Monday, July 21, 2008

Tarot, Summer 2008

He pauses on the hill although he knows too well
where he is going. How can that be ill?
A goal is good but this one now seems dull.

Before he notices, his horse has waded
into the stream. He feels so jaded
now: The star that awakened him has faded.

He wants to ride beyond the fight that pulls him back.
The least he can do is to let the reins go slack.
“Try to be a willow,” he says to himself, “not a brick.”

He and his horse reach the top of a high ridge.
As if the world makes sense from a ledge,
he recalls inside himself the rainbow bridge,

stretching from where he first knew the place –
with people he loved (and the one special face).
“The bridge is a way to balance what I keep and erase

what I must reject. I won’t let the dead take hold
of me.” At times, he has taught others to make bold
moves; now he too must break free of tired old

habits – self-hatred, isolation, lack of trust.
“You never do it alone. Scrape off the rust.
Is it so terrible to learn that you must

love? Be in the dance?” He will find
the object of his goal, and embrace what his mind
drove him to create – a vision so ill-defined

that it’s difficult at first to break free
of its tangled chains. But, stronger than his “me”
is the new one, born of relation, who can see

that every figure he has ever feared, from earliest age,
shall be transformed, reformed, on his inner stage,
and the crazy become the strong; the ignorant, the sage.

At his journey’s end, the King loathe to be a King
speaks from his throne, ever-changing, a floating thing,
“The only power is in offering love to others. Let’s sing.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

OUR HITLER by Hans-Jurgen Syberberg

After watching Fassbinder's amazing ALEXANDERPLATZ -- 16 hours long -- I decided to continue in the same vein when I found that Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s OUR HITLER (1977) is available again – for sale and also available on Netflix. I saw it so long ago at the old York Theater in San Francisco when there was a dinner break in the middle of the 7-1/2 hour film. Susan Sontag is always quoted as having said it is “the most extraordinary film I have ever seen.” Having seen the new re-release, I wonder why parts of the film I saw back then are missing – notably a scene where Hitler stands in the nostril of a giant head of Wagner. Is it possible that was only on a poster for the film? I don' think so.

God and all worthy principles having been destroyed, for Syberberg, by the way they enabled Hitler’s Germany, Syberberg has decided that film itself is the one own cultural virtue, and he casts the holy light on film that used to be reserved for so many other things that now have lost their value. While he does not identify it until the end, the film begins outside the black shack (probably tarpaper) where Edison created his first film, and that shack, “The Black Maria,” recurs throughout the film, enclosed in a glass ball that, if shaken, causes snow to fall on the Black Maria.
Above, I spoke of that period of German history for which no terms of horror are adequate as “Hitler’s Germany,” and Syberberg argues that if Hitler screamed, “I am Germany,” by their allegiance to him, Germans responded, “We, Germany, are Hitler,” and therefore Syberberg must conclude, “Hitler is in us” – cannot be extracted or denied. It is too bad that most people will be put off by a 7-1/2 hour film that could be reduced, unfairly, to being described as “a long lecture with slides”: That is almost literally true, and yet film magic, and good actors, turn a completely artificial world into something only too real.
I suppose Syberberg was not satirizing himself as a German by proceeding with typical German obsessiveness: He is not going to omit any detail he can find about Hitler, including a very long sequence where his valet describes the minutiae of his daily habits. A monster should not be so normal. A monster should not be whistling tunes from operettas. We also hear from Himmler’s masseuse (and then see Himmler confess his sins and his guilt to the man while being massaged). We learn that Hitler watched films obsessively before the war, then only newsreels where he dictated the narration, then no films at all. But in the late 1930s he watched as many as three films a day. He watched the French films he banned for the public. He liked John Wayne and John Ford movies. Goebbels made sure that he never saw Chaplin’s imitation of him in THE GREAT DICTATOR. Films he watched several times were BROADWAY MELODY with Fred Astaire, Walt Disney’s SNOW WHITE, THE IDEAL HUSBAND by Heinz Ruhmann, and, especially, he watched over and over Fritz Lang’s THE NIEBELINGS. He was said to have seen Wagner’s TRISTAN UND ISOLDE 170 times.
In OUR HITLER, Syberberg, loving film, talks about film while he is in the process of making one – Does it help him distance himself from the horror? Syberberg’s young daughter Amelie appears at times, like a small Madonna, wearing a veil of film strips.
Like the images projected behind the actors in most scenes, moving, by association, from one theme to another, the music too is an ever-changing but seamless stream associated with the times – German marching songs, popular music, Mahler and other classical composers, and, of course, there is a good dose of Wagner.
I have heard that Syberberg did not want to create a film that people could slip into as if into a dream, as with most films, but a film where you would have to remain conscious all the while about what was being addressed. He creates a stage magic that makes a point of letting you know it is stage magic. Single, excellent actors help create a certain reality, however, while they speak to mannequins, puppets, cardboard figures, with a bit of stage fog at times. By the end of the film this made sense too: The Jews were real human beings; their persecutors, having destroyed all love inside themselves, were really stick figures. The tragedy of millions of real humans being killed by stick figures who should have figured only in a comedy epitomizes the perversion that was Nazi Germany.
Syberberg is on screen at times, playing a Hamlet-like role; at other times, he delivers the offscreen poetic meditation. There are also recordings of Nazi speeches, and actors portraying some of the people with crackpot ideas who influenced the Nazis, and kept the German populace perplexed but too obedient to question – the kind of poisonous pseudo-intellectual notions that flow among certain citizen nuts on the Internet. Those who listened to Hitler and his cohort must have been willing to believe that the nonsense being spoken was something too profound for them to understand, or perhaps the German character at the time was comfortable swallowing notions like “Redemption through Authority” and “Authority as Eros.” along with “the theory of blood.”
I never quite grasped before the Syberberg film that Hitler’s campaign to kill Jews was a clever political calculation, itself indifferent to the Jews, but the essential unifying element in his power. If all else was failing, he could count on the anti-Semitism in all European countries remaining the one unifying constant. The purpose of destroying Jews justified crossing national lines: As Jews are everywhere, his conquest must be universal. Syberberg also reveals that whether it was rumor or fact that Adolph Hitler was part Jewish that would alter nothing; in fact, would reinforce how he and the other anti-Semites identified Jewishness as a part of themselves, whatever parts of themselves that they fear or hated. That demon Jew was the mythical Jew created over a millennium in Europe that the mass of people believed to be real (that group in every country onto which people project their shadow sides) – supposed to be violence-proned, sex-obsessed, or too sensual; angry, resentful, and heartless like Shylock; apt to kill Christian children to mix their blood into the dough they will bake into bread. Whatever a German might hate himself projected onto the Jews. As Syberberg points out, Jews, while in Germany, were the greatest Germans.
I have always wondered how that odd figure, Adolph Hitler – himself a good choice to play a nibelung – could have such charisma. Hearing a person, as portrayed by an actor in the film, describe how, in his first experience hearing a still unknown Hitler speak, he went from despair to hope, it occurred to me that Hitler physically was a perfect representation of how Germans felt at the time: scrawny, belittled, failing at everything attempted, in the hole, crazed from World War I defeat and rigid surrender terms, enduring decades of severe economic depression. To hear scrawny, limp wristed HItler work himself into an ecstasy was to watch a failure swell himself up. They might defend the fastidious, moralistic, downright prissy runt and give him their loyalty as he looked the way they felt and maybe they could swell up in that same way – and they probably heard too the desire for revenge.
While the film is sometimes literally someone reading from a long text, the texts are always intellectually on point, as one thinks one’s way through this film, and for some, certainly for me, it is intellectually satisfying and esthetically pleasing. For Syberberg, his film is the “trial” of Hitler, who escaped such a reckoning, and so he wants to present every scrap of evidence, including how Hitler looked to Germans with many different points of views, or different needs. The film-maker makes it clear that he will keep the voices coming because “there must not be silence.”
The question, of course, is that terrible one: “How could such inhumanity have happened?” And “inhumanity” is not adequate to the level of inhumanity. I wish everyone could or would see the film for the sake of that search for an answer to that haunting question. As a result of that era, all of us know, as the John Huston character said in CHINATOWN, “Given the right circumstance, anyone is capable of anything.” Aside from it being a film about Hitler and Germany, the film will not let anyone evade the fact that every person is both an individual and the citizen of a nation -- that being the current set-up on earth -- and seeing the film helps to examine the possibility of the worst impulses in oneself and in one’s nation. Certainly, the U.S.A. did not learn from the fact of Hitler’s Germany, and Syberberg, toward the end of his film, catalogues all the places on the earth where people are living out the Hitler in themselves – even at the early date of the film, he identifies the U.S.A. with Oil. We too have ended up with a dictator and a world-occupying military. We too practice torture and illegal imprisonment; we too live in fear of a government that spies on its citizens. We commit atrocities and, like the Nazis, disguise it with official sounding terms, such as “collateral damage.” Like Hitler, Bush has on his side his own chosen judges who will justify whatever he does and overthrow elections. Bush too has a nation of passive sheep, content to let slogans take the place of questioning and thought. The Bush cohort are in accord with Nazi contempt for “humanistic stupidity.” Immune to social disapproval, self-amused, they embrace the convenient Nazi concept of Felix Culpa – “happy guilt.” They too are “men of ice,” amused by their own brutal sentimentality, defined as a “steely romanticism.” On the dark side of life on earth, Hitler still rules, and may even end up having that “eternal victory” he spoke of, perfectly happy with it being a victory of darkness over enlightenment. He is, as Syberberg says, “a lasting legacy.” This film stops avoiding that.
Syberberg takes it for granted that European civilization is dead. He somewhat laments the death of ancient values, but recognizes that they were the curse that let Hitler manipulate the masses. Without political consciousness, young men still identify with mythic heroes and histories, comic book and movie heroes. The film, INDEPENDENCE DAY, as much as I could bear to watch of it, is a perfect portrayal of this kind of U.S. self-delusion. As if sufficient in themselves, all is justified by words like self-sacrifice, obedience (ever to some authority outside the individual, freeing them from individual responsibility), honor; being “tough”: Hitler’s father beat him terribly and frequently, and Adolph trained himself never to cry, partly to impress his concerned mother with his bravery and indifference to pain: No matter what the pain, you must never cry. That would be shameful. Not god-like, “human weakness” is seen as a sin. Their insane notion of “selfless conquest” translates to thoughtless warfare, killing without a conscience: It cannot be evil as I do it for the country not for myself – and I come away feeling innocent no matter what terrible thing I do. Also, embracing obscure and mysterious language from arcane sources as irrefutable because they are like “messages from the beyond,” or messages from some primal source.
As Syberberg points out, what Germans did to Europe and the Jews, the U.S.A did to all the native American nations, a crime still not really acknowledged, and neutralized by the distorting fictions of the movies. "Some four million pre-Columbian 'Americans' [were] decimated," writes preserver of 'Indian' songs, George W. Cronyn. "Such a cultural scion as Frederic Remington himself could snarl, 'Jews, Injuns, Chinamen, Italians, Huns....the rubbish of the earth I hate.' " Syberberg might also have mentioned U.S. dictatorial actions or economic subversions of a hundred different countries.)
I haven’t seen any of the BATMAN films since the first one as the first one encouraged a distorted view of U.S reality that fit perfectly the Nazi dream: The world is overrun with “scum and vermin” that only a man in a black uniform can bring under control. As I have not seen the rest of the BATMAN “franchise,” I cannot truly appraise it, but it does not reassure me that the latest is entitled THE BLACK KNIGHT, Heinrich Himmler’s title for himself, I suppose from that source that is so appealing to the Right Wing, the Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, etc., that was so important to Wagner, Hitler, the Nazis, and others around the globe. (After writing that remark, I saw BATMAN BEGINS on television. There Bruce Wayne is trained by a NAZI like group, but breaks away. Nevertheless, he sees himself as a knight.)
Well, let me dispense with all the bullshit justified by the dream of the male gender to be a “knight” (not a page). Guys, after all the literal notions of finding a gold cup, or a cup with miraculous powers, the profoundly spiritually or those with an ability to understand symbols, not take them literally, what the Holy Grail represents is not conquest, power, money, or any of the other things you fools are willing to kill to find it. The Holy Grail is Compassion. But, unfortunately, that particular puzzle, while meant to lead the male creature to enlightenment, has, instead, been used as a model for all their worst behavior – another example of how “Western culture” has screwed up history.
But I want that scene where Hitler stands in Wagner’s nostril!