Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I don't get to the monthly Goethe-Institut screenings at the Coolidge nearly as often as I would like - the prospect of walking there or catching the 66 bus in time for an 11am Sunday morning show can seem like no big deal when I first see the listing but somehow become out of reach between going to bed Saturday night and waking up the next day. This one turned out different because I didn't stay up particularly late the night before - after all, how often does a German Western hit the screen?

I should correct that, though. For one thing, contemporary German cinema seems to be under-represented even in American boutique houses despite the fact that it has a long and distinguished history (which means it can sometimes be easier to see German films from the silent era than today). For another, the listings can occasionally be decidedly offbeat; a recent movie that looked like yet another period artist biography was also described as a comedy. That's not always or even often the case, as the Institut promotes German culture and a classy movie about fine art can be a two-for-one deal on that account, but there are surprises to be found.

Plus, it's a pretty good deal: Five bucks for the kind of "special screening" that usually runs a bit more expensive than a theater's regular bookings. Couple that with Gold, at least, being projected from a pretty nice DCP as opposed to the DVD or Blu-ray sources that have been used for this sort of screening in the past, and there is not much trade-off unless you have an unhealthy aversion to subtitles. Sometimes it winds up being a preview of a film that will play the Kendall or Coolidge later, other times something that doesn't show up on Region 1/A video at all.

(You also get the chance to watch the movie with a fair amount of its target audience, as many there will be German students, immigrants, out the like. That's always neat, as audience reaction can give you a bit more of an idea of what the movie is trying to do when you might otherwise find it ineffective because of your foreign perspective.)

I didn't catch the title of their February selection, and it hasn't yet appeared on the Coolidge's website. I may not wind up going, but I suspect that I'll at least be likely to overlook it or just dismiss it without much thought.

As an aside: I decided to try an experiment and compose this review and blog post on my tablet as opposed to my laptop, and I don't know whether it is damning with faint praise or revealing a silly bias to say that it went much better than expected. I still think typing on a real keyboard is much easier, but Swype gets the job done much faster than the hunt-and-peck my phone reduced me to before I upgraded the keyboard software there too. In addition, I was able to plug away at it in the kitchen, on the subway, and in the bus seats without the extra legroom (both because of the size and because the time from hitting the power button to Quickoffice being up and running is about four seconds). Because I don't have 3G/4G on this Nexus 7, it's got the same advantage/drawback of writing on the laptop - no distractions, but you've got to preload any pages you want to reference while writing disconnected - with the additional caveat that the Android tablet version of the IMDB app can make bringing up the page you want harder than necessary.

Is this going to be the new way I write from now on? Not on a regular basis; entering the HTML formatting is a pain and the keyboard let's me feel like I'm typing complete sentences/paragraphs rather than just going word-by-word. On the other hand, a device like this that fits in a largish pocket and doesn't drain nearly as fast as my phone seems like it could be a big help when covering festivals, especially if they've got free Wi-Fi available.

(I half-wonder if, fifteen years from now, kids like my nieces who have been playing with their parents' smartphones and tablets since they were toddlers, will consider typing a somewhat anachronistic skill in the way that cursive writing is now. And when the first touchscreen keyboard replacement for desktops and laptops will come out.)


* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Goethe-Institut, DCP)

"German Western" isn't a phrase that even the most enthusiastic movie-goers have many changes to use, and that's a little bit more surprising than it should be. Germans were one of the largest immigrant groups to North America in the 19th Century, after all, and probably deserve a bit more representation than the occasional character nicknamed"Dutch". Gold does a fair job of changing that a bit, telling a fairly familiar story with a distinct German accent.

Few went from Germany to the West directly; Emily Meyer (Nina Hoss), for instance, may grown up in Bremen but lived in Chicago for the last five years before joining an all-German party to pan for gold in the Yukon in 1898. It is led by Wilhelm Laser (Peter Kurth), who makes sure to get the money up front. Gustav Muller (Uwe Bohm) is a reporter covering the expedition for a German-language newspaper in New York; Joseph Rossmann (Lars Rudolph) is also coming from that city, where his wife and four children live in a one-room apartment. Otto and Maria Dietz (Wolfgang Packhäuser & Rosa Enskat) are the cooks, and Carl Böhmer (Marko Mandic) is the packer.

There are a couple of Americans on Carl's trail, as it happens, but this is less the sort of Western where the heroes are harried by gun-slinging outlaws than by the West itself. Writer/director Thomas Arslan has the party spend some time in settlements, but those scenes are often used to make sure the audience is aware of just how difficult it will be to reach Dawson by this route. On the trail, he doesn't so much present obvious obstacles and dangers as show how even a benign-seeming environment can wear the insufficiently prepared down. There are surreal moments, and ones where the seemingly prosaic can derail everything. The wear on them is front-and-center, and not just because Arslan shot the film chronologically (while apparently being somewhat miserly with the soap).

Full review at EFC

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