A mysterious video clip surfaced recently on YouTube: high-angle surveillance on wet road, the cabin of a truck with a seductive geometry of wheels and gears, thumping skull-rattling underlay of drums and bass. Monochrome or colour-desaturated European motorways: after Wenders, post-post-Petit, our man Stanley Schtinter.
Driving London to Berlin to collect a valuable cargo, fourteen heavy cans of 35mm film. Berlin Alexanderplatz in the serial made-for-television version. This was an epic pilgrimage into cinema history – keeping a film record, letting the camera run. The practicalities of this pick-up, a transcontinental curation, were no easy matter to facilitate. Berlin Alexanderplatz, the great Alfred Döblin novel of 1929, was translated into film in a work of equal stature, in 1980, by the hyper-kinetic, all-or-nothing Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Into film. That was the USP of this tarmac-hauling epic. It is possible to catch up with Berlin Alexanderplatz in a boxed set, alongside Breaking Bad and Mad Men and the rest. But never, or very very rarely, on film, and never ever before in England. It’s the difference between sampling Ulysses on Kindle and getting the heft of it into your own hands, smelling the paper, navigating acres of print. The unique grain of the moment, the lighting, the detail in those extraordinary performances, requires a projector, a big screen, shared darkness. The orignal oil painting, as it were, not the accurate reproduction. This ICA screening is like borrowing a Rembrandt. There is something religious about the recovery of this relic of a particular time and a particularly significant moment in the history of European culture. A television operation were prepared to underwrite what amounted to seven, back-to-back feature films, with the best actors in Germany. Attending the full screening is a rite of passage. I remember such events from my first days in London as life changing. Film was part of that, the communality of the screening – before we retreated to our caves with Xeroxes and packaged culture snacks.
Berlin Alexanderplatz screens on the weekend of 9/10 November with an introduction by Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit, and also on 16/17 of November 2013.
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