Rainer Werner Fassbinder s wildly controversial fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin s great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had alre... more »ady made forty films. Fassbinder s immersive epic, restored in 2006 and available on DVD in this country for the first time, follows the hulking, violent, yet strangely childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to become an honest soul amidst the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time.« less
It's like an old friend coming back into your life, or the p
Grigory's Girl | NYC | 10/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"David Lean, one of my favorite directors and the man responsible for Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai, once said that seeing a film after you haven't seen it in a long time was like seeing an old friend you haven't seen for a dog's age, and it makes you feel alive again when the memories flow within you and your friend. I feel like that now, as Criterion has decided to return a film/miniseries/friend whom I have not seen in what feels like an eternity. I feel like this miniseries, which I watched as a young person and have never forgotten it (I saw it on PBS...imagine what the ignorants in Congress would say about PBS broadcasting it today), is coming to pay its respects to me, and I look so forward to seeing it and embracing it. This is a truly magnificent achievement in film/television history, one of Fassbinder's most towering achievements, and a milestone in what television and film can do. All the episodes are wonderful, but the epilogue (as one reviewer noted) is truly amazing, and seeing it as a young person really fired my imagination. Fassbinder made his own boundaries in his life and in his art, then always crossed them. There is no better example than this film/miniseries. I miss him terribly (he died a few years after this miniseries was completed), and his art. But thankfully, as with all great artists, the art lives on, breathing, living, and embracing each one of us who comes in contact with it, touching us, and staying with us forever...
A wonderful, truly ironic thing about this miniseries is that when it was broadcast in West Germany, it was actually a critical and commercial failure. Fassbinder was a lightning rod for controversy in West Germany, and this film didn't help matters much. It was shot on 16mm, and when broadcast, many Germans didn't have color televisions at this time, and the print was too muddy, killing off the potential for any meaningful viewership (this edition has been loving restored by Xaver Schwarzenberger, the cinematographer of this film and much of Fassbinder's later output). When it was shown here in the States, it first appeared in cinemas, shown over the course of 3 days or so. The press loved it, and it was a major happening on the art house circuit, and later it appeared on PBS. It was Americans, who aren't universally known for their sense of art, who really rescued this film/miniseries from obscurity. It shows (at least to me) that once upon a time this country had a very good notion about art. Even though that was many years ago, it still gives one hope that we're not all doomed to artistic illiteracy and idiocy.
It is worthy to note that the incredibly prolific Fassbinder managed to write the script for this epic in 3 months, shoot it in roughly 150 days or so, come in a month ahead of schedule on the shooting, and had the final cut edited shortly after completing shooting. His editor and lover at the time, Julianne (contrary to popular belief, Fassbinder was BISEXUAL, not strictly gay, as he is commonly referred to), says in her documentary on the bonus disc that they were editing as they were shooting. Fassbinder shot only a few takes of a scene, quite often getting it one take. To make such a masterpiece in such a short time is remarkable. It makes me wonder about how some directors who insist on many, many takes. I adore Kubrick, Chaplin, and Lean (for example), but quite often, they would take very long with their films and shoot a large number of takes. All three of them have something in common. The more control they assumed at the end of the careers, the longer they took to put out films, and their later films are not nearly as good as their classic work. Just an observation.
As for the film itself, it's filled with great performances, including a towering, defining one by Gunther Lampecht, who is practically in all of the 15 1/2 hours you see here. It is one of the greatest performances in European cinema. Barbara Sukowa is wonderful as Mieze, and Gottfried John is wonderful as Rheinhold, Franz's sometime friend, sometime enemy. Xaver Schwarbennger's cinemtography is first rate, and he oversaw the restoration of this mammoth work for the Fassbinder foundation and this DVD. Just everything in this monumental production works brilliantly.
Criterion's DVD is excellent. The whole film is featured on 7 discs, and there are tons of extras that are really worth watching. There is a documentary that was shot when the miniseries was made called "Notes on the Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz". I always like watching older "film" documentaries because people weren't so media literate then. They were more natural (even filmmakers and actors) and didn't "play" for the camera. Julianne Lorenz's documentary looking back on the production is wonderful. It mainly consists of reminiscing, and people marveling on how Fassbinder managed to accomplish what he set out to do. There isn't any "analyzing" of the film itself, which is very welcome. There's a documentary on the restoration, which is fascinating. They essentially had to take a 15 1/2 hour film shot on 16mm (which is not the greatest format anyway), and completely digitize it to save it and transfer it to the DVD you see here. And there is the original film by Phil Jutzi made in 1931. It can't really compare to Fassbinder's film, but it's interesting to watch nevertheless.
It is wonderful that this series has returned to us, and we can partake of it again, and see what a real artistic masterpiece is.
Fassbinder's symphony in film: Berlin Alexanderplatz.
G. Merritt | Boulder, CO | 11/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To convey the actual film experience of Berlin Alexanderplatz is no easy task. Words fall short, other than to say, I cannot recommend this film more highly. This is the most important DVD release of 2007. With a running time of 15½ hours, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1980 Berlin Alexanderplatz is as much of a film experience as Krzystof Kieslowski's 10-hour Decalogue or Bergman's 312-minute version of Fanny and Alexander. (All three films were originally televised as a miniseries.) Based on Alfred Döblin's 1928 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story Of Franz Biberkopf, Fassbinder's epic masterpiece drew a cult following upon its U.S. theatrical release in 1983. The film was later televised on PBS, but has since been impossible to find in the United States until the Criterion Collection released it earlier this week on DVD, a release that has been long overdue. Many (including me) consider it to be one of the best films ever made.
Set during the rise of Nazism, Berlin Alexanderplatz tells the profound story of Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht), a deeply flawed man, and a proletariat ex-convict determined to lead a good life following his release from a four-year prison term, despite the social and economic frustrations he encounters in Berlin. Upon his release from prison, Franz plugs his ears and contorts his mouth into a silent scream as his "Torment Begins." In fact, each of the 14 episode titles reveal much about Fassbinder's brilliant character study of Franz:
1. "The punishment begins." 2. "How is one to live if he doesn't want to die." 3. "A hammer on the head can injure the soul." 4. "A handful of people in the depths of silence." 5. "A mower with the violence of the dear Lord." 6. "Love has its price." 7. "Remember: an oath can be amputated." 8. "The sun warms the skin, but burns it sometimes too." 9. "About the Eternities between the many and the few." 10. "Loneliness tears cracks of madness even in walls." 11. "Knowledge is power and the early bird catches the worm." 12. "The serpent in the soul of the serpent." 13. "The Outside and the Inside, and the Secret of Fear of the Secret." 14. "My dream from the dream of Franz Biberkopf von Alfred Doeblin: An Epilogue."
And of course there are the memorable Fassbinder women, many of whom are simply Biberkopf's hedonistic objects of desire, and others relate in some way to the woman he murdered (resulting in his prison sentence). Berlin Alexanderplatz reveals Fassbinder's true artistic genius as a filmmaker. Recurring themes in the film include impotence, philosophy, rape, necrophilia, race relations, and ultimately madness. After spending nearly 16 hours immersed in this film, when it was over, I actually missed the world and characters Fassbinder had created. Criterion's seven disc set of his 940-minute film includes a new, high-definition digital transfer from the 2006 restoration by the Fassbinder Foundation; two new documentaries by Fassbinder Foundation president Juliane Lorenz: one featuring interviews with the cast and crew, the other on the restoration; Hans-Dieter Hartl's 1980 documentary Notes on the Making of "Berlin Alexanderplatz;" Phil Jutzi's 1931, ninety-minute film of Alfred Döblin's novel, from a screenplay co-written by Döblin himself; a new video interview with Peter Jelavich, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture; and new English subtitle translation. A highly recommended experience in film, well worth the price of admission.
One of the 5 Greatest Achievements in Cinema History
E. Lindsey | USA | 10/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Long one of the most sought after video bootlegs in the world, Fassbinders' 931 minute tele-film adaptation of the Alfred Doblin novel "Berlin Alexanderplatz" is one of the all time great accomplishments in cinema. It was originally filmed in 16 millimeter as a German television series; shown in the USA in both a two day 7+ hour a day festival type event, and in shortened versions... Having the full version, restored (hopefully lovingly and successfully), is something very long in the waiting. For any true student of the art of cinema this is a must have. There is decidedly too much to say, or risk giving away, by giving a plot review of this nearly 16 hour masterpiece. For 27 years I have told people that "the last 3 hours of this film is possibly the greatest achievement in film art history." Why? Fassbinder directs like a master conductor artfully emulating the styles of a pantheon of the great cinema maestro's to that date - at the same time proving both their genius -- and his own. Stock the house with German fare and bier, wait for a long rainy weekend, get together with a literate friend or two - and enter into one of the most rewarding, fascinating, and awe inspiring examples of filmic story telling ever created. It is not always a happy story to be sure -- but it is indeed one of the most astounding viewing experiences a spectator can ever have. "
New German Cinema's Mega Movie
Bryan A. Pfleeger | Metairie, Louisiana United States | 12/31/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Twenty-six years after its creation Berlin Alexanderplatz is finally given the restoration it so desperately deserved.Fassbinder's monumental fifteen plus hour epic has been completely restored and remastered so that the story of the hapless Franz Biberkopf can finally be experienced in all its glory.
The film (presented in 13 episodes and an epilogue) follows the daily life of Franz Biberkopf (Gunter Lamprecht) from his release from prison for the murder of his girlfriend as he tries to lead a decent life in post World War I Berlin. Along the way he becomes among other things a seller of shoestrings, a newspaper salesman, a pimp and a petty thief.
Fassbinder's world is populated with a panoply of ordinary people and lowlifes. The key is that the viewer begins to care about these people as if he knew them. One reviewer described the Biberkopf character as an uncle that the German people invited into their homes each week.
The film looks like it never looked before. Director of Photography, Xaver Schwarzenberger says that the image is now able to be seen as it was intended. Originally shot on 16mm the film has been completely restored and the color regraded. The result, while not perfect is as good as it has ever been. The film has a sort of brownish gold glow that suits it quite well.
The package by Criterion presents the film in a windowboxed version that runs for 941 minutes. This is about 4% longer than the original due to a NTSC slow down of the original Pal 25 frame per second master. The sound is mono but holds up quite well and the subtitling is clear and easy to read.
The bonus features are quite good and feature two shorts by film editor Juliane Lorenz on the making of the film and its restoration, a contemporary documentary on Fassbinder's working methods and a discussion of the original novel by historian Peter Jelavich. Perhaps the most significant extra is the complete 1931 film version by Phil Jutzi.
This is a highly recommended set for any fan of serious cinema."
15 1/2 Hours of Brilliant Magnificence:
Galina | Virginia, USA | 05/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It took me over four months to finish watching Berlin Alexanderplatz that Criterion released on seven discs. As with the other two my favorite TV Series (Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander" and "Scenes from the Marriage), Criterion deserves the highest praise for the quality of the set. I would receive a disc from Netflix, watch it without stopping and then I would need a break - so intense and involving, and demanding the film was. It's been said a lot about Werner Rainer Fassbinder's most opulent, magnificent, and controversial work based on the novel "Berlin Alexanderplatz" written by Alfred Döblin in 1929 that Fassbinder had known by heart and always wanted to adapt. In short, "Berlin Alexanderplatz" is a story of an ex-convict Franz Biberkopf and his attempts to lead a good honest life after he was released from the prison where he had spent four years for accidentally murdering his girlfriend in the fit of rage. Döblin's book is considered one of the most important German novels, which used the techniques similar to and is as influential as James Joyce's "Ulysses" and John Dos Passos' "Manhattan". As Joyce and Dos Passos, Doblin paints the portrait of the city that we could recognize and re-build in our imagination even if Berlin of the 1920s, the most modern city of its time does not exist anymore. Doblin also had shown how the city affects the life of a person and tears them apart. There could be many reasons why Fassbinder felt so strongly about the novel and always dreamt about adapting it to the screen. He was certainly fascinated by the language of the book and he took it upon himself to narrate some of the most impressive pages as the comments to the action on the screen. Perhaps the young filmmaker was attracted to Doblin's non-judgmental approach in depicting marginality of criminal life, in accepting homosexuality and bisexuality as a part of life without neither glorifying nor demonizing them. The hero of Döblin'/Fassbinder's magnum opus is a deeply flawed man, a pimp, a thief, a murderer yet childishly naive and sympathetic who wants to start a new honest life (not pimping or joining the gang of thieves) but keeps forgetting that "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Fassbinder also could've seen the similarities in the political situations in Germany of 1970 and 1930.
I realize that 15 1/2 hours long "Berlin Alexanderplatz" can evoke very controversial emotions from the viewers but I believe it is impossible not to admit the brilliance and magnificence of the project and of the final product which is without doubt a truly outstanding event in the history of the medium. Just to think that such enormous work had been finished in the course of 150 days, that Fassbinder took only three months to write the script, and how he'd envisioned the main players even before they could imagine they would participate in the project. It was incredibly interesting to watch the documentary about making BA. I found it symbolic that some parts of the film were shot using the earlier set decorations for Ingmar Bergman's "Serpent's Egg" which I like very much and don't agree that it was Bergman's mistake. I also see the influence Fellini might have had on Fassbinder - the scenes in the Red Light District could've came come from the Italian master's films who knew how to stage the "freak shows" and Barbara Sukowa's confession that she had looked at Fellini's "La Strada" to understand better the character of Mieze. Günter Lamprecht, Hanna Schygulla, and especially Gottfried John (who I believed had given the greatest performance in the film as one of the most mysterious villains ever on screen) all contributed their memories of the time they worked with Fassbinder on Berlin Alexanderplatz. I might have not perhaps "gotten" the whole complexity of the film and the novel it is based on but I feel greatness when I encounter it. Of all amazing 15+ hours, the final part, "My dream from the dream of Franz Biberkopf von Alfred Doeblin: An Epilogue" stands out even for Fassbinder. Rarely have I been so mesmerized and fascinated by what an artist's imagination is capable of as during the two final hours of the incredible filmmaking. The epilog made me think that if ever a film director lived who could've adapted to screen successfully "Divine Comedy", "The Book of Revelation", "Ulysses", and Goethe's Faust (the whole poem, not just a Margaret's affair), it was Rainer Werner Fassbinder. We lost our chance when he was gone and we would never see the likes of him again. Not often I feel sorry that the film is over and I miss it as soon as I finish watching - it happened after the final scene of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" was over. "