The Lives of Others

February 26, 2007

Probably the biggest upset at the Academy Awards last night (certainly not called by yours truly) was Das Leben der Anderen over Pan’s Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language film. I shouldn’t be too surprised; Leben got the most positive New Yorker review of any movie I’ve ever seen. Both were terrific movies, although Leben may be more universal. More than Pan’s Labyrinth, which explored the effects and world of a specific if forgotten tragedy (Franco’s Spain), Leben cut to the heart of human relations in general. Anthony Lane ended his New Yorker review with these words, “You might think that “The Lives of Others” is aimed solely at modern Germans…A movie this strong, however, is never parochial, nor is it period drama. Es ist für uns. It’s for us.”

The Lives of Others success is interesting within the context of recent European cinema. Last year’s winner of the major German Film award was Alles Auf Zucker, a lighthearted family tale about a secular Jewish petty criminal and his Chassidic relatives. Beyond this, however, the movie was “about” the struggle for reunification, about the gaps that still remain between East and West despite a decade of efforts to fill them. In many ways, the movie’s point is that the gap can only be bridged by the humanization of the former other; that it is necessary to leave aside Government programs of reunification, and instead to focus on the humanity of those beyond the wall through human confrontation. It is about coming together through personal experience.

Michael Hanecke’s Cache also dealt with these topics. I won’t go into heavy analysis because that would involve too many spoilers, however, I will say that the idea of the other is at the forefront of the film. In many ways, the movie argues for human recognition of the other via interpersonal relationships. At the very least, the failure to confront the other is the films starting-point.

These movies are all of an ilk that seems to be missing in current American cinema. Unlike during the 1970’s, American directors seem unwilling to confront America’s sordid recent past. It’s a surprising gap given the amount of material to work with, and our receptiveness to foreign films that deal with these topics. Perhaps its time for a new self awareness in our cinema.

The Good Old Days

February 26, 2007

A long time ago, me and the guys from Hashbrownsandtoast had our own blog together. Dash and Stopsnitchin’ were on a mission to eat at every restaurant in a row on the west side of broadway from 114th street to times square, and at one point we attempted to blog about it. The blog lasted maybe a week, and we maybe reached 108th street. Still, we ate a lot of mediocre meals along the way. In case anyone is interested, here’s the link. I warn you, the blog makes absolutely no sense and is filled with references to people you don’t know, nor do you care about (Vadim).

More Rail Improvements

February 26, 2007

Earlier we blogged about using soft-core porn to entice new transit customers. But those geniuses in New York City, New York may have hit upon something even better. This is from today’s Metropolitan Diary:


I was on my way home from seeing a great double feature at Film Forum with a friend. On the F train back to Brooklyn, there was a young guy standing near the door, strumming his guitar. A girl and her dreadlocked pal got on the train at West Fourth Street, and she whispered something to the guitar guy.

He nodded and softly began playing the Gloria Gaynor song “I Will Survive.”

The girl started to sing the song. Not like “American Idol,” just like a normal person. A couple of us standing near her started humming along, and people looked up from their reading. A few girls started singing, a couple of guys joined in and then some others and more and more.

Within a moment, everyone in the entire car was singing “I Will Survive” at full-throat volume in the subway under New York City.

When we reached the end, everyone clapped and cheered and hooted and hollered. A fabulous New York hootenanny.”

Other than the fact that a hootenanny is, “an informal session of folk music and singing,” and not Disco superhits, albeit in Folk-like renditions, the singing car seems to have been an overnight success. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MTA made official singing cars, spurring New Yorkers to walk in record numbers, or at least improving bus traffic.