• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Monday, August 27, 2018

    Il Vecchio Testamento (The Old Testament, 1962)


    One and Two Maccabees are an unusual pair of books. The two 'deuterocanonical' books appear in what is commonly known as the Apocrypha - a group of texts which Catholic and some Orthodox Christians consider inspired, but which Protestants class as merely 'useful'.1 Accordingly, precious few filmmakers have considered it worthy of adaptation, a 1911 Italian film I Maccabei and the oddly named Il Vecchio Testamento (The Old Testament, 1962) directed by Gianfranco Parolini.

    The first Book of Maccabees tells the story of Mattathias and his five sons John, Simon, Judas, Eleazar and Jonathan, but the second zooms in to focus on the life of Judas. It's clear that the author of 2 Maccabees, at least, considered Judas  to be the most important member of his family. Parolini's version of the story, however, chooses a different path. Instead of making Judas the main hero, it opts for his brother Simon, casting Brad Harris in the role. By this point in his career Harris had already played Samson, Goliath and Hercules and was rapidly becoming an established peplum star.

    Perhaps with a nod to the biblical pecking order it's Judas (Djordje 'George' Nenadovic) we encounter first. Already the conquering Syrians2 see him as a threat so he has slipped into Jerusalem disguised as one of their soldiers. This is not merely a convenient disguise, however, it's also an indicator of the way the film will portray Judas from here on in. Judas is seen as something of an extremist, a man of violence. Whilst he is undoubtedly one of the sheep of Israel he is very much dressed in Syrian wolf's clothing, both literally and figuratively.

    It may be that, just like Ray's King of Kings the previous year, the filmmakers decided they needed a violent rebel to contrast with their more peaceable hero, but it's also possible they worried that Christian majority audiences in both Italy and America might not accept a hero called Judas. In any case, Judas' violent approach leaves a certain inevitability to his untimely death, and by its end, the film will have shown just how antithetical to true faith it considers this overly violent 'Syrian' approach to be.

    Yet at some point, the producers of the film seem to have abandoned the idea of contrasting the two brothers quite so strongly. The only English language version of the film available at the moment is cut down from 115 minutes down to a mere 88. Not only does that version's 4:3 cropped screen ration and poor quality transfer ruin a lot of the fine sets, but the cuts to the running length ruin the story arc leaving a confusing mess.

    Gone, for example, is Simon's critical first scene. Whereas his brother Judas had already been fighting the Syrians, Simon has been becoming friends with them. We first meet him dressed in Greek-style dress socialising with his soon to be wife Diotima and his best friend Antenone. As the conflict between the Syrians and the Jews intensifies the dynamics between these three become all the more interesting. All three represent the more peaceable, moderate side of their people and are angered when their own countrymen inflict suffering on their friends. Early on in the film Simon is shot by an arrow and Antenone nurses him to recover.

    Later on, (in another scene cut from the English language DVD release), Antenone is executed by Jewish forces much to Simon's dismay. This scene is itself particularly striking. Firstly, it represents one of a number of explicit miracles in the film. Whereas most Bible films from this point on have given their miracles a certain degree of ambiguity, in order to avoid alienating sceptics, by this point in the film there has already been a ghostly image of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Later on a lightning strikes and destroys the gates of Joppa in response to Simon's prayer allowing his men to capture the city.

    In this case whilst Antenone is killed his spirit is shown to rise up in bodily form. This not only reflects the theological development we find in 2 Maccabees of belief in some kind of afterlife3, but also hands it to Antenone, a peaceable Gentile, rather than to the Jewish Mattathias, Judas or Jonathan. Whilst the absence of a resurrection for any of the Jewish heroes was not necessarily intended as a slight, certainly it re-affirms the film attempts to idealise a more compromising, peaceable approach over a specific religious conviction.

    Alternatively the point could be made that this longer cut attempts to de-Judaise these quintessentially Jewish heroes in order to portray their story as part of the journey towards a more "superior", "tolerant", Americanised Christianity. Of Mattathias and his five sons it is the one who is least Jewish and most au fait with the dominant cultural empire who is promoted to become the hero, and it is a non-Jew who is resurrected and later portrayed as something of a Christ figure in the film's closing moments.

    Yet whilst the cuts made to the longer version do remedy some of these problems, they are disastrous in terms of narrative. Simon, Antenone and Diotima's friendships are the glue that hold the narrative together. Taken as a whole the first Book of Maccabees is not particularly easy to translate into a screenplay, not least because of the regularity with which the leading Maccabee is killed and replaced by one of his relations. Whilst choosing Simon as the lead representative of the family is unconventional, it does enable the script to develop the characters in interesting ways. Without these moments the story resorts to little more than that of a series of battles.

    It's been reported numerous times over the years that Mel Gibson is interested in filming a version of this story. It's not hard to see why it appeals to him. Given the source's guerrilla violence, extreme determination in the fave of persecution, factional backstabbing, and unlikely victories, it's plain enough that the story could easily be fashioned into a B.C.E. version of Braveheart. Whether that will result in a film any closer to the source material remains to be seen.

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    1 - The original texts go back to the Greek Septuagint and were rejected in the formation of the Jewish Canon. They were however chosen to be part of the Christian Canon and remained so until the Reformation. Some parts of the Orthodox church, notably the Ethiopian Orthodox church, does not include the Books of Maccabees in their canon.
    2 - Whilst the film calls them Syrians and the text calls them ethnon (nations/gentiles) as the opening prologue to 1 Maccabees makes clear they were those from the Northern Greek/Syrian part of Alexander the Great's former empire known as the Seleucids.
    3 - See for example 2 Maccabees 6:23; 7:14; 7:23; 11: 23; 12:40-46. These ideas are far more developed in terms of some form of afterlife than any in the agreed canon.

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    Saturday, August 18, 2018

    Solomon and Sheba (1959) - part 1


    This is the first in a series of posts looking at the 1959 epic Solomon and Sheba

    "At times, a man feels drawn toward the dangers that 
    confront him, even at the risk of his own -destruction". 

    Strip away all the glitz and glamour of King Vidor's magnificent looking epic and at its heart it's pure film noir - Gilda in gold-sequinned pants starring the Queen of Sheba as the femme fatale. She turns up one day on Solomon's doorstep playing the innocent, but everyone, including Solomon himself, knows she's trouble.

    Away from Solomon's lavishly rendered court she conspires with his enemies - the Egyptian Pharaoh and Solomon's waspish half brother Adonijah. Solomon attempts to keep her at arm's length, and when that fails he tries to impress her into thinking he's invulnerable to her charms, but he's drawn towards her "like a moth approaches a flame" and once he falls, he falls hard leaving his whole kingdom exposed.

    But then, like a low-grade Vertigo, there's the twist: Sheba falls for her mark and realises that the enemy she was trying to deceive, seduce and destroy means more to her than the traditions she has been raised with and has fought to protect. Now there's going to be trouble for both of them.

    Yul Brynner's performance as Solomon is often criticised for being too one-dimensional, but he was never going to simply repeat his performance from The King and I. Instead his passive, subdued portrayal is a classic leaf out of the noir handbook. It's always the female characters who are the more interesting in noir anyway. This is very much the case here as Gina Lollobridgida's Sheba steals every scene she features in. She smoulders, plots and purrs so well that you can easily forget her biblical role was supposed to be almost-intellectual - a head of state of an upwardly mobile country posing tough administrative questions which only the wisdom of Solomon could possibly answer.

    Of course Noir's finest films are all built around the stellar female performances. It's why names like Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner still hold some cultural resonance whilst Dana Andrews and whatever the bloke from Double Indemnity was called have faded into obscurity. Great as Bogart was he is forever linked with the super-smart Bacall, and whilst Mitchum, Stewart and Alan Ladd all graced the genre, the reason they are more fondly remembered is for their work elsewhere.

    With Lollobrigida giving it her all - except the orgy scene where she, rather understandably, seems bored by its banality ("but, Gina dah-ling", you can almost hear the studio rep saying, "it'll draw in the crowds") - it's no surprise that the audience sides with her far more than the stoical Brynner1. "Wherever she moves Sheba colonises her space, dominating her interlocuters, for instance in the pastoral scene with Solomon, where her positioning in the frame often prioritises her spatially".2 Whilst we see both monarchs consulting with their advisors, we are given far more insight into the goings on in her inner circle than we ever are in his, even if we sense he has more to lose.

    One of the things that is surprising about Solomon and Sheba is its depiction of the Israelites' god who rather unexpectedly steps up to claim the noirish role of the dark malevolent force conspiring to keep the two lovers apart. In contrast to other Old Testament films it's neither the Sheban religion (with its highly-choreographed, but curiously unerotic, orgies3) nor the Egyptian army (who - in a sequence combining stunning visuals with a total lack of realism - fall, quite literally, for Solomon's battlefield "genius") that are the real problem, but the deity who the Israelites worship, yet fail to understand. Israel believes her God to be far more upright, moral and decent than he is actually shown to be.

    In order to understand this contrast more fully it is necessary to undertake a fuller exploration of the portrayal of Israel in the film. So in the next instalment I'll be looking at how, along with many epics of the era, the filmmakers attempt to draw parallels between the Hebrew nation and 1950s America.

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    1 - One of the more modern skewering I've enjoyed is Alex von Tunzelmann's "The ludicrous Solomon and Sheba (1959) tempted in audiences with the promise of an Old Testament orgy scene, though being 1959 this merely consisted of the Queen of Sheba (Gina Lollobrigida) doing the funky chicken in a gold bikini while her acolytes formed a conga line and then ran off giggling into the undergrowth" - "Reel History: The World According to the Movies" (London, Atlantic: 2015), p.22.
    2 - Babbington, Bruce and Evans, Peter William. "Biblical Epics: Sacred Narrative in the Hollywood Cinema", (Manchester: Manchester University Press) 1993, p.67
    3 - Fraser employs the phrase "curious balletic orgy" which sums up the use of movement and space and the ineffectiveness of the eroticism nicely. "The Hollywood History of the World", MacDonald Fraser, George, (London, Harvill Press: 1996), p.26

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    Tuesday, August 14, 2018

    Othon (1969)


    Of all the films which Huillet and Straub made prior to Moses und Aron, Othon is perhaps the closest. Both films are adaptations set, at least on one level, in the ancient world. Both are located on historic (Italian) sites in the open air, locations that should be right for the subject, but somehow feel at odds with the work which they are adapting. Both works are poetic and have a rhythm and flow to the words and language. Indeed just as Moses und Aron utilises an unusual operatic singing style called sprechstimme which is partway between speech and singing, so the various speeches in Othon have a sort of sung quality.

    The film's proper title is Les Yeux ne veulent pas en tout temps se fermer, ou Peut-être qu’un jour Rome se permettra de choisir a son tour (Eyes don’t want to stay shut all the time, or Perhaps one day Rome will let herself choose at her turn), but is based on the 1664 Pierre Corneille play Othon which played in Louis XIV's court where it's scathing portrayal of back-room political dealings was perhaps best appreciated. Whilst Corneille himself considered one of his best works (though given it came late in his career, that might just have been shrewd marketing), it's one of his less appreciated works. However, it's not hard to see why it appealed to the avowedly political Straub/Huillet nor why they would choose to dedicate it "to the large number of those born in the French language, who've never had the privilege of knowing the work of Corneille".

    The story itself is set in the A.D.69, the year of the four emperors in the final days of Galba's rule. Galba is hesitating over whom to appoint as his heir, the noble, but easily swayed Pison, or the shrewder Othon. Galba's three advisers Lacus, Martian and Vinius can't agree either, mainly because each is scheming to protect their own political future. Aside from the two men's qualities, there are also two potential marriage partners that could swing things one way or another. The emperor's niece, Camille, the only character with royal pedigree loves Othon, but he loves Vinius' daughter Plautine.

    Perhaps what is most striking about the film is its choice of location and the way in which that setting is set to work. Instead of the claustrophobic palace back rooms Corneille's play suggests, Huillet and Straub opted for the open air. Furthermore they chose a terrace on Palatine Hill, the site of numerous imperial palaces overlooking the forum in Rome. Instead of trying to block out the background noise of the modern day city far below they embraced it, experimenting with natural sound which would go on to become one of their trademarks. As a result much of the play is recited against the sound of traffic, wind and bubbling water. No effort is made to make the buildings look as they would have, they look as they do today, but the costumes match with what is considered typical Roman dress.

    The result is somewhat jarring yet it's easy to get lost in the easy rhythm of the words, or in trying to keep up with the House of Cards-like plot, or the gentle lulling sounds of flowing water or distant traffic. It's all helped by Straub and Huillet's beautiful compositions, or the way the actors keep their emotions strictly under wraps. There are no histrionics, evil smirks or heartfelt declarations of love, instead the film refuses to telegraph where it is going even though we know Othon is going to become emperor.

    Interestingly the film minimises Othon's role in his predecessor's downfall, even leading some commentators to think that it does not hold him responsible. Such an assumption is misguided, however. Galba and Pison's assassination is not shown, and as with the rest of the film Othon does not show any kind of emotion - positive or negative - at the news that they have been killed and he is to become emperor. Like the events that occur between the second and third acts of Moses und Aron whilst we have seen much of what has prompted regime change we are left reflecting less on the acts that caused it, than on what happens as a result.

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    Wednesday, August 08, 2018

    The Ten Commandments (1956)


    The paradox of The Ten Commandments is that it is one of the easiest films to mock and parody, and yet it's magnificence is such that whenever discussion arises about the biblical epic, and indeed biblical films in general, it's name is never far away.

    The films more risible moments begin from the very start as, rather than adopting a more conventional opening, director Cecil B. DeMille steps out from behind the curtain and delivers an almost ten minute lecture arguing for his film's historical credibility. There follows around ninety minutes of fictional hokum as DeMille invents a backstory, a cadre of friends and potential foes, and strings them together with such unintentionally hilarious lines like "Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!".

    And yet, at the same time these scenes also provide some of the film's most stunning moments. Take for example the scene where Moses erects an obelisk as his "brother" Ramsees stands limply by (the phallic symbolism is comically transparent). Yet, despite the fact that Moses completion of the task is never in doubt, DeMille manages to make dramatic and indeed spectacular footage from what is essentially, a construction scene. Thousands toil away in the immense heat of the desert, orchestrated  by one man's extraordinary vision, expertise and dedication to create an extraordinary masterwork - a description that suits both what we see on screen and what is going on behind the scenes.

    Such parallels between DeMille's story of Moses and the modern day abound, not least because DeMille is determined to convert the story of the Exodus into a Cold War parable. DeMille's lecture at the start of the film concludes that "The theme of this picture is whether men are to be ruled by God’s law, or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like... Ramsees" even adding "This same battle continues throughout the world today." The film carries this through in almost every respect from the casting of Russian-born Yul Brynner as Ramsees, through to the all American Heston striking a statue of liberty pose in the film's closing shot.

    The film also goes out of it's way to elaborate on the parallels between Moses and Jesus, themselves the results of the Gospel writers' attempts to cast Jesus as a new Moses. As my friend Peter Chattaway observed, almost 20 years ago now, "Pharaoh orders the death of all newborn boys in Goshen, not because he is afraid of population growth, but because a star has prophesied the birth of a deliverer in their ranks". Moses' mother uses the words of the Magnificat when she finally meets her adult son. Joshua calls him "the chosen one". Others talk of how they dared not “touch the hem of his garment”. Moses himself explains his encounter with God at the burning bush in phrases that sound like the Gospel of John, "the Word was God", "his light is in every man" and so on. By reversing what Matthew and the other Gospel writers are trying to do DeMille effectively casts Moses in his own shadow.

    The groundwork DeMille puts in during that opening ninety minutes pays off. The burning bush scene may not have aged well, but the scenes where Moses commands his former rival Ramsees to let his people go are as taut as Bryner's shendyt. Ramsees is still trying to win an old argument, but Moses moved on long ago. All the while the spurned Nefertiri is trying to keep the whole thing spinning in an attempt to hurt the man who spurned her and the one who didn't.

    When the script finally starts to cover the actual biblical story, the spectacle becomes no less impressive. The eeriness with which the Angel of Death's green mist creeps through the Egyptian streets is a fitting climax to the nine plagues which have gone before. The scene of the Israelites leaving Egypt - a scene which actually delivers on the oft used strap-line "a cast of thousands" - deftly manages to combine the sheer scale of the event with the the individual and personal. An elderly man's dying wish here, and young girl and her dolly there, DeMille manages to take these small moments and make us imagine the impact of that multiplied ten thousand times.

    Then, of course, there is the parting of the Red Sea. Film scholars still debate whether or not this version of the tale outdid his earlier silent version from 1923. Either way, both are hugely impressive even in the face of the tidal wave of CGI that dominates special effects today. The two scenes have had such a cultural impact that many today are shocked to discover the Bible actually describes a far more gradual process of the waters parting. So much for the film's repeated line "So let it be written. So let it be done".

    And then, finally we get the obligatory orgy and the arrival of the titular commandments. Given his history DeMille was unlikely to pass up the chance to show scantily clad bodies writhing before the golden bull, but it's actually the sparks flying through the air to engrave the Commandments on the rock face which stick in the memory. As with the crossing of the Red Sea, the scene itself bears little resemblance to the corresponding passage from Exodus, where Moses is at the foot of the mountain with the people by his side, but such is the impact of this film that it's rare to find someone who thinks of either scene like the book.

    The costumes are, of course, fantastic and the immense sets are first class. Heston, Brynner and John Derek's muscles gleam. Anne Baxter purrs, Vincent Price camps it up and Cedric Hardwicke gets to drily deliver wry witticisms. Even Edward G. Robinson, who fell foul of Joseph McCarthy, gets to join in scowlingly dismissing Heston's bright-eyed pronouncements. Meanwhile Elmer Bernstein - a relative unknown at the time - underpins the story with his classical score. Amazingly whilst the film lasts for 220 minutes, it never feels like that long, no doubt explaining why despite the $13 million it cost to make, it made almost ten times that at the box office and no doubt made it's budget many times over in reruns, home video sales and regular broadcasts at Christmas and Easter.

    But perhaps the most significant thing about The Ten Commandments is how it has become the definitive film for so many different categories. Despite decades of westerns and parlour comedies, it's this film that comes to mind when people today think of Cecil B. DeMille. Regardless of Ben-Hur's eleven Oscars, it's The Ten Commandments that is seen as the quintessential Charlton Heston performance. And, of course, it stands as the definitive example of the biblical epic. Few films indeed can claim to be so typical of, and central to, their genre as this. Double Indemnity for film noir. Star Wars, perhaps, for science fiction. Like them it deserves to be put on a pedestal and celebrated, even if we recognise that part of the reason it is so monumental is because time has moved on and we are unlikely to see anything quite like it ever again.

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    Chattaway, Peter (1999) "Lights, Camera, Plagues!: Moses in the Movies" in Bible Review 15:1, February.

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    Saturday, August 04, 2018

    Reflections on the Books of the Maccabees


    As someone who was brought up as a Protestant, I've never really read the Books of the Maccabees in full before. But in preparation for reviewing the 1962 Brad Harris vehicle, Il vecchio testamento (The Old Testament) I've been reading through it in full. It's been an interesting process so I thought I would share some of my reflections, not so much about the text itself, but more about the wider picture.

    The first thing is that it's interesting reading it in the context of the UK political scene at the moment. The main opposition party over here, Labour, has swung to the left and there has been a growing story about the party's perceived anti-Semitism. This involves actions by some individual actions of current and expelled members of the party, but has also come down their decision not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism. It's the kind of story that would have been dead weeks ago, but which has been given legs by the leadership's failure to properly listen to Jewish leaders about their objections and continue on as if they themselves know best. Nevertheless it's interesting reading the book which obviously details horrific anti-Semitic acts and be reminded that this is something that has a long and terrible history. It is not just being pedantic about wording.

    Secondly, I've restricted my research about the film to an absolute minimum whilst I read the book, so to try and read it with as clean a slate as possible. It does mean that I think of Ross and the Holiday Armadillo episode from Friends a little too much, but hopefully I won't be too distracted.

    What it does mean is that I presently have no idea how much of the book finds its way into the film. For those of you that are similarly unaware of the books, they read a little like the Books of Kings. I'm assuming only certain stories from the books will make it to the film, but it's interesting noticing as I read through thinking, "I can't really see that bit translating well" and so on. At the moment however, the bit I'm reading feels really like the bit that will be included. I guess I could be wrong, but I'm struck by how much a certain section of a book I don't really know leaps out as being a more obviously notable section.

    Lastly, I'm again struck by how ignorant Protestants are about the deuterocanonical books. It's one thing not accepting them as scriptural, but surely that shouldn't mean they are ignored. Sadly it seems like many evangelicals, for example, will read all kinds of pseudo-scriptural rubbish, books of visions people have had etc. and never really discuss what are, at any rate, books that form an important part of the context for the Old and New Testament.

    Following on from that I'd encourage church leaders / scholars to set themselves of reading a book from the 'apocrypha' every so often. This is partly for the reason given above, but there's another important reason: it will take you out of your comfort zone and give you the perspective of those who listen/follow you. Most church leaders / biblical scholars have grown up knowing Bible stories, quotes from Paul and so on. As a result the Bible is a comforting and familiar place. But for those people in their churches that have never got into reading their Bibles, let alone those outside of their churches, this is often not the case. Reading the Maccabees for the first time I felt distinctly not at home.

    It's also a chance to revisit how you treat "scripture", how things in the Bible that might otherwise seem weird, or shocking or bewildering in an unfamiliar book, are all too often overlooked due to familiarity or a desire to smooth things out. I'd recommend taking your time, rather than rushing through (this is why, I suppose I've still not finished the task) to maximise the strange sense of familiarity combine with disorientation. If nothing else it might enable you to enjoy a classic Brad Harris Bible film in a way you might not have otherwise.

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    Friday, August 03, 2018

    Machorka-Muff (1962)


    Machorka-Muff was the first project Huillet/Straub were able to complete as their plans for their film on Bach and the film that would ultimately become Not Reconciled were both stuck in production at this stage. Like Not Reconciled it was based on a work by Heinrich Böll, Bonn Diary and concerns the ongoing involvement of prominent Nazi-era figures in the post-war West German establishment.

    Straub had moved to Germany from his native France to escape military service in Algeria and found himself drawn by "the chance to make in Germany a film that no German could make - just as no German was able to make Germany, Year Zero..." (Roud 29). As someone that has spent quite a lot of time researching Rossellini, the connection Straub makes here is one I can appreciate. According to Barton Byg "The remilitarization of West Germany in the 1950s was Straub's 'first political rage', a sign that the country would be prevented from finding its way out of  the wilderness of World War II" (Byg 72).

    The film's opening screen card describes the piece as "An abstract visual dream not a story" and the pair set about distilling Böll's short story with their usual economy. A short piece of narration by Muff is swiftly followed by a dream sequence with the only indicators being his lying down in bed and the obviously unreal nature of the brief sequence that follows. He is then shown plugging in his electric razor the next morning.

    Despite the film' brevity (18 minutes) it still manages to tell the story as three acts. "This concern with rhythm and formal construction is one of the most important elements in Straub's films" (Roud, 37). Machorka Muff has come to Bonn for three reasons: to ingratiate himself, once again, with the German military establishment; to clear the name of a beloved, yet disgraced, superior officer from his days in the Nazi army; and to initiate the building of a military academy. This much is laid out in the film's opening act which culminates in him taking a break from his walk around the city to have an aperitif.

    However, as Muff sits and begins to read the papers the film ominously shifts gear. The natural sound of the first act is replaced by a bombastic and slightly terrifying organ music. This accompanies a montage of newspaper headlines and articles charting the progress of the remilitarisation movement, which are clearly from a variety of newspapers as opposed to just the one that Muff is reading. Within the continuity of the film, then, this montage is "fake" - Muff is not examining a variety of newspapers, just casually perusing the one. However, the clippings shown in this sequence are all genuine cuttings and articles from the time in which the film is set. Whilst Muff, the other characters and the story itself are fictional, the cuttings are, in fact, the only "real" part of the entire film. This use of historical artefacts and bringing together the varies layers of the past would go on to become a regular feature of Huillet and Straub's work.

    Montages of newspaper headlines go back to the silent era, but one of the things that is most interesting about this one is the way in which it quickly moves on from simply the headlines to the arguments in the articles themselves. The articles cite duty, honour to those who died in the German army, morality and democracy in defense of their position, even invoking Jesus and the religious establishment to make their case.

    It's not until the third act when we are finally introduced to the mysterious "Inn". Having been mentioned in the film's very first sentence ("I wanted to call Inn, but decided not to") there are various indicators that she holds some sway. It is she who tells him "the baby's christening is today", meaning that the ceremony for laying the cornerstone of his military academy has got the go-ahead.

    Despite her apparent influence Muff is a little dismissive of her place in society, describing her as "recent nobility, but old family line" before adding, in somewhat derisory fashion, that her family had only become ennobled in Hitler's final two days. This is turned on its head as the final act unfolds and in apparent contrast to what Muff, as the film's narrator, seems to think. We first see her as she arrives in her expensive, open-topped car to pick him up. He bows to kiss her hand and she continues to drive off in taking the dominant position. This seems normal today but would have been notable in the 1950s.

    Inn's influence is also apparent in the scene where Muff is promoted to brigadier general. Whilst he has been napping, she has been orchestrating events leading to the meeting with the government official. And when his promotion is announced, she is the only other person present. Significantly, she helps him on with the jacket from his new uniform.

    Then we get the couple's wedding, accompanied by an unusual low angle shot which captures the pair against the roof of the Cathedral, diminishes the height difference between them and places her more centrally on the screen. Following the wedding we learn that she has already been married seven times before, but that the church is more than willing to annul all her previous marriages in her case. As Inn remarks as the couple enjoy a very brief honeymoon, "This is how I always feel as a bride". Despite her apparently casual attitude to marriage the priest is more than willing to accommodate a couple of such high standing.

    Indeed class is a fairly prevalent theme of the film. In addition to the discussion of Inn and her family, there is also a significant moment in the one of the opening scenes. Whilst Muff is waiting for a meeting in the hotel lobby, Heffling, one of Muff's former colleagues, spies him and the two share a drink. Though initially he is willing to tolerate Heffling, we see Muff pull out a pocket watch during their short moment together. Furthermore when the government representative that Muff is waiting for arrives, Muff places his hand on Heffling's shoulder as if to politely shove him down the hall and out of the door. As Heffling leaves Muff's narration also reveals his true attitude to Heffling describing him as typical of "simple people" and calling his wife him "petit bourgeois".

    Byg also notes the length of time the film spends showing Heffling's drink being brought (77). This is far longer than the time the two men are actually shown together. Once Heffling is dispatched the two discuss the plans for the dedication ceremony and when Muff asks "Will the public swallow it?" the government representative replies "The public swallows everything". What pleases the two most is that they are able to get away with such a celebration of the German military in a democracy, despite the recent history. In a similar way, when Muff delivers his dedication speech towards the end of the film he proudly uses an affectionate name for Hitler that he and his colleagues have been permitted to use.

    Muff's speech is itself fairly significant. Just as the images of the newspapers acting as an official mouthpiece formed the "second act", now Muff's literal mouth is making militaristic arguments in the final part of the film. The speech is shot from an awkward high angle which captures a close up of Muff's gold-braided general's cap in the foreground, his mouth in the middle of the shot and the foundations of the academy in the background. As Muff speaks we see a workman in the background both literally and figuratively cementing Germany's future. The ceremony ends with Muff tapping the top of the foundations with a small hammer - seemingly answering the question at the end of the newspaper montage - "Will Germany be a hammer or an anvil?".

    It's here that the film is at its most satirical. Apparently the satire in Böll's novel is a little more forceful. Straub/Huillet rein it in a little bit, but still allow space for Muff to recount how his former general died from food poisoning after eating a lobster. The most scathing moment is in Muff's proud announcement of the discovery (by Inn - again she is pulling the strings) that Muff's former boss, General Hürlanger-Hiss, had lost more of his men in the war than had previously been thought. The discovery that the loss of life was greater meant that the number who died had now crossed the threshold of what constituted an acceptable retreat. Thus, rather than this greater catastrophe signalling further shame, it actually meant Hiss' reputation could be reinstated, and his memory cherished again.

    The film's closing line, which is also one of the most significant, is given to Inn. As she talks to Muff she tells him "No-one has ever dared oppose our family". As she does so there is a loud crash on the organ and the end credits begin accompanied by more of the heavy-handed organ playing from the newspaper montage. It's another reminder that Muff's rise to power is not, even within the military and the "democracy", down to his own merit but to his new wife's class and position of influence.

    Huillet and Straub were criticised for not making the film more political and, in particular for not caricaturing the former Nazi characters to the same extent that Böll did in the short story. This seems to be because they did not want to let their audience off the hook by giving them the cathartic release of seeing their opponents savaged on screen. Instead Straub reportedly wanted their audience to internalise their anger. Rather than having the characters in the film deal with the gangsters, Straub's hope is to inspire those who watch their films towards political action. Perhaps "the avenger is in the audience" (Delahaye). Seen over 50 years later, modern films have, if anything become even more comnbastic and pre-digested. It's good, then, to be reminded of a subtler form of film which can let its anger about those in power to speak for itself, if only we have ears to hear it.

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    - Byg, Barton (1995) Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    - Delahaye, Michel (1966) "Entretien Avec Jean-Marie Straub," Cahiers du Cinéma 180 (July): 52.

    - Roud, Richard (1972) Jean-Marie Straub. New York: The Viking Press.

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