It was bound to happen. After a good start for the blog, a quiet stretch. The year has gotten off to a busy start. Every minute there seems to be a meeting with a new player about a new technology or a new way to use an old technology. We've been to warehouses and sales conferences and film festivals and memorial services. We've been to Paris and Los Angeles and Chicago and Berlin. We've shipped the first release in the Eclipse line and suddenly realize we need to scramble to put together an Eclipse website. We've been running numbers, making plans, negotiating new deals, extending old ones, and in the midst of it all, as always, we've been seeing movies. Last night it was William Klein's Mr. Freedom and Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, which are weirdly contemporary and timeless for films that are so totally a reflection of their era. Before that there was a long slog through stuff that we knew we probably wouldn't do but had to screen anyway. And before that, of course, there was one of the most intense film experiences any of us have ever had—the Berlin Alexanderplatz marathon at the Volksbühne during the Berlinale.
Fumiko, Issa, Johanna, and I had seen the first two and a half hours as part of a huge gala evening at the newly opened Admiralspalast two nights before. The screening was preceded by a live orchestra playing the fabulous 1920s and 1930s song stylings of Max Raabe. Then of course there were speeches. By the time the first two episodes finally let out, it was already 1 a.m., and I have to admit that all I wanted was a beer from the bar. I wasn't looking forward to the Sunday event, a back-to-back screening of all fifteen hours. The first two episodes of Berlin Alexanderplatz get the film off to a solid start, but it's like watching the first twenty minutes of another film—and not a Bond film. It's an awkward place to stop, or, rather, stopping and escaping at that point is enough of a relief that it’s hard to imagine going back into the theater, especially knowing that there’s another twelve and a half hours to come. In the lobby afterward, as we happily stood around drinking and soaking up the vibe of satisfaction that surrounded the achievement of a longstanding dream for Juliane Lorenz of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, there was a good deal of conversation about the “right way” to see the film—one episode a week, like a miniseries? Or all in one go? All I can say is that I can't think of a better way to have seen it than the experience we had two days later.
I’m told that the Volksbühne (people's theater) on the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, in what was East Berlin, is the theater where Lubitsch played on the stage. It's hard to imagine what it was like in Lubitsch's day, because the theater was destroyed in the war and rebuilt in the fifties. It's obviously a very vital place now. The first thing we noticed were the pulpy exploitation-themed posters and the installation of post-punk black and white graffiti rooms near the little snack bar and bathrooms. It felt like exactly the right place to encounter this monumental Fassbinder film, only a few blocks from the actual Berlin-Alexanderplatz, but we still went in feeling conservative, ready to let ourselves off the hook if necessary. We found seats in the sixth row and settled in for episode three, and immediately we were hooked. Maybe it was just jet lag at the Friday night screening, or maybe it's just that the film really hits its stride in episode three, but the energy of the film seemed to completely change on Sunday. From the moment the film started, we knew we were staying for the whole thing. From noon until 3:30 in the morning, our sixth-row seats were home. There was no lunch break and no dinner break. Just 10 or 15 minutes every three hours, time enough to run to the bathroom or stand in line in hope of getting a pretzel at the concession stand, but definitely not both. At one point, around hour six, Johanna gave me four cashews, which I carefully split in half, then broke each half into two smaller pieces as I parceled them out to myself over the next three hours. The hard seats and hunger added to the sense that this was a rare opportunity, a crazy blessing.
As much as it pains me to find myself agreeing with our friend and consulting producer Robert Fischer—we have much more fun when we argue—he is right about this: Berlin Alexanderplatz is one film, not a series of episodes strung together. There is no better way to see the film than all in one shot. Taken together the film manages to be at once intimate and epic. And seeing it with a large audience—it looked like 400 to 500 people—all undergoing the same lengthy but soul-satisfying ordeal, made the experience that much richer. Fortunately, that experience will be coming to America soon. Watch for a screening of the whole thing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in April. It might seem crazy to go out of your way for a fifteen-hour movie, but we went all the way to Berlin, and, I have to say, it was totally with the trip.