cinema, German Politics

Mission Impossible.

It may sound a little prejudiced, but it’s true. Ethan Hunt, aka Tom Cruise, finally found an impossible mission – in Germany, of course.

Wolfgang Thierse, President of the German Bundestag made it clear that it will indeed be impossible to shoot some action scenes for the next Tom Cruise star vehicle, Mission Impossible 3, in the glass dome of the Bundestag. After Cruise had visited the dome in April, the studio’s location manager had asked for permission to shoot there but was turned down because of concerns regarding the “dignity” of Parliament.

Dignity? On which planet do Mr Thierse and his advisors live (although I have a hunch this was Thierse’s decision. It sounds just like him…)? Turning down such a huge PR opportunity for German Democracy with the alleged “dignity” of the Bundestag is beyond me. What’s undignified about visualing the new Reichstag, a symbol of German Democracy, to a billion people, many of whom will probably have only seen images of the building with Hitler or the Kaiser parading in front of it. What’s undignified about raising people’s interest in Berlin? What’s undignified about shooting a movie? It’s certainly inconvenient, but I am rather sure overlapping schedules were not a fundamental problem. Sure, most films set in, say, The White House, aren’t actually shot there – but does that matter for the “dignity of the institution”? Besides, what was more undignified – Denzel Washington’s “Murder at 1600” or the questionable election procedures and results in Florida?

To be at least a little balanced here, I haven’t read the screenplay – and if I had, I would not tell you for free. So maybe it is indeed objectionable with respect to some concept of dignity. But I don’t think so. Quite honestly, I have a feeling the decision to keep Cruise out of the Bundestag is telling more about the way representative Democrcacy is understood by senior German politicians – including Wolfgang Thierse – than anything else. Must dignity always mean distance? Remember cosy Bonn? And would Thierse have declined the request to use the dome for a Yo-Yo Ma documentary? A video for Herbert Groenemeyer? I’m sure there’s a line somewhere, but does it exclude action movies?

The rejection is a little reminiscent of the extremely embarrassing debate preceding Christo and Jean Claude’s wrapping of the Reichstag in 1995, which was later hailed as impressive art and an opportunity for Germans to re-embrace the Reichstag building as a cornerstone of their Democracy.

But at least some politicians seem to have learned this lesson. Walter Momper, former Mayor of Berlin, and currently President of Berlin’s state Parliament has offered his chamber as an alternative to the producers. His bid might be successful as the film will be shot in the Babelsberg studios just outside Berlin, where – suddenly – more and more “Hollywood” movies are being shot – predominantly because studios in Los Angeles are far more expensive.

Mr Momper therefore rightly grasped the opportunity to benefit from supporting this kind of “reverse outsourcing” without undignified excuses. But then, he doesn’t have a dome

almost a diary, cinema, filme

A Movie, With Me.

It might come as a shock to you, my gentle readers, but from time to time I do act in student short films. And as this week saw the premieres of two more recent productions, I thought to myself ‘why not experiment with streaming media and put an older one on the web?’
And so I did. Clicking on the image below takes you to a realmedia-encoded version of a largely improvised short film by Sebastian Linke called “49 degrees”, shot in English for and shown at the Hamburg International Film Festival in June 2002. The film was part of the category “thee minute quickie”. A category named after the length of the films shown rather than their content… As for the content, the theme the “quickies” had to deal with in 2002 was “thirst”.
For those who can’t remember what I look like – or have never seen me -, I am “Robbespierre aka the guy who doesn’t drink” ;).

49 degrees

cinema, quicklink

Katherine Hepburn dies aged 96.

She was a great actress, and a beautiful woman. The list of her accomplishments is stunning, even though… she did not play the piano herself as Clara Schumann in “Song of Love” (1947), as she once told my sister on a handwritten postcard. According to, tomorrow at eight pm, the lights on Broadway will dim for some time to mark the fact that one of the brightest stars is no longer shining.

cinema, compulsory reading

The Digital Dilemma Revisited

Quote 1: The BBC News Online today

“Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told BBC News Online earlier this year that digital piracy could become “debilitating” for the industry.

‘Digital piracy has become a real menace,’ he said. Despite the availability of pirate copies, The Matrix Reloaded has made more than $363.5m at the box office worldwide so far.

Quote 2: Brad DeLong, Speculative Microecomomics For Tomorrow’s Economy, draft, November 14, 1999 –

“The ongoing revolution in data processing and data communications technology may well be starting to undermine those basic features of property and exchange that make the invisible hand a powerful social mechanism for organizing production and distribution. The case for the market system has always rested on three implicit pillars, three features of the way that property rights and exchange worked.

Call the first feature excludability: the ability of sellers to force consumers to become buyers, and thus to pay for whatever goods and services they use.

Call the second feature rivalry: a structure of costs in which two cannot partake as cheaply as one, in which producing enough for two million people to use will cost at least twice as many of society’s resources as producing enough for one million people to use.

Call the third transparency: the ability of individuals to see clearly what they need and what is for sale, so that they truly know just what it is that they wish to buy.

All three of these pillars fit the economy of Adam Smith’s day relatively well. …

But digital data is cheap and easy to copy. … Without the relationship between producer and consumer becomes much more akin to a gift-exchange than a purchase-and-sale relationship. The appropriate paradigm then shifts in the direction of a fund-raising drive for a National Public Radio station. When commodities are not excludable then people simply help themselves. If the user feels like it he or she may make a “pledge” to support the producer. The user sends money to the producer not because it is the only way to gain the power to utilize the product, but out of gratitude and for the sake of reciprocity.

This reciprocity-driven revenue stream may well be large enough that producers cover their costs and earn a healthy profit.
Reciprocity is a basic mode of human behavior. People in the large do feel a moral obligation to tip cabdrivers and waiters. People do contribute to National Public Radio. But without excludability the belief that the market economy produces the optimal quantity of any commodity is hard to justify. Other forms of provision–public support funded by taxes that are not voluntary, for example–that had fatal disadvantages vis-a-vis the competitive market when excludability reigned may well deserve reexamination. …

[But t]he market system may well prove to be tougher than its traditional defenders have thought, and to have more subtle and powerful advantages than those that defenders of the invisible hand have usually listed.

cinema, compulsory reading, US Politics, USA

Bowling For Criticism

A Canadian article criticising Michael Moore’s film “Bowling For Columbine” has made to the top ranks of the MIT’s blogdex today. It’s easy to see why given the linking-power of anti-Moorians on the web. But they, like most of those getting at Moore miss a rather important point:

Bowling For Columbine” isn’t a documentary. The film is essentially a sort-of fact based cinematographic, cleverly positioned, political pamphlet. It is a well done, important film – but it is hardly a documentary in the classic sense of that term. It is well worth ciriticising that Moore continually claims it is. But that’s about it.

Moore’s main points are important even if, as the Canadian newspaper Star reports among other points,

“[a]ctor Charlton Heston, the head of the National Rifle Association, did not callously go to Denver 10 days after the shootings simply to proclaim to cheering fellow NRA members that he was going to keep his gun until it is pried ‘from my cold, dead hands.'”

This simply doesn’t matter for the film’s fundamental messages.

Moore claims that there is a much higher (physical, not economic) risk aversion in the US than in Europe which is responsible for a lot of paranoid behavior. I have to say, the highly emotionalised American discourse regarding the dangers of rogue states post 9/11 probably underscores this claim – if you want to see it that way.

Moreover, Moore claims that this higher risk aversion is a consequence of what he claims is the central social cleavage in the US – an unresolved racial conflict based on ritualised and inherited slave owner vs. slave identities. A possible conclusion, which I really cannot really say a lot about. But his claim is – here in the realm of social policy – supported by important allies, as for example this paper by Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote indicates. To them, racial animosity is the principal answer to the question “Why Doesn’t the U.S. Have a European Style Welfare System?”. Charlton Heston somehow made the same point in the film – and, if I remember correctly, that section was not even cut in a particularly distorting manner.

Bowling For Columbine” is not a scientific elaboration. It is an opinionated, scary, but also entertaining film that expressed some of the fundamental anxieties a non-negligeable part of Americans seems to have with regard to the society they live in as well as an attempt to explain some of the fears the rest of the world recently developed with respect to the former land of unlimited opportunities. And – being cleverly marketed by a director who increasingly presented himself as the bearer of truth in a time when people readily swallowed everything that would “verify” their gut felt opposition to the Texan way of life – the film was turned into a huge commercial success.

Again. It is an important film. It is film whose message deserves to be taken seriously. It is a non-fiction film. But is hardly a documentary in the classic sense. Moore deserves criticism for telling the world it is, but again – that’s about it.


Matrix Overloaded.

Don’t get me wrong. “The Matrix Reloaded” is very good film. Actually, it is quite remarkable for a sequel that is also the second part of a trilogy. But that said, it is not, as opposed to its predecessor, a great film.

Why is that? Well, where the first film was able to intelligently translate the existential questions which we carry around with us – whether we are able and/or willing to actually articulate them (like these scholars do) is an entirely different issue – to the digital age and combine that with a stunning visualisation, the second part sometimes gave me the impression of having been written around the visual effects, with additional elements from a motley collection of mytholgies diluting the initial brilliance of the story – I’m probably not ruining anything for those who haven’t yet seen it with these examples – the “ghosts” and “vampires” (remnant’s from an earlier, seemingly “medieval” version of the Matrix), the reanimation scene.

Of course, in the Matrix, everything imaginable is possible. But it does come at a price: the Matrix overloads a little.

But then again, maybe my criticism is a little overloaded, too. Maybe I am a victim of overloaded expectations. Maybe some lack of clarity is intended, and indeed necessary for a second part of a trilogy. And maybe the Wachowski brothers will be able to satisfactorily dissolve the overloaded web they spun in this part in “The Matrix Revolutions.”

All I know for sure is I have to wait another six months to find out. And that is not making me happy.

almost a diary, cinema, compulsory reading, oddly enough

So much creative energy wasted. Unbelievable.

Yesterday evening I attended a regional short film award presentation ceremony. One of the winning films was about a Japanese couple eating Sushi on a date. Later that evening I had a chat with the female lead actress, a charming student of Political Science. So far, so normal.

But what do you reply once the person you talk to starts to explain to you that the real reason for the Nazi dictatorship was alien control? I am not entirely certain about the details of her argument due to linguistic difficulties. But the gist of it was that she had read about it in “a Japanese book“.

So what do you do? Well, I can tell you what I did: I changed the subject to something tastier and far less problematic with a slightly irritated – “anyway… so where do you get your Sushi here?

Happy about my newly acquired knowledge about great Japanese restaurants in the area, I almost forgot about the irritating incident. But when I later checked my email, I could not resist to google for “Nazi Ufo”. The result was unbelievable. You should try that yourself.

The search yielded a countless amount of webpages determined to uncover and explain the “real” reality, as if we were all living in a “Matrix” [I am not going to discuss the ontological possibility this could actually be the case or any possible ethymological implications of such a possiblity. For our mind’s sake, let’s just assume it’s not the case.]. I am simply stunned how so many apparently at least modestly intelligent people are eager to waste their intellectual energy on blatantly nonsensical conspiracy theories.

Now you might reply that conspiracy theories can be valuable – some sort of intellectual modelling, an intelligent fictional exercise trying to identify fundamental causes behind the events that shape the world in our framed perception – even though evidently wrong, most of the times. But the important part of the last argument is intelligent – unintelligent conspiracy theories simply are pulp fiction. Moreover, unintelligent conspiracy theories are plainly dangerous, because they appear to be no longer checks and balances to a possibly framed official version of history but ot have become a “Matrix” themselves. Just clicking on some links on the first page of google hits I found the following extraordinary example about German moon bases in 1942. In case you don’t bother to click on the link above, here is a remarkable extract from that page:

“In my extensive research of dissident American theories about the physical conditions on the Moon I have proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is atmosphere, water and vegetation on the Moon, and that man does not need a space suit to walk on the Moon. A pair of jeans, a pullover and sneakers are just about enough. Everything NASA has told the world about the Mood is a lie and it was done to keep the exclusivity of the club from joinings by the third world countries. All these physical conditions make it a lot more easier to build a Moon base.”

No way to argue with that, I know.

And as you remember, I did change the subject when the Japanese girl started to explain the intricacies of the Nazi-Alien connection (which seems to be at the core of an astounding amount of conspiracies on the web). But the scary thing about her was that she did not seem to be a Mulder-like UFO freak, who “wants to believe”. The scary thing was that she seemed to quote not from a mailing list or web site run by “dissident scientists” but from an apparently accepted Japanese source.

It’s a strange world out there.

almost a diary, cinema

The Bourne Identity

Can you believe it – Franka Potente is the German movie industry’s darling to the extent that cinemas have scheduled an additional 0:01 showing on the opening day of her latest film, “The Bourne Identity” in which she is acting alongside Matt Damon. Potente plays Marie Kreutz, a Swiss-German loafer who happens to open her car in the very second that amnesiac Jason Bourne needs a ride. I dire need of cash Marie accepts $20.000 in return for driving Jason to Paris, where both soon find themselves in the middle of some serious secret service trouble. It’s no cineastic marvel, but its a decent action film which always tries to keep the moral ambiguity surrounding the main character. One never really gets to know who’s the good guy and who’s the bad. Somehow all participants have to work with the moral hand they have been dealt. That is true even for Marie, who decides to stay in the car with him when Bourne tells her to get off. For a $75m film, moral ambiguity is quite an achievement, in my opinion.

The things in find most remarkable in this film? Firstly, the car chasing scene in Paris. It’s hilarious. They jump from one end of the city to the other within seconds. I guess that’s what “beaming chases” will look like in the future. Secondly, the French, especially, the French police get a decent amount of bashing for no apparent reason. Finally, the CIA, their technological abilities as well as their organisational imperfections, are portrayed in a scary way.

Summary: Two hours of decent entertainment. IMDB rating 7.5/10, my rating: 6.5/10. That, as well, is quite an achievement for an action film.


Minority report: ‘Signs’

Apparently, most people like ‘Signs’, Mel Gibson’s latest film. An rating of 7.5 is illustrative. But I don’t. Why? Because it’s simply a bad film. I am right, and the others are wrong.

Has anyone ever heard of vampire style bad-guy aliens able to fly zillions of miles in warp-speed-vehicles with the intention to kill humanity only to give up and fly another zillion of miles back home because they could not manage to enter a room protected by wooden boards nailed to the door? Can anyone believe that mind reading aliens in possession of mind blowing technology that would, according to the film, change everything ever written in (human) science books – but who are, unfortunately, lethally allergic to water – could actually be stupid enough to go on a largescale manhunt on a planet that largely consists of water without ever thinking about how to protect themselves? I’ll stop here, gentle readers, for your and my brain’s sake.

It’s a bad, bad film. And it’s even worse because of all the religious allusions trying to tell the viewer that God has accorded humanity a special status even with respect to the rest of the universe. Everything is taken care of in a big masterplan in which we are lucky enough to be on the right side. As long as we believe.

When Mel’s wife dies in a car accident she utters strange last words. Because of her early death, Mel loses his faith, quits his position as reverend and becomes a farmer only to discover the extraterrestrial signs in his field (which, as a footnote, the aliens use as navigational devices, because their mind blowing technology is unable to provide sufficient electronic landing information). Of course, neither his wife’s death nor her last words, nor his son’s asthma, nor his daughter’s eating disorder (she puts half-full glasses of water everywhere), nor his brother’s talent to play baseball are actually random – they’re the most important pieces in the puzzle leading to the defeat of the last alien vampire, gracefully left behind by his fellow invaders to die and thus help end the film. After his dead wife’s last words prove to be the clue to killing this last stupid alien, Mel can rediscovers his faith and resume his position as a reverend.

So what is the gist of the film, for those of you who will wisely decide not to see it. The truth is I don’t know: If this was supposed to be a film about the special bond between humanity and God then the clearly stated complete predetermination of events does not make any sense. Predetermination cannot create a bond, not even dependence. It reduces agents to puppets of their principal in any context.

If this was supposed to be a film about a lonely widower fighting alien vampires to protect his family, then the religious allusions seem misguided.

And if this was supposed to be a film which wants to scare humanity with the abrogation of free will, then it is helpless. Matrix did a much better job there. It’s a stupid film which does not know what it wants. Not that this would reduce its box office potential, although, in an ideal world, it should.

But that’s just my opinion. And it’s apparently a minority report.