ARTYFACTS: Auf wiedersehn Alexanderplatz!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Auf wiedersehn Alexanderplatz!

OK I give up. Over eight hours in and I’ve had it. There’s Epics and Epics. It may be a masterpiece, if so it’s beyond me. It may be evocative of the period, if so I’m blind to it. Having just emerged into the sunshine after a total of eight hours in a cinema watching seven episodes of Berlin Alexanderplatz in two batches; I’m whacked,
Billed as a sort of mini-series before the mini-series, a boxset before boxsets, Alexanderplatz was a 14 part series made in 1980 by Fassbinder. But that was 33 years ago and it hasn’t passed the test of TV time. Stephen Johnson made some very good points in Everything Bad is Good for You, when he pointed out that TV, way back then, was remarkably primitive compared to contemporary drama. It tended to have one plot line with a limited number of characters. Compare this to contemporary drama, especially 24, The Wire, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Southlands and so on. Multiple threads, characters and superb scripts. The test of TV time is tough.
Alexanderplatz is of its day; slow, literal and often ponderous with one plot line. What the modern viewer has to struggle with is the simplicity, pace and lack of context. There doesn’t appear to have had a budget that could sustain big street shots and you get no real feel for what Berlin was really like pre-war. Of course, it was obliterated, so it isn’t easy.
We’re so used to seeing cinema as spectacle, with high production values, quick edits and superb audio and music. This seems almost amateurish in places. To be fair, some of the acting IS amateurish. But it also suffers from being too loyal to the novel. There’s a lot of exposition lifted from the text and few modern cinema techniques are used to reflect the subtlety of a good novel.
There’s a point where something like this becomes, not a work of art but an artefact in the history of media. Things move on and genuinely progress and some things fall to the wayside. Of the forty or so souls in the cinema I’m sure some will persevere to the end. Not me. Life’s too short. Auf wiedersehn Alexanderplatz.


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