Monday, January 2, 2012

Notes to Robert Kramer's Berlin 10/90

Titles: Une Emision proposée par Philippe Grandrieux / Berlin 10/90 / Filmé par Robert Kramer / Berlin, 25 Octobre 1990, 15 h 15 > 16 h 15

Opening shot: Bathtub faucet, dripping slowly, Kramer narrates “25 October 1995, Berlin… Berlin…” Camera pans down towards water in tub. “I was thinking about Ezra Pound, thinking of him in his hut, his cage, in the plain underneath the mountains at Pisa. ” Camera starts to pan left. “Those ridiculous radio programs supporting Il Duce”… “Came to Europe to find cultural leadership, cultural integration, the new renaissance that he lacked so much, in the States. Deathly illusion-- he’s not the only one to have slipped that way. Misunderstood, he came looking for something, made this terrible, criminal error”…“I can imagine Ezra in the toilet of the Italian embassy [in Berlin], so proud…” Camera pans to single black chair. RK briefly walks in front of camera, visible only between knees and stomach, then returns behind camera. “Nothing matters but the quality of affection, nothing matters but the feeling. I shore up these fragments against my ruins”…“Thomas Mann was in Los Angeles. Just the American took the plunge into madness. Into some kind of terrible misunderstanding of the difference between art and politics.”
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.”

Screen shows shots of two men holding books, having a discussion, camera pans right, away from television, back to black chair. “Yeah, different ways of coming home. It’s a strange idea that I’ve never been to Berlin, and Berlin is coming home. Erika feels comfortable, is learning the language.” RK walks in front of camera, sits in chair, facing camera for the first time. “These three people, three militants and their books. They belong to an organization. One of them has fixed up his apartment… and he finds that he doesn’t have much space for the books, only a small place for a bookshelf. And so he invited over his friends to sort through the books, sort through their past… Marx, Brecht, Marcuse, Schiller… Each book was already a piece of a scene that they had played… I thought I would use this as a focus, another crossroad like Berlin, for my plan-séquence, a plan-séquence of one hour, a continuous shot. And trying to have the meanings explode from this one situation. But the situation that you could see was nothing compared to the situation that we were living, because we were bringing with us each a complete package of history, of subjectivity… These people [the other two militants] felt an absolute rupture with that past, they felt definitively separated in some way. In a way that I feel only the continuity of the desire. Only the continuation of the same intention, made all the more clear, more poignant by the collapse and evaporation to the east, whatever this was, this Eastern-European socialism, this communism, this sinister perversion of a real desire: for another way.”
“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.”

“Filming yesterday… I returned to a way of working that felt comfortable, interesting, right. It corresponded to the way I see, in fragments and pieces, and frequently led from one piece to another by association. Both by chance and by being there at that moment, in that angle of vision, etc. The discovery of the pieces and the tension between them—like words in a sentence, like sentences against one another, like whole ideas colliding—corresponds also to the discovery of a place, and a feeling. And another reason: almost like a story, a fragment of a story, a fact in the mosaic of facts. It is important in all this that the shots are not one shot, one feeling, idea, breath, fluid happening, but many pieces brought together by will. It is in the bringing together that the violence is done. And the obligation put to live it through also, you, the watcher. These are leaps, they have to be made… I hate gumming this all together. I hate this false fluidity. This appearance of ‘it has happened,’ ‘it is flowing,’ or ‘I just happened to be there.’” RK sits facing camera again. Two minutes of silence pass.
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.

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