Thursday, January 29, 2009

Olde Review: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

If you're feeling in the mood for a little paranoia, you might want to sneak a peek at Friday's ASUW films in 130 Kane. They deal with a social problem that touches us all: the destruction of the individual's right to privacy, and the films are "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum" and "The Conversation."

"The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum" aka "Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann"* (Volker Schlöndorff, 1975) This is a German film, first presented to Seattle at the Moore-Egyptian Film Festival** and proved to be the hit of the many films presented there. It states at the outset that the story is based on a true incident, *** which alerts one that what is about to unfold is a very strange story—so strange that if those responsible didn't tell you it was real, you wouldn't believe it.

We begin by following the surveillance of one Ludwig Götten (Jürgen Prochnow) (we are watching the surveilllance for we, the movie-watching audience out there in the dark, are the ultimate voyeurs) Götten knows he is being followed—that he is being watched, but he manages to elude them...almost. During his wandering, he runs into a girl, Kathharina Blum (Angela Winkler) and they spend that night together.

In the morning, Ludwig is gone. The police who had been surveilling him are dumb-founded, and Katharina is their only lead. And so, amid much hoopla and press coverage, Katharina is taken into custody.

"It is the duty of the police to inform the public." Recognize that phrase? It's something of a play on the old stand-by, now cliche, argument of the Press. But with this phrase comes the first hint of what this movie is driving at. The police and their tactics are openly displayed in the opening segment. Once you know it's the police you are perfectly willing to take on the air of self-righteousness and say "These police are fascists, through and through!" But, as the film progresses, you realize that that the actions of the Press are the focus of the film. Indeed, the press are working with the police; each one supplies the other with information they have scraped up. It's a very harsh picture of the Press that is presented, and many may not like it, after all, being an investigative reporter is in "in" profession—they are our latest media heroes. And it dares to question the people's right to know...that is, the people's right to know dirt. "The freedom of the Press can not be taken lightly," says the duplistic D.A. "But the freedome and dignity of mankind can be?" replies Katharina's outraged aunt. Katharina, herself,states that "it is their business to rob people of their honor, or else they wouldn't sell newspapers."

"...Katharina Blum" is very one-sided. Its arguments and its tone in presenting totally immoral reporters, grubbing for headlines may make some think the film is a total harangue. But, for my part, I couldn't help thinking of the
Patty Hearst's, the Gary Gilmore's, the Jimmy Carter's and the endless string of others whose total life-histories (have been) paraded before our eyes for the sake of ratings or our money. I highly recommend this film to everyone. It might make you think twice before you smirk at the people who refuse to be interviewed on "60 Minutes."

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on January 8th, 1976 (thirteen years ago today)

I am shocked! shocked!! to find that the press do things for money! Still, one would like to think of our news-gatherers as doing a public good as opposed to directing the eyes to the ads, but the situation has only gotten worse, not better. In the 33 years since this review was written (33 years this week, in fact) we have seen the death of ex-Princess Diana, killed in a high-speed car-wreck when her somewhat inebriated driver attempted to evade a horde of papparazzi, a young mother committed suicide after being publicly accused of infanticide by braying talking-head Nancy Grace, and Geraldo Rivera's reporting of a rumor of finding all the miners safe in the West Virginia Sago mine disaster only deepened the country's gloom. Generally, the news-mongers have marched towards info-tainment while abrogating their responsibilities for access and "most-favored" status on K Street party lists. And in a scenario that expands the one of the film to national, and potentially international proportions, the Bush Administration fed self-produced "news" stories to local stations, and planted "reporters" (one, a gay prostitute) to salt press conferences and throw the conferencers some soft-balls. "Lost Honor?" One is lucky not to have their bones jellied in the gears of the News-Monster, government-sponsored or no. Jürgen Prochnow became an international star, and Volker Schlöndorff went to a Hollywood career (directing Dustin Hoffman's stage and TV versions of "Death of a Salesman," as well as the film version of "The Handmaid's Tale") and continues to work in Germany.

And "60 Minutes," with a complete turn-over of correspondents, though its been endlessly copied and co-opted, keeps on ticking.

* "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead."

** Now called The Seattle International Film Festival, now far expanded from just the Egyptian Theater in Seattle.

***Hmm. So did "Fargo."

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