mass Psychology of Fascism. “National self-feeling.” Bobby Seale. RK in video “You know Bobby Seale just published a cookbook? A barbecue cookbook. He’s an expert in barbecue…” Camera pans slowly back to chair. RK, from behind screen “It’s been very hard to film and talk at the same time…” RK paces back and forth in front of camera, visible only between knees and stomach, as if gathering courage to sit and talk again, facing camera.
As soon as he sits down he stands up again, walks of screen, towards the right. “Here’s something that Wittgenstein wrote: ‘If I wrote a book called “The World as I Found It” I should have to include a report on my body, and should have to say which parts were subordinate to my will, and which were not, this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject, for it alone could not be mentioned in that book.’ … That which can never be spoken about is the very receiver, the lens that organizes and analyzes, the bedrock of each of us.”
RK speaks of his first thoughts of filming in the Gulf, Egypt, Israel, or Romania. “No, go to Berlin. Film in Berlin.” Another long silence.
“The quality is that it’s so hard to express, to convey, to share, and love like this. Flashes of radiant heat that you feel on the hairs of your arm, your cheeks.” Another long silence. His wife can be heard laughing on the video. RK stands up, camera pans back to television. Shots of the Jewish cemetery in Berlin.
Shots of Berlin wall. “Wall, wall, Wall Street, wall. Cutting through the city.” Shots of Martin-Gropius-Bau, Topographie des Terrors exhibition, statue of Bismarck. “Bismarck, his back turned, as if just by coincidence, his back turned. Topography of terror, which you can only show with champ-contrechamp, the park, the luxury houses, the Gropius-Bau, which is also the Jewish museum. This juxtaposition, this compression of history and of sense, right here, across one small street, the Wall was there, Bismarck’s back is turned, the net is spread.”
Shots of Topology of Terror exhibit. “Downstairs where the interrogations took place, perhaps that’s why I’m here in this white-tiled bathroom — or not.”
Shots of bathroom itself, the tiles, the chair. “Not just talking to myself.” Shot of dot-matrix printer printing words: FRAGMENTS / EXPLODING / OUTWARD / MONTAGE / NO / TIME / TO / WASTE / NOW /ROBERT / WASTE
Shots of his wife bathing in the bathtub. “I guess that love is only, or is not only, is only, or is not only—is: is what we have to hold us back from this slow slide. Slow slide… terrible feeling.” Camera pans back towards the right, past shower and chair, radiator. “Perhaps I filmed to fight…” Returning to bathtub faucet, continuing to slowly drip. “Perhaps I filmed to fight against… Perhaps I filmed to fight.”
Pan down to water in tub. RK’s hand dips into water, lifts water, (offscreen) slurps water noisily.