Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Nordrhein-Westfalen - Books and Movies

The Books

I've read five books, as part of my research for Nordrhein-Westfalen.  Here's the list with links to blog posts, where relevant:

Germany: Insight Guides (2005) ed. Tony Halliday and others.  This book provided me with a good overview of German history and culture.  It's got me really interested in visiting the Rhine valley again, perhaps a cycling or walking trip will be on the cards in the near future!

Reading list for Nordrhein-Westfalen
All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque.  I wrote a blog post about this fantastic novel back in April.  I read the 1996 Vintage edition with an afterword by Brian Murdoch, who is Emeritus Professor of German at the University of Sterling and an expert on Remarque.

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1974) by Heinrich Böll. I also wrote a blog post about Böll's novel.  I read the Minerva edition of 1993.

Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction (2011) by Mark A Noll part of the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction series.  Regular readers will know how much I love these books and I found Noll's Protestantism invaluable when I was researching my blog post on Protestantism in Germany.

Beethoven: The Music and the Life (2003) by Lewis Lockwood.  I must admit, I didn't read the entire book - it was very much a last minute addition to my reading list and I just didn't have time to read the whole thing, although I found the bits I read enjoyable.  Lewis is a musicologist from New York city, who is an expert on Beethoven.  This book was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer prize for Biography.  He alternates each chapter, to combine biography and musicology and I found this approach really engaging, although I can't tell my arpeggio from my adagio!  I used the early chapters of this book to inform my blog post on Beethoven.

The Movies

Nastassja Kinski in Paris, Texas (1984)
I didn't really know anything about Wim Wenders before I started blogging about Nordrhein-Westfalen and I'd never seen any of his movies, although some of the names (e.g. Paris, Texas) would have been familiar to me.

He's quite an iconic film director, originally from Düsseldorf, his movies portray an emptiness and silence that, in many ways, symbolise the broken soul of post-war Germany.  Wenders also has a lot to say about American culture and some of his most famous movies are set in the United States.

I couldn't get my hands on all of the Wim Wenders' movies I wanted to see, but I managed to watch the following:

Alice in the Cities (1974)
Paris, Texas (1984)
Wings of Desire (1987)
Don't come knocking (2005)

Opening sequence from Paris, Texas (1984)
His movies are quite slow-moving and should definitely be appreciated for their artistic qualities rather than story-telling.  I particularly loved Alice in the Cities, one of his earliest movies - shot in black and white, it's mostly set in the Rhine valley and the industrial cities of the Ruhr.

In Paris, Texas I can see the influence of Wenders on a whole generation of US movies - those bleak landscapes and slightly surreal shots.  I've just recently finished watching the popular US series Breaking Bad and I can see hints of Wenders in the deserts of New Mexico.  The boundaries between TV and cinema are increasingly blurred these days and I like the fact that TV programmes are embracing style as well as substance.

Here are some of the themes that Wenders' movies tend to deal with:

Typically stark Wenders shot from Wings of Desire
- Individuals who are outside the norms of society (the character of Stanton in Paris, Texas or the angels in Wings of Desire)
- Road trips
- Alienation from a world which is incredibly materialistic
- Timelessness
- Children being abandoned by their mothers
- Adults who disappear
- Shots of faces within faces
- the trauma of progress (ubiquitous television in United States, changing landscape of the Ruhr valley)
- melancholic and repetitive music

As well as learning about Wim Wenders, I also watched both movie versions of All Quiet on the Western Front, the fantastic 1930 film and the less engaging version from 1979.

I had a really nice Easter weekend with my sister in Leeds, when we devoted several hours to my research and watched Amadeus (1984, dir. Miloš Forman), the slightly crazy movie about Mozart and Immortal Beloved (1994, dir. Bernard Rose) starring Gary Oldman.  I loved both movies and they helped me contextualise the development of music in the Classical period and the influence that Mozart may have had on the work of Beethoven.  I'd recommend either of these movies to anyone who wants to learn more about these composers.

I'm going to leave you with a trailer from Immortal Beloved so you can get a sense of what the movie is about:

Image credits:

The image of the books was taken by me.

The images of the stills from Wim Wenders' movies are from photos taken by me. These images are being used to illustrate this blog post and promote these movies. By publishing these images, I'm not condoning or encouraging reproduction of these images on the Internet or anywhere else. These images are not meant to bring the actors into disrepute or suggest their endorsement of this blog post, but are meant to highlight the performances of these actors in these movies. 

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