Thursday, July 19, 2012

Life is filled with plot holes!

So I did what I could, but the mimeographed pages always came back from the front office with unequivocal notes: too melodramatic, too absurd, too violent. They were forever complaining about plot holes. "Plot holes?" he'd shout. "Miserable accountant souls! Life is filled with plot holes! But he kept writing.

Kino, by Jürgen Fauth, is a highly entertaining novel. I read it in the space of a weekend. Neither the plot nor the characters are entirely believable, but there's something wonderfully over-the-top about them.

Mina and Sam have had to cut their honeymoon short because Sam has contracted dengue fever. While he's in the hospital, Mina returns home to find a package containing film reels of a movie long thought to have been lost, directed by her German grandfather. So Mina sets off on adventure taking her to Berlin and later to Hollywood.

Along the way she comes into posession of a journal her grandfather had written when his wife had him committed to psychiatric care in the 60s. Excerpts of Klaus's journal are interspersed throughout Mina's story. We learn about his upbringing, how he started making films, the glory he achieved, his life in Nazi Germany, how he made a new start in America.

The first feature-length movie Klaus "Kino" Koblitz ever saw was F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. The experience was an eye-opening one, exuberantly described, and summed up like this:

This was the opposite of father's newsreels, this was the technology of the night, modernity pressed into the service of poetry, culling images from dreams and rendering them visible as if by the light of the moon, for all to see.

It was magic.

The entire novel is very filmic — transatlantic flights, mysterious men in suits, sex and drugs, chases across rooftops and at high speed in cars, Turkish baths, secret deals going down, gunplay.

Mapmakers always insert one wrong detail into their maps — a lake that doesn't exist, a county line that stretches a hilltop too far, a misspelled street name. It is a way to identify unauthorized copies, but it's also an opening through which the infinite rushes in: if one thing is wrong, then anything might be wrong. It's the same principle through which a single blank bullet calms the conscience of the entire firing squad.

Sometimes when I read reviews it feels as if the reviewers had access to a version completely different from the book I read. I've seen Kino described as a "novel of ideas," but in my view it is not that. That's not to say there aren't any interesting ideas there — there are plenty, not least the problem of reconstructing the past when written accounts and memory are unreliable, or drug-addled, or self-servingly selective. Whom do you trust? And what in life really matters? (Mina has essentially abandoned her husband for this quest, as others abandon reasonableness for art.) But it's all treated rather lightly.

While some of the journal bits put me in mind of Irmgard Keun's descriptions of living a bohemian and perhaps oblivious (or denying) lifestyle as the Nazi party rises to power, the overwhelming feel of this novel is nostalgia for the glory days of early 20th-century European film-making, of the kind I felt when experiencing The Invention of Hugo Cabret (both book and film). The modern-day goings-on, though I imagine they would translate well to the screen, feel slight and superficial by comparison. But despite a lack of depth perspective, the today portion of the novel is certainly energetic, even crazed.

As Klaus "Kino" Koblitz would say, "If it's not fun, why bother?" And this novel is undeniably very fun.

See also
Jürgen Fauth's website, with links to excerpts available around the web.
Tulpendiebe: a call for submissions for inclusion in an enhanced multimedia remix ebook edition of Kino.
A review at DBC Reads, which I think is pretty on the mark.
A smart Q&A with the author.


Cipriano said...

I love watching these old clips -- and I always wonder what the scenes [the actual setting etc.] would look like today. It's just so neat, these early experimentations with the art of film. For a while I was intrigued with watching stuff by Leni Riefenstahl, and this Koblitz filmclip here on your blog, which I watched twice now, reminds me of that "era."
Thanks for this terrific review. And for introducing me to a new word --> "filmic".

Isabella K said...

Riefenstahl is referenced in Koblitz's journal, but I've never actually seen any of her work. Nazi Germany must've been a weird place to work as an artist.