Terrifying German Culture Hour — Subversiveness

Today, I’ll tell you about the close relationship of the really popular „Schlager“ genre and, well, critical anti-establishment voices. But first, I need to take a slight detour. With cat content.

Well, cat-and-mouse content.

Regardless if you’re a german or US-american reader of this blog, you probably know Tom&Jerry. And the americans among you probably know this intro from your childhood:

If you’re a german reader, you will probably say: Hey, waitaminute… where’s the cake? The flowers? The catchy voice of Udo Jürgens?

Fear not, here it is:

See, dear american readers, german public tv thought that the original intro sequence was a little bland, lacking a proper introduction of what we should expect from the show. So they cut a little sequence together and added the refrain from one of the songs of the (actually austrian) national treasure Udo Jürgens: „Vielen Dank, für die Blumen“ (Thank you for the flowers)

Now, the refrain is basically a flowery reaction of someone who’s just been handed a shit sandwich. Or generally is coping with bad news the best way one can. In the end, it’s a really catchy tune that everyone of my generation associates with wacky cat-and-mouse animations. And the musical style of is very much a prime example of what a bourgeoisie-supporting Schlager should be. It’s comforting, it talks about inconsequential worries, lost love..

and, of course, Heimat:

(Nitpickers will tell me that Heino should be labelled Volksmusic, but frankly, he’s Volksmusik-dressed Schlager)

What we were missing from the Tom&Jerry intro were the whole lyrics of the same song. Because the individual verses tell the story of how & why said shit sandwich was being delivered in the first place: Trying to seduce the boss’s secretary — get fired! Trying to pick up the loveliest girl in the bar — who turns out to have a deep bass voice and is named „Dieter“. (sadly, casual trans- and homophobia was still a thing in the 70ies) Here’s the full thing, complete with musical cartoon sound effects:

Which brings us finally back to the topic of today: Subversiveness. Good art nearly always has a good heap of that in it, and Schlager is no exception to that, even though a lot of people miss this.

Here’s another song by Udo:

Even without speaking german, you’ll pick up bits & pieces like „New York“, „Hawaii“, „Jeans“ and so on. This song is about a father who walks out after dinner to pick a cigarettes, only to realize that… life is boring, and he never did something extraordinary. Why not just leave the wife and kids, see the world, never come back?

In the end, he just buys those cigarettes from a vending machine around the corner and gets back inside, through the staircase full of stuffiness and the smell of floor polish, to watch Dalli Dalli with the family.

Or that song called Greek Wine, which is chock full of sirtaki and happy-but-just-so-slightly melancholic:

If you’re at a party in germany, with people older than 40, this will be played. And everyone will love it and be happy about it.

Except it’s about the dilemma of foreign guest workers. Germany invited those into germany after WWII, because gee, somehow a large portion of the german men were either dead, prisoners of war or too shellshocked to be of any practical use. Those workers were at once both welcomed but also resented and had a very hard time to integrate into german society, constantly longing for their home, but also knowing that they are kinda stuck in Germany. It’s a song that addressed a very real problem that is still being felt right now, several decades later.

And even though very few of those happy drunken people at that party next to you, shouting „Griechischer Weeeeeiiin!“ at the top of their lungs think about that sad fact, it still gets through to them, at least sometimes.

If that isn’t subversive, I don’t know what is.

As another example, but in a different genre, take Rio Reiser, one of the great intellectuals of german music:

This is a song about all the silly things he’d do if he were King of Germany. There’s the champagne for breakfast, having a birthday party every day, putting his favourite show on TV 247. But there’s also biting Ronny (Reagan) into the leg, abolishing the military, heartfelt critique of some parts of german public tv, and so on.

When he performed with his band Ton Steine Scherben, things got a bit more on the nose: No Power for No One!

Facts you should know about this song and this band:

  • current vice president of the german parliament Claudia Roth was their manager
  • Keine Macht für Niemand“ is a recurring headline to be used whenever there’s a row between politicans
  • You remember that axe-on-table thing from the installment about Shows? That was Nikel Pallat, one of the bands singers..

Still, König von Deutschland is another one of those songs drunken germans will scream at you during parties. So be prepared.

Oh, and before you leave: Heino is still around, although he adjusted his style just a tiny bit

I’d dub this the best cover of Paloma, but then, there's still these two boys from saxony

Terrifying German Culture Hour: Think of the Children!

If you ever looked at one of these Buzzfeed lists like „10 dark original endings of Disney princesses“ or similar things, you certainly know that european, and especially german fairy tales are dark. Gloomy, doomy, dark.

You might know of old-school things like the Struwwelpeter: An educational book that was supposed to scare kids straight, so they won’t suck on thumbs anymore:

Right, stop sucking on that thumb, or some tailor will come and SNIP THEM OFF!

And yes, a lot of the fairy tales end with people being seriously dismembered, tortured or just dead. To be fair though, a bunch of them aren’t actually german.

But also more recent kids books contain, let’s say, disturbing elements. Take Krabat. A story about a boy getting apprenticed at a spooky mill, where the boys learn true black magic, from a miller that serves the devil or at least Death himself!

(unsurprisingly, this book by Ottfried Preussler is purported to be one of Neil Gaimans favourite scary stories for children.)

But Ottfried Preussler also wrote slightly more cheerful things. One beloved work is „The Robber Hotzenplotz". To understand this though, you need to understand who Kasperl is.

Before we got the Muppet show on TV in germany, we had Kasperletheater, the hopelessly german variant of the Punch & Judy show. Instead of Punch, we have Kasperle and he isn’t a violent anti-hero but more of a friendly trickster archetype. As a whole, Kasperletheater is set up to instill kids with a sense of morality and to respect societies norms.

Schoolvisits of the „Polizeikasper“ aren’t uncommon: A friendly police officer comes along with the well-known handpuppets to introduce the kids on the correct ways to brave traffic with their bike.

The Robber Hotzenplotz is such a theatre, put into literary form. The infamous robber with the name „Hotzenplotz“ sets out to steal grannies coffee mill (by accident he kidnaps granny as well) and has to be stopped by Kasperle, by any means necessary!

Such an epic plot needs to be put into a movie. And simple hand puppets won’t do this justice, so.. we need… string puppets!

String puppets shows, all produced by the Augsburger Puppet Box have been a fixture of children’s TV in germany for a few generations now. If a german comedian starts walking funny, as if held upright by strings, this is what they’re referring to.

The Puppenkiste has produced many a beloved story, be it about a freshly hatched dinosaur..

a wish-fulfilling creature that only appears if you stick to a specific plan for 7 days straight..

a cat with a hat (!)…

and.. a small black boy who is best friends with a steam train driver on a tiny island: „Jim Knopf & Lukas der Lokomotivführer“. Here’s the intro, pay attention, there will be a quiz:

As with all the other examples above, the basic appearance is quaint, provincial with a tiny bit of disturbing added in. Nearly all the stories happen in small towns, and everything is of small scale. What makes this noteable, is that the story has been penned by Michael Ende, probably known to you for the Neverending Story, so, yes, this heartbreaker:

But back to more cheerfully Jim Knopf. Knopf means „button“, and he’s named that way because he was constantly ripping his pants, so his foster mother put a button on it, so it was easier to close up the ripped part. Yes, I know, that makes no sense.

This is a vastly more cheerful and optimistic story, even though it begins with the fact that Jim Knopf is an orphan and ends with the discovery of a massive slavery operation. (Run by an ancient dragon, no less. And on the way, we’ll meet the Wild 13, a bunch of pirates, who are actually only a dozen.)

Anyway, you still have that catchy tune from the intro in your head? In case you it didn’t stuck, let me introduce you to „Dolls United“, who sampled it into Eurotrash:

And if that isn’t making you pray for the sweet release of death, here’s the MDR Fernsehballett doing a live performance (the concept of a tv station having their own permanent on-staff ballet troupe is completely normal for germans. Just saying):

(yes, this is blackfacing. In 2012. There is a way to explain that, but it won’t make anyone look actually better, so I won’t even try.)

Instead, I’ll show you a clip from The Show with the Mouse, where they explain why there’s a dent in every sausage:

breaking in and stealing shit..

There is a special spot reserved in my heart for Heist and in extension Grifter movies. I’m not sure why this is, but people breaking in to places with skill and gumption fills me with a warm and fuzzy excitement (Even if it is done in a rather silly way, as with the Olsenbande).

So… Ant Man. This is a Heist movie thinly disguised as a superhero action flick.

As a superhero action flick, it works nicely. Of course there are is the mandatory climactic battle scene, and it is a good one. But in the end, there are really only two „battle scenes“ — the obligatory superheroes-meet-for-the-first-time one, and the big fight with the villain.

But, for a superhero flick, all that is a surprisingly small amount of fighting. Instead we get (apart from chase scenes) quite a few scenes that highlight Scott Langs skills as a burglar. And the staple of any heist movie: Training Montages (seriously, about half the „action scenes“ we see is how Scott learns how to wear the Ant Man suit, how to run with his new miniscule allies, etc.)  and Caper Planning.  The inclusion of Scotts wannabe partners in crime is not just used as a source of comic relief but also helps establishing the „Heist“ aspect of the movie even firmer.

And as a Heist/Caper movie, Ant Man really delivers. You have the planning, the training, the near-flawless execution, good music, the easy talk among the team, the surprising things that go wrong, a reveal from the villain, all the little bits that make this sort of movie fun.

If you haven’t seen it, check out your local theatres right now!

 

Die Filmrückschau

Ich habe ja lange nichts mehr zu gesehenen Filmen geschrieben. Das sollte ich wirklich mal nachholen:

The Raid: Redemption

Unverkennbar die Vorlage zur letzten Judge Dredd Verfilmung: Polizeieinheit stürmt ein Slum-Hochhaus, das von einem Drogenbaron besetzt ist. Und natürlich geht das schief… Der Film zeigt Martial Arts auf hohem Niveau, und inszeniert an vielen Stellen hervorragend die drückende Stimmung der eingeschlossenen und umzingelten Polizisten, die allgegenwärtige Bedrohung. Ein Gefühl, dass Dredd leider nicht erzeugen konnte.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Planet der Affen zum xten. Hier wird die Origin-Geschichte erzählt, wie ein erst nur ehrgeiziger und später idealistischer Wissenschaftler die Affen intelligent macht. Die Affen sind fast komplett aus dem Computer, zum Glück fällt das aber nur manchmal auf. Ebenfalls glücklich ist die Tatsache, dass der Film kaum mit erhobenem Zeigefinger daherkommt und dennoch moralische Fragen aufwirft. Nebenbei interessant: Parallel zum Aufstieg der Affen wird auch ein Szenario für den Untergang der Menschen aufgezeigt, ohne diesen aber tatsächlich zu zeigen.

Elysium

Neill Bloomkamp darf moralisierendes Action Kino machen. Die Bildsprache stimmt, die meisten Schauspieler, allen voran Jodie Foster, überzeugen innerhalb der ihnen zugestandenen Rollen, aber dennoch…

…floppt der Film ab das ersten Hälfte total. Die MacGuffins sind unglaubwürdig, die getroffenen Entscheidungen fragwürdig, die Plotlöcher unübersehbar. Dazu kommt dann der traurige Hang Kampfszenen als bloße (Faust-)Prügeleien abzuhandeln. Das wirkt dann im besten Fall einfach nur unelegant, im schlimmsten Fall direkt peinlich.

Gnomeo & Juliet

Wer bei diesem Titel Shakespeare mit Gartenzwergen vermutet, hat genau recht. Leider auch mit etwas zu viel Elton John. Davon abgesehen aber eine ziemlich gut funktionierende Liebeskomödie. Und großartige Synchronsprecher. Schaut Euch alleine mal die Terrafirminator-Werbeeinblendung an!

Monsters University

Revenge of the Nerds. Mit Monstern. Kann man gucken, muss man aber auch nicht.

The Magic Christian

uh.. ja. Dies ist ein Film, der Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Christopher Lee, John Cleese, Raquel Welch, Richard Attenborough, Roman Polanski und sonstige auf der Leinwand zusammenbringt. Die Handlung ist eine Aneinanderreihung von skurrillen Szenen in denen Sir Guy Grand (Sellers) mit seinem Adoptivsohn Youngman (Starr) zu beweisen versucht, dass jeder käuflich ist. Ach was „versucht“: Sie beweisen es. Nicht ganz so trippy wie „The Holy Mountain“, aber definitiv ein Kind der gleichen Zeit.