Berlin Alexanderplatz (pronounced [bɛɐˈliːn ˌalɛˈksandɐplats]) originally broadcast in 1980, is a 14-part West German television miniseries, adapted and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder from the Alfred Döblin novel of the same name, and stars Günter Lamprecht, Hanna Schygulla, Barbara Sukowa, Elisabeth Trissenaar and Gottfried John. The complete series is 15½ hours long. In 1983, it was released theatrically in the United States, where a theatre would show two or three parts per night. It garnered a cult following in the US and was eventually released on VHS and broadcast on PBS and then Bravo.
Production[edit source | edit]Edit
It was a co-production between the German Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Bavaria Film GmbH and the Italian network RAI. Production of the film at the Bavaria Film Studios took nearly a year. Director Fassbinder dreamed of making a 'parallel' film specifically for theatrical distribution after the completion of this series. The cast list he made for this fantasy included Gérard Depardieu as Franz Biberkopf and Isabelle Adjani as Mieze.
Episodes[edit source | edit]Edit
|No.||Title||First aired||Runtime (mins.)|
|1||"The Punishment Begins"
"Die Strafe beginnt"
|3 October 1980||82|
|2||"How is One to Live if One Doesn’t Want to Die?"
"Wie soll man leben, wenn man nicht sterben will"
|12 October 1980||59|
|3||"A Hammer Blow to the Head Can Injure the Soul"
"Ein Hammer auf den Kopf kann die Seele verletzen"
|20 October 1980||59|
|4||"A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence"
"Eine Handvoll Menschen in der Tiefe der Stille"
|27 October 1980||59|
|5||"A Reaper with the Power of Our Lord"
"Ein Schnitter mit der Gewalt vom lieben Gott"
|3 November 1980||59|
|6||"Love Has Its Price"
"Eine Liebe, das kostet immer viel"
|10 November 1980||58|
|7||"Remember — An Oath can be Amputated"
"Merke: Einen Schwur kann man amputieren"
|17 November 1980||58|
|8||"The Sun Warms the Skin, but Burns it Sometimes Too"
"Die Sonne wärmt die Haut, die sie manchmal verbrennt"
|24 November 1980||58|
|9||"About the Eternities Between the Many and the Few"
"Von den Ewigkeiten zwischen den Vielen und den Wenigen"
|1 December 1980||59|
|10||"Loneliness Tears Cracks of Madness Even in Walls"
"Einsamkeit reißt auch in Mauern Risse des Irrsinns"
|8 December 1980||59|
|11||"Knowledge is Power and the Early Bird Catches the Worm"
"Wissen ist Macht und Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund"
|15 December 1980||59|
|12||"The Serpent in the Soul of the Serpent"
"Die Schlange in der Seele der Schlange"
|22 December 1980||59|
|13||"The Outside and the Inside and the Secret of Fear of the Secret"
"Das Äußere und das Innere und das Geheimnis der Angst vor dem Geheimnis"
|29 December 1980||58|
|14||"My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin, An Epilogue"
"Mein Traum vom Traum des Franz Biberkopf von Alfred Döblin - Ein Epilog"
|29 December 1980||112|
Synopsis[edit source | edit]Edit
1: The Punishment Begins Berlin, 1928. Franz Biberkopf is released after serving four years in Tegel prison for killing his girlfriend Ida. After settling into his old apartment he visits Minna, Ida’s sister. Minna succumbs to his forceful advances. In a flashback we see Franz kill Ida with a cream whip after correctly suspecting she was about to leave him. Franz later runs into his old friend Meck and has a drink with him in Max’s bar, a local place. There he meets Lina Przybilla, a young Polish woman, who moves in with him. He receives notification from the Berlin Police that he is barred from living in certain Berlin districts and surrounding municipalities, under the threat of a fine or imprisonment, Biberkopf places himself under the supervision of a charity called Prisoners' Aid, to which he must report once a month, and remain in employment. By doing this, he is able to remain in Berlin.
2: How is One to Live if One Doesn’t Want to Die? Franz employs himself by hawking necktie holders on the street, but has trouble making enough money and does not consider himself an orator. After turning down the opportunity to sell sex education manuals, he is talked into selling the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and wearing a swastika armband. In the subway, Franz is confronted by an old Jewish acquaintance selling hot sausages, but denies being Antisemitic himself, and Dreske with two other men also known to him. Dreske admires Lenin and the Soviet Union, but Franz responds by decrying revolution and 'their' Weimar Republic. At Max’s bar, Dreske and his friends sing "The Internationale” to provoke Franz, to which he responds by singing the 19th-century patriotic song "The Watch on the Rhine". At the top of his voice, Franz accuses them of being loudmouths and crooks, before almost collapsing. The other men return to their table. Outside, Franz meets Lina. He rambles about what has just happened; the men he has just met cannot understand life and do not know what it is like to be in prison.
3: A Hammer Blow to the Head Can Injure the Soul Lina is now troubled by the dubious nature of the job Franz is fulfilling. She introduces him to a family friend, Otto Lüders, who turns out to be an ex-con he knows from prison, but Franz thinks Otto is a good man. With him, Franz begins selling shoelaces door-to-door. In the first apartment, Franz spends time with a widow whose deceased husband he closely resembles. Later, to Otto, he reports having sex with the widow. The next day, Otto goes to the widow’s home and expects the same, but she feels threatened and rejects him. Otto demands money and steals from her. When Franz goes back to the widow, happily expecting another tryst, she slams the door on him. Franz vanishes. Lina distraught, searches for him with Meck. They wake Otto in the early morning, but Meck recognises that his account is full of lies and hits him. Franz is found in a flophouse by Otto, who is immediately threatened with a chair. Otto offers him a share of the money Franz realises has been extorted from the widow, but wanting to go straight, he pours the contents of a chamber pot over Otto. Meck gets Franz’s location out of Otto, but Franz had left soon after the earlier incident. Meck persuades Lina that Franz wishes to be left alone, and suggests she live with him.
4: A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence Franz goes on an alcohol binge as a former medical orderly, Baumann, looks over him in rooms in a building opposite the one occupied by the prisoners' charity on which he depends for his liberty in Berlin. Franz wanders the streets in a delirious state; outside a church he takes a coal delivery man for a pastor. When he comes round after another binge, Baumann tells him he has been lying in a stupor for three days. Franz now feels that neither God, Satan, angels or other people can help him. After various thefts in the building become known, Baumann tells Franz he will not be with him for much longer, though the occupants of the neighbouring rooms are soon arrested. He strikes up a conversation with the vendor who offered him the sex education manuals, and discovers Meck is now selling clothes on the street and apparently doing well. Meck admits to Franz that he had been living with Lina until she left him.
5: A Reaper with the Power of Our Lord Franz finally becomes re-acquainted with Eva, after several fleeting encounters. Eva, for whom he used to be a pimp, feels a deep affection for him, and has paid the rent for his old rooms in his absence. At Max’s, Meck introduces Franz to Pums, the ringleader of an illegal enterprise. He also meets Reinhold, one of Pums’s men. Reinhold is tired of his woman, Fränze, and wants Franz to take her off his hands. Franz has her come over and makes love with her. She returns to him after she can’t find Reinhold. Reinhold then employs the same plan with his current woman, Cilly, whom Franz accommodates after provoking a row with Fränze. Reinhold, after contact with the Salvation Army, has had enough of "broads" and is desperate to end his involvement with his current woman, Trude, but Cilly is angry when this is explained to her by Franz, and she briefly considers Franz worse in his treatment of women than Reinhold, possibly unaware of Ida's murder, but she persuades Franz to tell Trude about Reinhold's nature. They are reconciled.
6: Love Has Its Price Franz explains to Reinhold that he wants Cilly to remain with him. Franz gets sucked into Pums’s gang when he is drafted for a job as a last-minute replacement for Bruno, who gets beaten in the street. Franz ends up as a lookout as Pums, Reinhold, and Meck pull a robbery. In the getaway truck, Reinhold becomes suspicious of Franz because of a car that seems to be following them. Reinhold throws Franz out of the back of the truck.
7: Remember—An Oath can be Amputated Franz has survived the car accident, but his right arm has been amputated. He recuperates for a time with Eva and Eva’s lover Herbert. Herbert agitates against Pums’s syndicate, so the boss decides to take up a collection to help with Franz’s medical costs. Franz goes to a red light district and encounters a pimp who offers him a woman he calls the whore of Babylon.
8: The Sun Warms the Skin, but Burns it Sometimes Too Franz gets involved in an illegal enterprise with Willy, whom he met at a cabaret. Eva and Herbert drop by to see Franz and bring a young woman they offer as a new lover. Franz and the tender-hearted woman, whom he names Mieze, fall for each other. However, their spell of love is broken when Franz finds a love letter from another man.
9: About the Eternities Between the Many and the Few Eva explain to Franz that Mieze just wants to work to support him as Franz cannot do so due to his missing arm. He reconciles with Mieze. Franz goes to Reinhold’s and tells him how he has become a pimp. Reinhold is disgusted by Franz’s stump of an arm. Franz is inspired by a Communist rally and spouts his newly learned rhetoric to Eva and Herbert, which upsets Eva.
10. Loneliness Tears Cracks of Madness Even in Walls As Mieze cannot have children, Eva tells her she will have a child with Franz that Mieze can then raise. Mieze is delighted. Eva also tells Mieze she’s concerned that Franz is concerting with Willy and Communists. Mieze gets him to agree to stay out of politics. After Mieze describes the agreement made with Eva for Franz’s baby, Franz is horrified as he thinks Mieze wants to be rid of him. Mieze pleads that she loves him. The two get drunk and are happy until Mieze’s rich client arrives. Franz only finds out then that she is going away with him for three days and weeps in despair.
11. Knowledge is Power and the Early Bird Catches the Worm Franz goes to Reinhold and tells him he wants to get involved with Pums again. Reinhold still has his suspicions but Franz is allowed to assist the gang with a job. Mieze is upset that Franz is earning money because she thinks Franz wants to be independent of her, but Franz reassures her. Franz brags to Reinhold about Mieze’s devotion and decides to show him what a fine woman she is. In the apartment, Franz has Reinhold hide in the bed when Mieze arrives. She reveals she is in love with another man. Franz is angered and beats her cruelly, but Reinhold saves her and throws Franz out. Mieze goes out to Franz and the two reconcile, though she has been bloodied by him. Franz and Mieze take a trip outside Berlin, where he explains to her he simply wanted Reinhold to see a true woman.
12. The Serpent in the Soul of the Serpent Franz introduces Mieze to Meck. Reinhold blackmails Meck to set up a meeting for him with Mieze. Meck takes Mieze on a drive to Freienwalde and delivers her to Reinhold. Reinhold takes her for a walk in the woods, where she resists his advances. Mieze wants to know more about Franz, and Reinhold reveals it is because of him that Franz lost his arm. Mieze is horrified at this revelation. Reinhold strangles her and leaves her in the woods.
13. The Outside and the Inside and the Secret of Fear of the Secret Franz tells Eva that Mieze has left him. Eva reassures him, though she is a bit concerned herself. A robbery pulled off by Pums’s gang goes wrong and Meck burns himself with a welding torch. Franz takes Meck to his apartment to bandage his wound. Meck tells Franz that Reinhold is a bad guy, but Franz claims he has a good heart. Meck takes the police out into the woods and helps them find Mieze’s strangled body, telling them he helped to bury her. Eva brings Franz a newspaper that relates Mieze’s murder. Franz lapses into demented laughter, claiming he is pleased that at least Mieze did not leave him as he had thought.
14. My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin, An Epilogue In a fantasy sequence, Franz walks along a street of the dead with two angels. He finds Mieze, but she disappears from his arms. Reinhold is in prison for the crimes committed by a man whose identity he has acquired. He is anguished that his cellmate and lover is being released. Franz is taken to an asylum. Much of the rest of the episode takes place in his imagination. Franz’s being run over by the car is re-enacted with different characters taking on the roles of victim and driver. In a striking sequence, Franz and Mieze are treated like animals being slaughtered in an abattoir. On a nativity set Franz is raised on a cross as the other characters watch. An atom bomb goes off in the background and the angels clear the dead. The surreal imagery ceases suddenly and Franz is at Reinhold’s trial testifying to his good character. Reinhold is given ten years for manslaughter. Eva tells Franz she has lost the baby. The film concludes with Franz as an assistant gatekeeper at a factory. He is alert to his job but not to what is going on in the world as war is on the horizon.
Cast[edit source | edit]Edit
- Günter Lamprecht – Franz Biberkopf
- Barbara Sukowa – Emilie "Mieze" Karsunke
- Gottfried John – Reinhold Hoffmann
- Hanna Schygulla – Eva
- Elisabeth Trissenaar – Lina
- Karin Baal – Minna
- Franz Buchrieser – Meck
- Hark Bohm – Otto Luders
- Roger Fritz – Herbert
- Brigitte Mira – Frau Bast
- Barbara Valentin – Ida
- Ivan Desny – Pums
- Annemarie Düringer – Cilly
- Bata Kameni
- Volker Spengler – Bruno
- Günther Kaufmann – Theo
- Vitus Zeplichal – Rudi
- Claus Holm – Wirt
- Hans Michael Rehberg – Kommissar
- Lilo Pempeit – Frau Pums
- Elma Karlowa – Frau Greiner
- Helen Vita – Fränze
- Kurt Weinzierl – Orator
- Y Sa Lo – Ilse
- Udo Kier – Young man at the bar
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder – Narrator and Himself
Impact[edit source | edit]Edit
The film has made an impact on several well-known artists and critics. Susan Sontag wrote an appreciation in a September 1983 issue of Vanity Fair. Also in the 1980s: Performance artist/musician Laurie Anderson wrote a song called "White Lily" ("What Fassbinder film is it? The one-armed man comes into the flower shop...") on the album of her concert film, Home of the Brave. Director John Waters, writing on fellow cult director Russ Meyer, opined that the latter's projected autobiographical magnum opus should be titled Berlin Alexandertitz. In her lyrics to "Folk Song" from the Bongwater album The Power of Pussy, actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson recounts being "really bummed out" by the film while watching it on PBS during a bad drug trip. In the 1990s, film director Todd Haynes appropriated imagery from the film's notorious, phantasmagorical epilogue for a sequence in his Velvet Goldmine. The film has also been mentioned in the cult series The Critic, and in several episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, including Gamera and Colossus and the Headhunters. Co-creator of the cult TV series Freaks and Geeks, Paul Feig has cited Berlin Alexanderplatz as a partial inspiration for his show about the misfits and outsiders of an American high school in the early 1980s. 
Restoration[edit source | edit]Edit
In 2005, the German Cultural Institute, having completed the reconstruction and restoration of Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin, decided to restore Berlin Alexanderplatz, saying that the original 16mm film negative was in "catastrophic physical condition" and that it "must be restored."
Beginning in 2006, the series underwent restoration and remastering to 35mm. Berlin Alexanderplatz: Remastered received its world premiere on February 9, 2007 at the Berlin International Film Festival for which episodes 1 and 2 were shown. The restoration was completed in early 2007, exactly 25 years after Fassbinder's death. The entire series ran on February 11 in five installments.
The re-release was accompanied by a book that includes the original screenplay for Berlin Alexanderplatz, original drawings, selections from Döblin's novel, as well as selected reviews of the film.