From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman dsl.pipex.com>
Sent: Friday, November 12, 2004 8:13 AM +0100
AN INTRODUCTION TO:-
DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT, PART 13. ART OR LIFE; HERMANN and CLARISSA, 1970.
I am finding it very difficult to begin writing. I have more notes than on any other episode, I think. My head is swarming with ideas. Why the hesitation? It has to do with the sadness and melancholy of ending, I think. I did not want Die Zweite Heimat to end, as end it must. It has become like life; we do not perceive the end nor do we wish it to arrive in normal circumstances! Well here we have the final episode of this great film and I will try my best to show how Edgar Reitz depicts a sense of finality, a sense of resolution to all his separate strands of story and how he unifies them, in a sense, in the character of Hermann.
Hermann, of course, is at the centre of this episode. I have changed my mind almost totally about his character. At the age of 30 he really comes of age! At times he appears to be on the edge of total breakdown, and yet we see him deal with all the difficulties in his life, and they are many, with an impressive maturity and acceptance of what the future might hold for him. His soliloquies or commentaries carry great weight, and his analyses of the position he finds himself in are often commanding and exact. Let me illustrate.
We see him first amongst all the merriment of the Oktober Beer Fest. He represents the isolated, aloof intellectual, unable to participate in all the communal enjoyment and conviviality around him. We might note, however, that it ends in a brawl! Crushed between Consul Handschuh and his wife Hermann reflects that Schnüsschen would have been in her element there. But I hated this closeness. It crushed all real feeling with the weight of its banality, he muses. He starts to feel his age. He is still hopeful about life, but feels doubts about his abilities and talents. This thought comes into his head: Had fate decided that I would never realize my dreams? Such uncertainty is a new development for him. He remembers his friends, as he takes stock amidst the merriment, but his thoughts are touched by melancholia. He quotes the poet, Hesse. He had once set these words to music. The world was full of friends\When life was light\Now the mist descends\Theyre lost from sight, but he cannot find any words for Erika, as she says goodbye to him at the taxi stand. She sees their previous relationship as a game, though a good one! He cannot articulate an honest response.
Later, in a bar, Herr Zielke makes Hermann a surprising financial offer, but Hermanns thoughts are elsewhere. In fact, his identity seems to be dissolving. He is on the verge of a crack-up. He begins to doubt his own existence. The money existed, I didnt. There follows the first of many surreal sequences in this episode. Volker, Jean-Marie, and an unknown woman push past him, and, realising who they were, he follows. He stumbles into a kind of palace piazza where he witnesses the young woman dancing to a piece by Volker. There is a debate about the nature of art and the idea of an audience, but Hermann is bewildered. It had happened. I was sure I had gone mad. He sees his friends as dazzled by artistic madness. We do not see Volker and Jean-Marie again in the film.
Hermann receives another extraordinary financial offer almost immediately. Consul Handschuh and his wife are childless. He is a very wealthy man and the film constantly stresses this. Hermann is brought to dinner in a chauffeur driven Rolls-Royce. Electronic gates open to reveal a beautiful house by the Ammersee. There is a private cinema in the house. Consul Handschuh is found in bed after his exertions of the previous day. A whirring of machinery raises one end of the bed so he is in a sitting position. He is a man in search of a son. Hermann is the chosen one. I wish I had a son like you. He offers to bequeath his entire business to Hermann, if Hermann will dedicate himself to his work with electronic music. However, we know from a soliloquy delivered as he looked out of a window that Hermann has lost interest in the studio and music. My pride had taken a fall. Id lost hope. What was music to me? Hermann is not dazzled by all the trappings of wealth. He is a young man of integrity, isnt he? We know he will eventually refuse but he asks if he has to decide there and then. The Consul replies, No. But soon. I take it that he knows his death is imminent and that is why his wife falls sobbing into her husbands arms. We do not see them again. [I was a little puzzled by Mrs. Handschuhs reception of Hermann. She asks whether Hermann had realised that the glad-handing and exertions of the previous day had been play-acting and when he shrugs an enigmatic smile flickers over her features and there is a long silence. I felt there was something significant here that I had missed.]
Afterwards, in the Konigsplatz, where he had first made music with Juan, he analyses what has happened with great precision. His thoughts are worth quoting, as an example of how insightful he has become. Twice in 24 hours Id become the dream and hope of an ageing man. Twice Id been offered fantastic sums to manage. It was my youth and idealism that were worth so much money. I began to be ashamed of them. He knows that both are perishable commodities. I needed advice. He decides he must see Clarissa for this and finds from her mother that she is on tour and is informed of her itinerary. He goes in search of her in what is one of the great rail journeys in world cinema!! I mean that slightly tongue-in-cheek. It is a voyage through Hermanns past, through his memories, through his head. He is a traveller through time, but Reitz gives us all the naturalistic details as well; timetables, stations, scenery, hotels and so on.
Let us just pause for a moment. At this juncture in the episode Hermann has come into contact with 9 characters from his past if we count Mrs.Handschuh as one [he has only met her once or twice before]. They are Volker, Jean-Marie, Mrs.Lichtblau, Herr Gross and Herr Zielke, Consul Handschuh, Erika and Alex. In the early hours of the morning Alex has turned up at Hermanns apartment [he is living separately from his wife and daughter] demanding alcohol. He is raddled and dishevelled. Hermann gives him a bottle of whisky [look out for the label!!] and reflects lucidly, as Alex declares that women are the future and that men are redundant fossils, Strange that Alex was making himself the archetype of male decline. We only see Alex once more as he dies of some kind of alcoholic seizure amongst all his books in a sudden and violent scene that dramatically brings home the total waste of a fine and well-read mind. Such are the sadnesses of our world, Reitz seems to be saying.
Let us now return to Hermanns journey, using his free, first-class rail pass [a nice touch this!]. In the course of it he meets a younger version of himself [vision]; Renate at her most grotesque; Schnüsschen and Lulu who both reject him; Juan in the role of a circus acrobat; Marianne with her twins in Dulmen; Frau Krause [did you remember her? I didnt! Answer: Dr.Bretschneiders assistant]; Granny Aufschrey drinking on the train lavatory, Elisabeth, the photographer; Clarissa; Frau Cerphal and Gerold Gattinger in the front row of the audience at Clarissas Witches Passion concert [did you spot them? There are 4 glimpses of them including one where Frau Cerphal beckons to Hermann. She has a new red-headed hair style. I have to confess to missing them totally]. Hermann also sees a wanted poster of Helga, a member of the murdering Baader-Meinhof gang now, and a newspaper picture of a wounded Stefan at the hands of the police in search of terrorists; he talks and sings to Kathrin in Berlin on the phone from a hotel bedroom; and finally, of course, Glasisch in the flesh showing off his operation scars. There are probably two more as well. During the performance of Clarissas concert Hermann has a sudden vision of the all female cast advancing on him over the seats in the auditorium/the audience has vanished. They turn into all the females the adult Hermann has had relations with. They include, I think, Tommys mother and the half-naked student from his concert with her back made to look like a cello + Erika, Renate, Helga in corset/underwear, Marianne and Kathrin. He sees them as avenging harpies accusing him of untold crimes against womanhood.
Hermann and Clarissa find each other then and enjoy a night of love in the Hotel Acacia in Amsterdam. On arrival in the city Hermann had said to himself with reference to Clarissa, I knew what I yearned for. At last I knew what my goal was. But there is to be no happy, Hollywood conclusion. In the morning Clarissa has gone, leaving a note which one of the pretty chambermaids reads: Wait for me. Ive an appointment. Hermann admits to himself that so often he has made women wait for him, starting with his mother. He tries to wait and fill in the day. He returns to the hotel. Clarissa is still not there. He sees his face reflected in the folding mirror around the dressing table, a face full of anxieties, and suddenly takes a glass ash tray and hurls it at the mirror. It shatters it and the fragments all have shattered images of himself. He is not whole and he knows it. He is in pieces. He takes the train for Simmern and home. I was running away. Yet again!! But would Clarissa have returned? My take on it is that Reitz is suggesting she would not. There is a little sign on a wooden door giving the time of her press conference as 14.00hours [did you spot it?]. She could have invited Hermann there, had she wanted! She prefers her artistic venture and female friends. Lesbian influence??! There is certainly an ambiguity here about Clarissas motives and behaviour to put it no higher. Must Hermann take all the blame for this breakdown? I expect you will all have views about this.
As he composes his letter to the Consul in his mind he says, Id like to learn to wait. If that relates to life it could mean waiting once again for Clarissa and accepting blame. But perhaps he means Art. He will wait for new inspiration, for a new creative direction perhaps and rejects the Handschuh option. Here we have the title of the episode which I note does not contain a question mark. Art or Life or both possibly. I would have thought you cannot have one without the other. Hermann will write, I have other dreams but then I must find out what they are. This is rather curious, is it not? He will wait for revelation. What did you make of the ending? Reitz seems to be saying, Now make your own judgement. I will not do it for you. There is sadness, a sense of loss, melancholia, but also the possibility of new departures. In other words, the human condition!