Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond for the penultimate night

I like the word "penultimate".

Anyway, first up last night was "Nathan the Wise", a 1922 German silent film based on the 1779 play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and a fantastic parable about religious tolerance. The making, destruction, and recent recovery of this film is an amazing story in itself. It was made (as I said earlier) in 1922. It was made in Munich by the Jewish filmmaker Manfred Noa. Only one picture of him exists (check it out on the B&B website here), and that's from a book published in the 30's by the Nazis describing the Jewish control of the film industry. Munich in the 20's was actually the Nazis' stronghold--Hitler gained control there before he caught on elsewhere. So the movie was banned by the Munish authorities, but approved by the national authorities in Berlin. It was fairly popular over all of Germany except for Munich. It played once in Munich, and the theater owner was threatened byt the Nazis that if he played it again they'd burn down his theater. Hitler was invited to the screening, but declined, sending a deputy instead who denounced it as Jewish propoganda. It was ultimately banned and all prints supposedly destroyed (although for a while it secretly showed in neighboring countries under the false title "The Storming of Jerusalem"). Then recently a print showed up in a vault in Moscow. Presumably one copy was saved in the Berlin film archives, and the Soviets took it when they stormed Berlin at the end of the war. The print was finally returned to Munich where it was restored and has played to enthusiastic audiences. And now it's played here in America, again.

So as for the story: Nathan is a respected Jewish merchant living in Jerusalem in the late 12 century. This is the time of the crusades, and in fact he loses his entire family to crusaders. All alone, he is given an orphaned baby girl by the assistant to a dead Knight Templar (the baby's father). He raises her as his own daughter--his only remaining family. Meanwhile, the muslim sultan Saladin conquers Jerusalem and a period of relative peace ensues. But the peace is tenuous at best, and always on the verge of exploding. It's a wonderful story of religious tolerance, and the parable Nathan uses to answer Saladin's question of which is the one true faith is worth repeating (more than the intricate details of the drama do). So here, in my own clumsy language, is my attempt:

(Saladin has just asked Nathan to determine which--out of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity--is the one true faith. Nathan's response follows).

There once was a king who had a ring with a magical power. It had the power to make him love and by loved by God and all people. With this ring, the king was guaranteed to always be a kind and beloved ruler, which was a win-win situation for everyone. So as he grew old, he decided he would pass on his ring to his most congenial son, who would then become king (and would be kind and loved). So it was for many generations that the ring was passed down and the kings of this land were always kind and always loved, until one day the ring came into possession of a king who had three sons whom he loved equally. He couldn't decide which was the most congenial, and he couldn't bear the thought of disappointing two of them. So instead, he secretly had 2 more identical counterfeit rings made, and gave each of them a ring. When the king passed on, each was surprised to find that they all had a ring. Each one insisted that they had the true ring, and the other two were counterfeit, but try as they might no one could ever find a distinguishing feature that would determine which was the true ring. So eventually the three sons went before a judge to ask him to determine which was the true ring and hence who would be king of the land. The judge considered the case for some time, then declared, "The ring has the
magical power to make the wearer love and be loved by God and all the people". Therefore whoever shows the most human kindness--and receives the most kindness in return--is wearing the true ring. It is the same way with the true faith--the true faith should not be judged by it's label, but by the amount of human kindness it's follower's exhibit and elicit from others.

I like this parable. In fact, I like it so much that I hereby declare a worldwide contest of human kindness. Whichever faith exhibits and elicits the most total human kindness wins, and shall be declared the one true faith. I'm the judge (as an agnostic/borderline atheist, I'm pretty impartial), the contest ends at the end of this year.

By the way, by pure coincidence a new translation of the original play "Nathan the Wise" is being put on in Oakland. Check it out here.

And the second movie of the night was a grafitti artist subculture story, "Wholetrain". You know the drill, here's another crappy camera phone picture of a director, this time it's Florian Gaag:

I should point out that Florian is actually the director/writer/composer/co-producer--pretty much everything but star. Yet another debut feature, this is a fast paced story of graffiti crews who target trains. Specifically about rival crews--the heros and current dominant crew, KSB (David, Tino, Elyas, and new guy Achim) vs. the new, hotter ATL crew. The fight for artistic dominance and run from the police, with David the most at risk (he's one probation violation away from real jail time). As ATL's art gets bolder--doing "whole cars" and real "burns" (great art), KSB is becoming desperate, and decide that the only way they can reclaim dominance is to do a "whole train". It's funny and serious (Tino going into a fight with his baby on his back is a priceless scene), and the art is really, really cool. A pretty effective plea for graffiti--some graffiti at least--as a true art form. I got to thinking about the culture and covering first a blank wall with spray paint. Then about crossing out other's art and doing your own over it, or someone doing it to yours, or someone just washing your paint off--the whole temporary nature of the art. Basically, I've got no problems with graffiti if it actually improves the look of the surface. If you can improve on a clean, blank wall, go for it (problem is, too much graffiti doesn't even meet this condition). Then if there's already some graffiti on the wall, if you can do better go ahead. Just don't be upset if someone thinks that they can do better than you (either by putting another layer of graffiti on it, or returning it to blank wall status). It's just a shame that the passion that drives the art also fuels violence associated with it. Although interestingly, between the rival gangs it never elevated to more than trash-talking and competitive painting. The real danger was between the gangs and the police.

All right, now I've got just one more movie tonight and then Berlin and Beyond will officially be over.

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lidanzuiai said...
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