The Author is Sick

In 1959 Anthony Burgess received his death sentence. A year was what he had left, at the most.

He'd been in the Colonial Service for years, teaching English to the dark-hued natives of the East, finally ending up in Brunei. He wasn't a particularly happy man at the time. His wife was an alcoholic and chronically promiscuous to boot. He'd written a few novels and published three of them, unsuccessfully. They hadn't sold terribly well but they had been noticed: he was being sued for slander. That didn't look too promising. He and his wife, especially she, had caused quite a stir in the colonial circles and nobody really wanted him there. They particularly didn't like his wife barking abuse at the visiting Prince of Edinburgh. Or her getting blind drunk and trying to fight a rajah. The clouds were gathering and one day he snapped. He was teaching class and the fans in the classroom weren't working, there was a cobra looming somewhere on the premises and he was fed up with it all.

"At the end of the lesson I felt I had also come to the end of my tether. A great deal of tension had been building up - a dissatisfied wife, a libel action, Australians who called me a pommy bastard, a disordered liver, dyspepsia and dyspnoea which morning drops of Axe oil did nothing to alleviate, a very large measure of simple frustration. I had done my best; could do no more; let other agencies take over. I lay on the classroom floor and closed my eyes."

He was carried to the local hospital where he was examined. He felt fine but remained passive. His head was X-rayed. Upon which he was sent back to England. That was the end of his colonial career which is what he wanted. But of course, now that it was actually happening he didn't want to return to England.

In England there were further tests. The result: he had an inoperable brain tumour.


What to do? His first concern was his wife. There was no money, absolutely none. But he had a year. In one year's time he'd be able to write a bunch of novels, which is what he wanted to do anyway, and she'd have the money from them after he was gone. Not much perhaps but it was better than nothing. And what else could he do? There was nothing else.

"I sighed and put paper in the typewriter. 'I'd better start,' I said. And I did."

He had a plan. Write 2000 words polished text a day, every day, and you were set. Absolutely in the clover. The brilliant thing was that one could do it early in the day, before the pubs opened, and then spend the rest of the day getting gloriously plastered.

So he started. It was January 1960. He wrote the first novel, The Doctor is Sick, in six weeks. It was a light-hearted comedy with darker undercurrents, based on his time in the hospitals and the people he met there. He started another, Inside Mr. Enderby, about a poet who for some reason can only write his poetry in the bathroom, when his wife attempted suicide. Clearly the marriage wasn't going too well.

Inside Mr. Enderby was finished in late June. He was a bit behind. He calculated he needed to write five novels within the year. But he doubted his capacity to produce even four. A novel he'd written earlier, The Right to an Answer was published. His wife made another suicide attempt. His publisher wanted more. He gave them a book rejected some six years previously, The Worm and the Ring. This time it passed muster. He wrote a novella, The Eve of Saint Venus.

What else. He needed a new novel. Quick, quick. But he had nothing. He started scrounging classics: Flaubert's Salammbo, John Ford's Jacobean play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. But every idea seemed not to work. "In despair I typed a new title - A Clockwork Orange - and wondered what story might match it. I had always liked the Cockney expression and felt there might be a meaning in it deeper than a metaphor of, not necessarily sexual, queerness. Then a story began to stir."

It was to be about the new and bizarre youth culture that had sprouted while he was abroad, the violent gangs called the Edwardian Strutters or Teddy boys. The gist of the novel was a personal incident. During the war his wife Lynne was savagely assaulted by four American deserters, causing her to miscarry and very nearly die. This was the primary cause of her alcoholism and erratic, often deranged behaviour. The book was to be about violence, but with a solid theological backbone. And very stylised with a language all its own. It was to be set in the future. He started it. There was still something missing. He didn't finish it.

The Doctor is Sick was published in the autumn. Before Christmas he delivered a new manuscript to his publisher, One Hand Clapping.

Then it was suddenly 1961 and he wasn't dead. He thought he might want to become a teacher again. Writing novels clearly wasn't bringing in enough dosh. He started a new novel, a science fiction thingy called The Wanting Seed, loosely based on the Ford play. And finished it.

He and his wife took a trip to Russia. That's when A Clockwork Orange finally clicked and he got his missing piece: the mock Russian teen lingo Nadsat. The book came out in 1962.

And it seemed he wasn't dying after all. Unlike his wife who was slowly but surely drinking herself to death.

In his recent biography The Real Life of Anthony Burgess Andrew Biswell sheds light on the curious events surrounding Burgess's impending demise. There never seems to have been an official or rather conclusive diagnosis. At one time it might have looked as if there was a tumour. On the other hand Burgess was never told anything definite by the doctors. When he was released from the hospital he was supposed to have more tests. He never went.

And this is the really interesting bit. He was told he had an inoperable brain tumour, not by any doctor, but by his wife Lynne. She opened the envelope entrusted to her, the envelope containing the Brunei doctor's X-rays and preliminary diagnosis. She read his notes. She told Burgess.

Could she have gotten it wrong?

Could she have lied?

Well, yes.

Could Burgess even have made that bit up?

Again, yes.

The story as I've recounted it is in Burgess's autobiography in two parts: Little Wilson and Big God and You've Had Your Time. But he's told it in several different versions, depending on where he told it or when. It seems to vary wildly. Biswell pricks many holes in the account Burgess gives in the autobiography. Several facts are flawed or even quite erroneous.

Faulty memory? A gifted writer of fiction at work?

But it's a good story. Problem is, perhaps a bit too good to be quite credible.


Plum Movies

I had absolutely no idea that the early Wodehouse novel Piccadilly Jim (1918) had been turned into a film. Well it had and as recently as 2004 by director John McKay. The script was by actor and writer Julian Fellowes, the chap who penned Altman's Gosford Park a few years back.

In fact, IMDB informs me that this wasn't the first time the novel had been filmed. They did it in 1936 (Robert Z. Leonard, with - not so promisingly - Robert Montgomery as Jim) and even as early as 1919 (Wesley Ruggles). Curious.

The relations between Wodehouse and the cinema were always a bit strained. They'd been doing his stuff on the silver screen since the 1915 film A Gentleman of Leisure which was based on his play. By 1950 around thirty of his texts (plays, short stories, novels) had been filmed. Basically they seem to have been fodder, all of them pretty much forgotten, and justly so.

The Wodehouse films best remembered might be Her Cardboard Lover (1942) - based on a play only adapted by Wodehouse - by George Cukor with Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor and George Sanders, and George Stevens's re-do of A Damsel in Distress (1937) which had precious little to do with the original novel. Damsel is still quite a good film but not thanks to Wodehouse but the splendid cast: Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns and the simply brilliant Gracie Allen. During the '40s not much Wodehouse was filmed. Then along came Television and his stuff was in great demand once again and continued to be so for several decades. The latest Wodehouse venture worth a mention was Jeeves & Wooster (1990-93) by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

The films and the TV stuff all seems to have one thing in common. There's never much Wodehouse in them. Oh the characters might be called Bertie Wooster or Emsworth, the plots and situations might well follow Wodehouse's original texts, yet something is always missing. The spark, the soul, the Wodehousian spirit. That which makes him unique.

They always get it wrong.

Wodehouse's magic lies in his language. As simple as that. Film makers or TV people never ever seem to grasp just how well and delicately crafted his language is, how finely tuned it is, how it all hangs together and paints the picture with vivid colours. It's like a clockwork. They only concentrate on plot and character, which in his case are secondary, dare I say clichéd, and loose the quintessence of the text. The language elevates the text. It's like music. The plots, though they often are breath-takingly virtuoso like preformances, still never have much importance as we always know how it all will end in the end.

Wodehouse ought to be handled with the same respect and delicacy as Shakespeare because his most important qualities are exactly the same as those of the Bard (whose collected works, by the way, never left his bedside table).

(But of course film and TV people almost always get him wrong too.)

Wodehouse's language, the rhythms and the patterns, the quirky images, must be given priority in any adaptation. Otherwise it cannot but fail and fail spectacularly. The characters are what they say. They are their lines. If their lines are rubbish then so are they.

Then there's another problem. It's not that hard to get the lines right. But how do you incorporate the narrative, the beautiful and funny and lyrical and inventive descriptions on film? That's the real clincher. Without the narrative, without the descriptions the whole story is indeed one-dimensional and utterly emasculated.

Maybe that's why Wodehouse's own plays, the little I've read them, always seem a bit boring. There's never any meat in them, just the bones of the plot. And that isn't enough.

And here I must hasten to add that the Fry-Laurie series is about as good as they come. I cannot imagine anything closer to perfection when it comes to a Wodehouse adaptation. They understand what it's all about and just get it right. Though I do have certain reservations. Jeeves would never dress in a woman's clothes or jump off an ocean liner, he simply wouldn't. But I'll let that slide, just this once.

But by and large, Wodehouse and the film industry never have seen eye to eye.

As evidenced by Wodehouse's stint in Hollywood. Oh yes, in the early 1930s he did his bit in Hollywood, like many another honest and gullible novelist and playwright. Samuel Goldwyn made him an offer. Wodehouse didn't want to go so he asked for a ridiculously large sum of money, fully expecting to be turned down. He wasn't. It was simply too much money to turn down. So he had to heed the sugary siren songs of a large film company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, sign on the dotted line and move to California. There he at once faced a problem. They paid him large sums of money but they didn't let him work. He'd ask for work, beg for work, but they gave him nothing to do. Nothing but sit around his house - Norma Shearer's actually - and wait. So all day he just sunned himself at his pool, idling away the days sipping drinks and reading the evening papers. What he wrote was his own stuff basically, short stories and the like. Nothing he was actually paid to write.

This pained him a great deal because he was used to earning his money fair and square. These fellows paid him enormous sums and he did nothing to earn it. It just wasn't right. He felt almost a cad accepting their money under false pretenses. $2500 a week - a huge sum!

Sometimes they gave him assignments. And he wrote. Nothing, however, was produced. But fortunately his contract was only for six months. Unfortunately there was an option and MGM used it. So he had to stay on for another six dreary months. He wrote some more. Nothing was used. Ever. Contract ended. Finally. Well and good.

Then came the interview.

This is how Wodehouse's old friend Bill Townend describes it in Performing Flea: "Although his contract had lapsed the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer people rang Plum up one day to ask if he would give an interview to a woman reporter from the Los Angeles Times. Plum said he would be delighted. The woman reporter duly arrived and was received by Plum politely and cheerfully. She asked Plum how he liked Hollywood. Plum said amiably that he liked Hollywood and its inhabitants immensely; he said how much he had enjoyed his stay and added, to fill in time and make conversation before the interview proper began, that his one regret was he had been paid such an enormous sum of money without having done anything to earn it. And that was that." (Plum, by the way, is Wodehouse's nickname.)

This caused an enormous scandal in Hollywood and almost toppled the entire film industry. How come people were paid so much for doing nothing? Everyone was livid, banks and other financial backers were enraged, studios were horrified. This was after all immediately after the great depression of 1929 and money was tight. If the ordinary moviegoer was disgusted by the spending policy of the studios, this might have disastrous consequences, they might not want to go to the movies at all as a protest. No. The spending had to cease. It clearly couldn't go on. And it didn't. Studios started to cut costs, the industry underwent a complete economic metamorphosis. The days of the plentiful cornucopia were over. No more money for free.

And all for something Wodehouse blurted out trying to make pleasant small talk.

After that Wodehouse was not the best beloved fellow in certain quarters. He quickly moved back to England and then to France. (Which is where inadvertedly and through a certain naïveté on his part, during the war, he caused his other cataclysmic scandal - but that's another story entirely!)

Still, he did get something out of Hollywood - a suite of short stories called The Mulliners of Hollywood (published in the collection Blandings Castle, 1935), superbly describing the asinine conventions and incredibly ineffective and immeasurably idiotic mechanisms of Hollywood. Very funny indeed, I might add.

But back to Piccadilly Jim. The movie, that is. In many ways it's a pleasant surprise: the sets are opulent and colourful, the art decoish fantasy world (though ostensibly London and New York in 1930) visually splendid, the cast (Sam Rockwell, Frances O'Connor, Tom Wilkinson, Brenda Blethyn, Hugh Bonneville, Pam Ferris) excellent, the anachronisms deliberate and delicious (who wouldn't love Soft Cell's Tainted Love or Joy Division's Love will tear Us Apart as smooth night club or cool jazz versions?). At the same time it is wildly overproduced and vastly underwritten. There is freshness and energy, the pacing is furious, the twists and turns of the plot come by and large as and where they ought to; yet it never feels Wodehousian. Nice movie as such but not really much at all to do with good old Sir Pelham Grenville and his works.

It did however make me want to re-read Piccadilly Jim, post-haste. Digging out my old copy I find that I don't seem to have (re-)read it since 1990, when I purchased my delightfully orange Herbert Jenkins Piccadilly Jim (twenty-second printing) at one of the finer purveyors of second hand literature in town. Wodehouse is one of those writers one re-reads constantly. And as he hasn't produced much lately there's really no alternative. Either one re-reads or one doesn't read at all. Fortunately his books just get better with each new reading.

Post Sriptum:
John McKay seems to have directed a couple of quite interesting movies for TV. I'd dearly love to see A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets, as well as Reichenbach Falls. The latter is about a one hundred year old murder mystery and obviously there is a Holmes and Doyle connection, as the name clearly implies. And the fascinating Dr. Bell seems to be included in the cast of players as well, which is nice. The script is based on a short story by Ian Rankin called Acid Test. It isn't included in either of his short story collections. I wonder where it was published and where I could lay my hands on it.


Pelin henki

Turussa suljettiin äskettäin kaksi sivukirjastoa. Koska Helsingissä totta kai ollaan suurempia, mahtavampia ja kaikin puoin parempia, kuinkas muuten, täällä ollaan sulkemassa viittä sivukirjastoa: Pitäjänmäkeä, Tapulikaupunkia, Puistolaa, Pukinmäkeä ja Vallilaa. Siitäpäs saavat Turkulaiset. Mitä nekin luulee olevansa.

Ja ihan vaan varmuuden vuoksi sunnitellaan vielä kahden muunkin sivukirjaston, Malminkartanon ja Roihuvuoren, sulkemista. Jotta jäävät turkulaiset taatusti toiseksi. Kulosaaren sivukirjasto on suljettu homevaurioiden takia ja sitä tuskin ollaan enää avaamassa. Siitähän saadaan jo suljettujen sivukirjastojen määräksi kahdeksan, mikä on ihan mukava määrä. Siihen turkulaiset nyt ei ainakaan pysty - tuskin niillä edes on kahdeksaa sivukirjastoa.

No tuskinpa meilläkään, ainakaan kovin kauan.

Uutisen lukeminen sai minut ajattelemaan turkulaisen Harri Kumpulaisen absurdien tarinoiden kokoelmassa Pelin henki esiintyvää Porakone-tarinaa. Tarina on muuten julkaistu myös Kirjastokirja-kokoelmassa - joka sattumoisin syntyi vastalauseena juuri Turun sulkemisille. Turun kirjamessuille Kumpulainen ja Kirjastokirjan toinen tekijä Kari J. Kettula pystyttivät hirthehisen kirjastonäyttelyn. Se oli totta kai pelkkä tyhjä tila.

"Kirjastonhoitaja oli ikääntymisensä myötä ruvennut epäilemään kirjojen tarpeellisuutta. Kirjoja oli jo niin paljon, ja monen sorttisia, että mitenkään eivät voineet kaikki olla välttämättömiä, eivät edes jotenkin tarpeellisia. Tarpeettomia kirjoja täytyi olla paljon enemmän kuin mitä hyvän ja jouhevan elämisen kannalta oli välttämätöntä."

Joten: "Kun epäilys oli juolahtanut kirjastonhoitajan mieleen, ei hän saanut sitä karistettua pois, vaikka yrittämällä yritti."

Mahdollisesti sama salakavala epäilys on hiipinyt rakkaan kaupunkimme viisaiden johtajien mieleen?

"Epäilys johti lopulta tekoon. Mielen rauhaa saadakseen kirjastonhoitaja poisti hyllyistä muutaman kaikista vanhimman kirjan, semmoisen joiden selkä oli jo kovettunut käppyrään, ja sivut rempsottivat irti sitomossa neulotuista langoistaan. Kovin suurta rakoa ei hyllyihin tullut. Poistamansa kirjat kirjastonhoitaja vei salaa roskapussissa kirjastotalon roskalaatikkoon."

Paperinkeräyslaatikkoon kirjoja ei voinut laittaa, ei tietenkään, sieltä olisi vaikka joku spurgu voinut dyykata ne ja viedä divariin.

"Lopulta yksi ja toinen asiakas havaitsi, että hyllyillä oli alkanut olla kirjoilla väljät tilat. Muutama asiakas ihmetteli asiaa kirjastonhoitajalle. 'Kirjaston budjetti', selitti kirjastonhoitaja, 'Ei tämmöiseen sivukirjastoon kannata tuoda kirjoja enää, vanhojakin jo siirrellään toisiin, isompiin kirjastoihin. Etpä sinäkään niitä kaipaa, aina kun käyt roikut vain netissä, tuolla perällä tietokonesalin puolella."

Luonnollisesti nälkä kasvaa syödessä. Hyllyt pitää saada kokonaan tyhjiksi. Mutta ei sekään riitä.

"Hyllyjen lopulta kokonaan tyhjennyttyä kirjastonhoitaja koki hetken tyydytystä hyvin suoritetusta työstä. Jotakin oli vielä tekemättä silti, aavisteli kirjastonhoitaja, jotakin poistettavaa vielä on. Kolme päivää kirjastonhoitaja mietti, ennen kuin keksi. Koko kirjasto oli poistettava. Sen poistaminen olisikin jo isompi urakka, ajatteli kirjastonhoitaja, kirjahuoneet eivät millään mahtuisi roskalaatikkoihin, vaikka käyttäisi kaikkia, maaduntajätteenkin laatikkoa, poistamiseen."

Onneksi tarinalla on onnellinen loppu. Viereisen huoneiston kauppias tulee kysymään saako laajentaa liikettänsä tyhjään kirjastoon ja kohta on kirjasto täynnä porakonetta ja muuta tuiki tarpeellista työkalua.

"Edes se, että pakettien sisällä oli vehkeitten käyttökirjaset, ei niitä rumentanut. Ja onneksi, kertoi kauppias, oli ne kaikki painettu kiinan tai korean kielillä. Semmoisia ei kukaan koskaan pyrkisi lukemaan.

Helsingissä onnellinen loppu on helppo ennustaa. Kun sivukirjasto on saatu suljettua niin mihin sitä pääkirjastoakaan tarvitaan?

Se on pelin henki se.

Mutta totta kai se uusi hieno, monumentaalisen mykistävä keskustakirjasto pitää silti rakentaa. Eihän sinne kirjoja mahtuisikaan kun tulee niitä tietokoneita ja totta kai sauna, eikä suksien ja kävelysauvojenkaan lainauspistettä sovi unohtaa.

Alberto Manguel siteeraa kirjassaan The Library at Night kolmisen tuhatta vuotta vanhaa opusta Kaksoisvirran maasta. Kirjassa esiintyvä rukous tahi loitsu kuulu vapaasti suomentaen kutakuinkin näin: "Siunatkoon Ishtar sitä lukijaa joka ei muuta tätä taulua eikä siirrä sitä väärään paikkaan kirjastossa, ja kirotkoon Hän sen joka rohkenee viedä taulun pois kirjastosta."

Vaan missä on Ishtar nyt kun Häntä kaikkein kipeiten tarvittaisiin?


Rienzi, 1945

In 1908 Richard Wagner's third opera Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribune was put on in Linz. This production, though as such it wasn't earth-shattering in artistic significance or otherwise, nevertheless was to have grave and unforseen consequenses in world history.

It was literally to change the world.

The Linz performance was attended by a certain August Kubizek, a man whom by and large history has forgotten. Herr Kubizek was a musician and an avid Wagnerian. At that time he lived in great squalor in a "gloomy, bug-ridden back room" in Vienna. With him at the theatre he had his room mate, an awkward provincial youth of nineteen who knew nothing of Wagner. The youth's musical taste was rather less refined, vulgar even. What he loved was Lehár and especially The Merry Widow. When he whistled it was most often the cheerful and delightful ditty "I'm off to Chez Maxime". In his daydreams he was the dashing Danilo, beloved and adored and coveted by every woman in the land. In reality women would have nothing to do with him.

Lehár, Kubizek thought, what tosh! But there's more to music than that, Kubizek thought. Music can be a mighty force, a force to be reckoned with. It can be philosophy. It can show us the way. It can change us beyond recognition. It veritably can give us a reason to live. Therefore Kubizek took it upon himself to educate his young friend. The most important thing was to teach him about Wagner.

Hence Linz and Rienzi.

"It was at that moment it all began", the youth reminisced thirty years later in Bayreuth. It was when Rienzi sang: "But if you choose me as the protector/ of the people's given right's,/ then you may look back upon your forebears,/ and see me as the people's tribune!" Whereupon the people reply: "Rienzi, hail to you, the people's tribune!"

The youth was called Adolf Hitler.

Wagner became his god and Rienzi became the opera for him. It was the Rienzi overture that opened the Nuremberg Rallys, by Der Führer's insistence. When Robert Ley, head of the Labour Front DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront) and the leisure organization KdF or Kraft durch Freude, suggested the piece be substituted with something slightly more modern, something more "National Socialist" in tone and appeal, Hitler became quite livid. "You know, Ley, it's not accidental that the Party Rally always opens with the overture from Rienzi. It's not just a musical question. By invoking the splendours of the Imperial past, this son of a small inn-keeper succeds, at 24 years of age, in persuading the Roman people to drive out the corrupt Senate. It was while listening as a young man to this divinely blessed music in the theatre of Linz that the inspiration came to me that I was likewise destined to unite the German Reich and make it great."

The libretto of Rienzi, though from a historical novel by Bulwer-Lytton, is based on a true story from the 14th century. Cola di Rienzi is a modestly born fellow who becomes a tribune, brings down the rule of the aristocracy, defies the Church and becomes the de facto ruler of Rome. Then things start going against him and in the opera both the aristocracy and the mob, egged on by ecclesiastical powers, turn on him. He seeks refuge in the Capitol but the mob sets fire to it and in the end he is buried in a sea of flames amid collapsing stone walls.

It's quite easy to see why young Adolf was drawn to the story. He and no one else was Rienzi. It was his holy mission - nay fate - to unite and purify Germany and make the Vaterland mighty once more. From then on that was his single goal in life, that and nothing else.

I wonder, would Hitler ever have become so obsessed with his mission or fate had he never seen Rienzi or encountered the opera at a later and far less impressionable age? Would that have made a great difference in historical terms? Would Nazism perhaps never have been born, or more likely, adopted a far less rabid and contagious form? I wonder. Maybe.

If so: Cheers, Kubizek, nice one.

Hitler's career does in fact parallel Rienzi's career in an eerie fashion. They have roughly the same humble background, the same metoric rise, the same power over the masses. They are both frighteningly, alarmingly beloved by their almost mesmerized people. The end is particulalry eerie. Rienzi meets his in the burning collapsing Capitol, Hitler his in the burning bombed Berlin bunker; both surrounded by the enemy, both having lost the favour and adoration of the people.

In the end Hitler wanted as much death and destruction as possible. If his dream failed to materialize then everything deserved to be destroyed. If his people failed him in the end then they deserved to be destroyed. Only his fate mattered, nothing else. Because his fate was Germany's fate.

There's an interesting footnote about the end. When once it became clear that Germany would be defeated and his dream was not to be, Hitler in his Führerbunker started to retreat into himself. His health started tottering. He'd kept going by the dubious shots and pills his personal doctor, the remarkably shady Dr. Morell, had administered. (His favourite pills were called Dr. Köster's Antigas Pills and were a well nice mixture of strychnine and belladonna.) But Morell abandoned him the first chance he got. So no much needed medication.

Hitler sought comfort in music. The record player was on the whole time.

What did he listen to? Rienzi, the opera that started it all and uncannily predicted his fate? Götterdämmerung - another powerfully apocalyptic opera? Lohengrin? Maybe Parsifal or Tristan und Isolde? No. None of them.

Apparently, according to reliable witnesses from the bunker, what he listened to over and over and over again, in a plethora of different recordings, was The Merry Widow and especially Danilo's cheery tune about being off to Chez Maxim.

Maybe, just maybe, when the bombs started coming down in heavy showers and the destruction of his world was imminent, there was a small part of him that wished he'd been Danilo instead of Rienzi.


Viddy well, little brother, viddy well!

For Stanley Kubrick no detail was ever too small or insignificant. Everything was important. Not perhaps equally important but still significant. Everything counted. If it could have any bearing on the film it counted. In spades. He would have someone investigate.

He liked to control everything.

That's why he had agents, or Irregulars as his assistant Anthony Frewin nicely put it, all over the world. Was the sound loud enough in The Shining in Winnipeg? Was the copy of 2001 too dark in Manila? To find out he'd employ spies who'd report back to him. He also had cuttings of advertisements for his movies from all over the world sent to his house where he'd go over them. Were the ads as they should? Were they as large as they ought to be? If not he'd send somebody to find out why they weren't. Questions would be asked and answered until he was satisfied. No matter how small a matter or how distant.

He was occasionally called obsessed, deranged, crazy even. However. It seems clear to me that it was his unrelenting focus on even the tiniest details that made his movies what they were.

This was clearly how his mind worked.

He had to know everything, see everything. If, like in Eyes Wide Shut, a scene took place in a toy department he'd want to see photos of just about every toy department in the south of England. If a scene took place in costume shop he'd want to see pictures of every single costume shop available. If Alex and his droogs were to wear hats he'd want to see any kind of hat there was. Preferably on the droogs.

Which was a lot of work. And took a long time. His preproduction time was usually long enough for his colleagues to complete their entire film in. Maybe even a couple.

But he was patient. If anything he was patient.

Because everything had to look right. But he didn't necessarily know what right was until he'd seen all the options. Only then could he make up his mind. Only then did it become evident.

There was also a great deal of secrecy involved in any given project. Most of the time he made sure the people he employed didn't have a clue for whom they were working. He had, for instance, a lot of people reading scripts and novels for him, in order to find something for him to film, and they had absolutely no idea it was Kubrick who employed them. When Frederic Raphael, as he writes in his fascinating book Eyes Wide Open, was asked by Kubrick to turn a short story into a movie script, Kubrick refused to tell him the name of the story and who'd written it. Raphael was sufficiently well read to pin it down anyway, making Kubrick a bit annoyed.

He did not give out information. That wasn't his game. He collected it. He hoarded it. He stashed it in boxes (the cornucopia of which we can witness in Jon Ronson's documentary Stanley Kubrick's boxes) and filed it away, to be used if and when it was needed. Often it was never needed.

But it was there. Just in case.

He couldn't help himself. Collecting information was his nature.

Kubrick was like a spider, sitting pretty in the middle of his gigantic international web, feeling every twitch of every thred, controlling it all: "He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them." To quote Doyle.

Bear in mind also that he was ever the chess player. For him facts were like chess pieces. The more information one had, the more facts one had and hence the more pieces one had. The more pieces, the more options and moves. The more options, the better film one could make. For in that multitude of moves there lurked the perfect move, or at least the almost perfect one. Therefore it was imperative to have as many pieces as possible. Only then could anything like perfection be approached.

The secrecy, I believe, stems from the same source. A chess player never lets anyone know what his next move will be. That would entirely ruin his game. The element of surprise is in fact half the game. There's also a very practical aspect. Letting for instance script readers know they read for Kubrick would have influenced them. They would have started reading for Kubrick. They'd have started to anticipate what he would want in a script. Which isn't what he wanted at all. How could they anticipate his wants when he himself didn't know what he wanted?

John le Carré once tried to write a script for Kubrick and failed miserably. He attributed it to the fact that Kubrick had these images in his head that he wanted le Carré to write but he could not put them into words. That's what he needed le Carré for. To write what was in his, Kubrick's, head. But as he couldn't communicate what he wanted the task was virtually impossible. The scripts always were a struggle. Many a writer was squeezed dry and tossed aside to be replaced by a new and fresh one. The man just doesn't know what he wants, most writers thought. Maybe so.

But Kubrick did know what he wanted. He wanted a story. A story he'd want to tell. A story he'd fall in love with, as his wife put it.

That's not too much to ask, is it?


Poor Siegfried

Being Richard Wagner's son can't have been easy. Being a homosexual probably didn't help. At all, really. And wanting to be a composer - well that just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

No, being Siegfried Wagner never was the easiest thing in the world.

I first heard his music in '94 in, of all places, Bayreuth. Bayreuth might at first seem the natural place to encounter the music of Siegfried: it not only being his hometown but the seat of the family dynasty and quite unequivocally the town of Wagner.

Well it wasn't and it isn't. Bayreuth is such a small town there's hardly enough room for Richard, who - truth to be told - does demand rather a lot of space. There simply isn't room for two Wagners in Bayreuth, not two composers of that sacred name and certainly not two Wagners both of whom write operas.

Still, they can't ignore him completely. He is the master's son, after all. So in '94 there was a Siegfried exhibition in Haus Wahnfried and they even played bits and pieces of his music. To me they sounded quite interesting, fascinating even. Problem was, in those faraway days there just weren't many recordings. Not recordings one could lay one's hands on anyway.

So Siegfried remained a mystery, a weak and fairly ludicrous character. The man who was eternally in the shadow of his gigantic father. The man completely dominated by his bullying mother, Liszt's daughter, the formidable Cosima. The man who was, pretty much against his will, forced to marry a Welsh orphan in order to play down his sexual indiscretions of the blatantly sodomite variety - which after all were a fairly serious crime in the Germany of the day.

The man whose audacious wife openly flirted with this deranged Viennese nobody Hitler. When Hitler was put behind bars for a while after the disastrous Munich putsch, Siegfried's wife Winifred supplied him with paper and writing materials with which to occupy his time in gaol in a productive fashion. Herr Hitler proceded, on those pure white sheets presented to him by the Wagner clan of Bayreuth, to write a nifty little shocker: Mein Kampf.

This slow and slovenly man who never ceased to look like a soft and pampered schoolboy; as overgrown as he was overfed. This man who seems to have despised the vulgarity of Hitler and what he stood for, yet covertly been mesmerised by the brutal ideology. Which, had he lived, certainly would have crushed him without a trace of pity, son of the divine Wagner or not.

This man whose operas nobody took seriously.

Who did he think he was - bloody Wagner?

But Siegfried never gave up, never gave in, writing some sixteen operas all in all. He also wrote his own libretti, just like his father had. There weren't many performances. The opera houses weren't interested. They already had a Wagner. The real thing. Why on earth would they want a cheap copy? Some of Siegfried's operas never went on during his lifetime. Oh there were plans, grand plans, but somehow they never materialised.

When at long last I came across one of Siegfried's operas I at once purchased it. Der Heidenkönig was written in 1913. The premiere was in 1933, three years after Siegfried's death.

As the CD (published by the Naxos owned label Marco Polo) wasn't furnished with a libretto I have only a very hazy idea of what the action is about. It's mediaeval. Something to do with Balticum and Christianity. And Teutonic knights. Not, as such, particularly promising stuff.

The music, however, is quite strong and forceful, extremely Wagnerian in the overly ripe romantic manner with lots and lots of boisterous brass and warlike manly singing, with the occasional high dramatic soprano hysterically butting in. Bits of it easily could have been written by old Richard. Still it doesn't actually sound derivative or unoriginal. It just isn't particularly original.

By no means is it bad. There are haunting melodies in it, strains and chords that will not go away. That keep on echoing in one's head. Dark, mournful and sombre melodies. Simple but highly effective dirges. And they just won't go away. Then one slowly begins to like them.

Der Heidenkönig seems to be, if I'm not very much mistaken, Siegfried's Parsifal, his holy and sacred opera, maybe even his magnum opus. What he's best known for is comic opera. His first, Der Bärenhäuter, is probably his most performed and best loved piece. But Siegfried was a deeply religious man and the Christian message was vitally crucial to him. No doubt he, therefore, would consider Der Heidenkönig far more important than Der Bärenhäuter.

I'd dearly like to know what precisely it was I heard in Bayreuth. Whatever it was it sounded fresh and dynamic, and a bit quirky. Der Heidenkönig often sounds stale and stuffy, a bit claustrophobic, as if its own importance were suffocating and slowly draining the life out of it, so it certainly wasn't Der Heidenkönig. Could it in fact have been Der Bärenhäuter? I'm beginning to wonder.

Parts of Der Heidenkönig I grow tired of very quickly, other parts I cannot get enough of. Odd.

Having heard only the one opera by Siegfried Wagner I obviously can't say anything very definitive about him as a composer. I do have a hunch though. I strongly suspect that were his surname not Wagner both he and his work would be far better known.

On the other hand. Without his surname he might have disappeared completely.

I'd quite like to proclaim him a forgotten genius. I'm very much afraid he's no such thing. Not even slightly. Then again, very few composers are. Geniuses, I mean. Forgotten or otherwise.


Library Nights

Alberto Manguel was sixteen years old and worked in a bookshop. The shop was called Pygmalion and it was an Anglo-German bookshop, if that is of any significance. One night he was propositioned by this shabby-genteel old geezer. Come over to my place and we'll have a right good time, the geezer said. Alberto, being an adventurous youth, went - even though he knew that the old geezer was in the habit of propositioning right and left. Just about anybody would do. He wasn't that particular. He just couldn't get enough.

The city was Buenos Aires. The old geezer was called Jorge Luis Borges. Alberto's task: to read aloud to Borges. Sometimes he even got to write down poems and bits of prose Borges had composed in his head. When the poem or story was finished Borges used to stick it between the pages of a book. That's where he stored things. Also his money. When money was need he went to his bookshelf, pulled out a book and paid whatever needed paying. Sometimes he found his banknotes. Often he didn't.

These encounters obviously had a profound effect on Alberto. He himself grew up to become a writer. One of the books he wrote, a slim and elegant volume, is called With Borges. In it he recounts his sessions and what conversing with Borges meant to him.

I re-read this volume recently, while re-reading Borges. I keep re-reading Borges all the time, just about, because he's one of the very few authors that absolutely demand it, but this time it was because I came across a slightly battered volume of Kerrigan's Ficciones (which I'd never read) at the local library where somebody had left it for anyone to pick it up for free. Which I did, without missing a beat, even though I of course have all the stories in several translations and several languages. And a most of them in Spanish too; a language I am not particularly familiar with, fluent in or cognizant of. But still one tries. It's always nice to see what the man wrote. I mean really wrote. Word for exact word.

One grasps nary a syllable of it but it's still nice. One sees things, one hears things with the inner ear: there are always the rhythms, the patterns, the alluringly exotic words which seem to carry deep and resounding significance. Not perhaps quite what the author intended but significance nonetheless. It becomes like music. One needn't understand every bar, one need but enjoy them.

And the translations all taste quite different. Reading Borges in English is nothing like reading him in Swedish. And reading Borges in Finnish is really remarkably bizarre as the language is in no way related to Spanish nor any other Indo-European language. It's like transposing a classical symphony for a Balinese gamelan group. There are similarities, of course, but these seem sporadic and almost unintentional. The pitch is different, the orchestration off and none of the rules apply any longer.

But in the Borgesian world this is normal. One never can read the same book twice. The book is always different. Every time. That's because the reader never stays the same but changes. This automatically alters the book as well. One cannot step in the same river twice. That's what makes Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote such a mind blowing experience: because it applies to everyone and all reading. The experience never can be repeated. Therefore every book is infinite. There is no end to how often it may be read or in how many ways.

Dare I say: every book is all books?

One thing that rather amazed Manguel when he stepped into the sanctum sanctorum that was Borges's apartment was the smallness of his library - merely a few shelves. That was incredible: this man who was the archetypal librarian (and former head of the National Library), this man whose entire universe was a library. This man who seemed to write about nothing other than books, libraries and writing. And there were so few books in his home.

"For a man who called the universe a library, and who confessed that he imagined Paradise 'bajo la forma de una biblioteca', the size of his own library came as a disappointment, perhaps because he knew, as he said in another poem, that language can only 'imitate wisdom'. Visitors expected a place overgrown with books, shelves bursting at the seams, piles of print blocking the doorways and protruding from every crevice, a jungle of ink and paper. Instead they would discover an apartment where books occupied a few unobtrusive corners."

There were the encyclopedias: the Encyclopaedia Britannica (eleventh edition, with essays by De Quincey and Macauley, purchased in 1928), the Brockhaus, the Meyer, the Bompiani. On the lower shelves there was fiction: Stevenson, Chesterton, Kipling. Wells, Wilkie Collins, James Joyce. Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll. And of course detective fiction. Fairly much of that actually. And Don Quixote.

But still, far far less books than anybody had a right to expect. I mean, this was Borges. Mr. Library himself.

And he owned so few books.

This was, naturally, because Borges believed reading was essentially re-reading. He constantly read (or had read to him) the same old favourites, the same books he now knew by heart. He was Pierre Menard. The books constantly changed. They lived for him. He lived so they lived. He changed so they changed.

The game isn't reading as much and as widely as one can. It's about reading as deeply and as profoundly as one can. Therefore re-reading is essential. One might almost go as far as saying: re-reading is reading.

That, I suspect, is also why Borges never ceases to return to his old themes, the ones he's used so frequently in the past in every variation imaginable. Rewriting is writing. Or maybe I go to far.

I already mentioned Manguel became a distinguished writer in his own right. I hunted down another book he wrote. It's called The Library at Night. And it's about - libraries. Seems very interesting indeed.

And if it does turn out to be as good as it looks I may even consider re-reading it.


Luottakaa meihin, Sir Henry

Pakko se on myöntää. Olen kuunnellut kolmisenkymmentä jaksoa alkuperäistä versiota (The Men from the Ministry) ja puolisen tusinaa jaksoa ruotsalaista versiota (I plommonstop och paraply) ja havainnut ne hyviksi ja hauskoiksi. Mutta suomalainen versio Knalli ja sateenvarjo pesee ne kyllä mennen tullen.

Mistä tämä johtuu? Näyttelijävalinnoista? Englannin ensimmäinen Hamilton-Jones on My Fair Ladystakin tuttu eversti Pickering eli Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte jonka erinomaisuudesta ei liene epäilystäkään. Ruotsissa HJ on varhaisten Bergman-elokuvien suvereeni veteraani Gunnar Björnstrand. Nämä miehet ovat millä mittapuulla hyvänsä mitattuina maailmanluokkaa, kansainvälisiä huipputähtiä. Kauko Helovirta ei häviä heille milliäkään.

Suurin ero ja syy suomalaisen version ylivertaisuuteen (josta pitkäikäisyys, etten sanoisi ikuisuus kielii) on lähestymistavassa ja toteutuksessa. Alkuperäisen version idea on elävässä estraadiviihteessä, jaksot on toteutettu suorina lähetyksinä yleisön edessä. Yleisö tietenkin tuo tiettyä spontaania energiaa esitykseen omilla reaktioillaan ja onnistunut vitsi palkitaan heti. Tässä on huomattavissa ongelma - näyttelijät lähtevät helposti lypsämään repliikkejään palkkion toivossa. Painottamalla repliikkiä tietyllä tavalla saa taatusti hyvät naurut. Aina se ei silti ole hyväksi kokonaisuudelle.

Suomalaiset lähtivät eri tielle. Sarjaa ruvettiin alusta saakka toteuttamaan radioteatterina - ei estraadiviihteenä. Näin ollen esitysten dynamiikka ja energia on aivan erilainen kuin alkuperäisessä (ja ruotsalaisessa) versiossa. Se mikä välillä energiassa ja yleisön tarttuvassa riemussa hävitään, voitetaan replikoinnin tarkkuudessa ja fraasin nyanssoinnissa. On vaikea tehdä kovin hienostunutta näyttelijäntyötä kun repliikki jää yleisön naurunremakan alle. Ja suorassa lähetyksessä monet näyttelijät varsinkin pienemmissä rooleissa (jotka usein on tuplattu) tuppaavat lukemaan repliikkinsä suoraan plarista ja välillä vähän sinne päin. Eikä uusintaottoja tunneta. Suorissa lähetyksissä ei myöskään voi saada aikaiseksi kuin mitä alkeellisimpiä erikoistehosteita.

Kaikki tämä puhuu minusta selvää kieltään suoria lähetyksiä vastaan.

Radioteatterimaisuus kohottaa sarjan suomalaisversion omalle tasolleen. Jaksoa voidaan lähestyä läpikirjoitettuna kokonaisuutena eikä vain sarjana irtovitsejä. Vitsejä ei tarvitse alleviivata vaan ne voi esittää subtiilimmin jolloin ne yleensä ovat hauskempia. Tehosteilla voi loihtia huikeita tehoja. Eikä väärin lausuttuja ja hätäisesti korjattuja repliikkejä tarvitse pitää mukana vaan ne voi korjata seuraavassa otossa. Ja kun äänimaailma on puhdas yleisön taustahälinästä ja yleisestä melusta niin nyanssit kuuluvat ja pienikin ääni oikein mitoitettuna ja sijoitettuna tuntuu suurelta.

Suomalaisessa versiossa - ja uskon tämän johtuvan juuri lähestymistavasta - sivuroolitkin on miehitetty mykistävän hyvillä näyttelijöillä. Suorissa lähetyksissä sivuroolit tuppaavat jäämään joko hätäisen yksiulotteisiksi tai pelkäksi juonta kömpelösti edistäväksi pakkopullaksi, meillä ne ovat rikkumaton nauha kirkkaita loistavia helmiä. Olavi Ahonen, Risto Mäkelä, Keijo Komppa, Pia Hattara, Topi Reinikka, Jussi Jurkka, Marita Nordberg, Esko Nikkari, Tuula Nyman, Heikki Kinnunen, Pirkka-Pekka Petelius ja Marjatta Raita (monen muun muassa) todistavat kiistattomalla tavalla ja kerta toisensa jälkeen sen ettei ole olemassa pieniä rooleja, on vain pieniä näyttelijöitä. Viisasti täytetyt sivuroolit ovat koko sarjan suola ja nostavat sen humahtaen kertakäyttöviihteestä klassikoksi.

Välillä tuntuu melkein siltä että sivuroolit ovat liiankin hyvin miehitettyjä, että HJ ja Lamm jäävät sivuroolisoolojen jalkoihin ja joutuvat itse statistin osaan. Tämä on kuitenkin tervetullutta sillä se tuo sarjaan syvyyttä, ulottuvuutta ja rikkautta. Jaksot vanhenisivat paljon nopeammin jos kaikki olisi koko ajan pelkästään päänäyttelijöiden harteilla. Kuten muualla.

Tarkoitukseni ei ole millään muotoa vähätellä päänäyttelijöitä - aivan päin vastoin. Huimempaa nelikkoa kuin Helovirta, Pekka Autiovuori, Aila Svedberg ja Yrjö Järvinen on vaikea keksiä. Ainakaan minun. Yhteispeli hipoo parhaimmillaan täydellistä - ja tekee sen usein. Kaikkia yhdistää sama harvinainen taito (kuten sivuosienkin näyttelijöitä): he saavat ladattua uskomattomat määrät tunnetta repliikkiin. Tämä on radiossa tärkeämpää kuin muualla. Me emme näe heitä, kuulemme vain. Siksi se miten he sanovat asian on usein tärkeämpää kuin se mitä he sanovat. Kun Helovirta on masentunut me kuulemme kuinka hänen viiksensä ovat lerpahtaneet. Kun Yrjö Järvinen puhuu nuorista naisista me kuulemme kuinka hänen joka huokosestaan tihkuu kiimaa ja irstautta.

Siinä mielessä Edward Taylorin tekstit ovat mitä oivallisinta materiaalia taitaville näyttelijöille. Ne eivät ole ylikirjoitettuja. Niissä on tilaa tulkinnalle. On hauskempaa kuulla äänensävystä miten asiat ovat kuin saada selostus siitä. Show, don't tell.

Alunperinhän sarja kirjoitettiin muuten mittatilaustyönä Lammin esittäjälle Richard Murdochille. Siksi hän on varsin selvästi englantilaisen sarjan keskushenkilö. Suomessa Helovirran ja Autiovuoren välinen dynamiikka on demokraattisempi. Olisikin mahdotonta - ja älytöntä - pitää Helovirran tasoista taitajaa vähäisemmässä roolissa. Omalla luontaisella gravitaksellaan hän ottaa luonnollisen paikkansa. Sir Henry (tai siis Sir Gregory, kuten hän alunperin on!) on sekä englantilaisessa että ruotsalaisessa versiossa yksiulotteisempi ja siksi marginaalisempi hahmo. Auktoriteettiasemassa oleva Sir Henry karjuu ja on vihainen ja . . . niin . . . siinä suunnilleen se. Koko henkinen skaala ja tunteiden kirjo. Yrjö Järvinen tekee hänestä huimasti moniulotteisemman, lataa tulkintaan uskomattomat määrät pönäkkää itsetyytyväisyyttä ja sokeaa itserakkautta, alistavaa tyrannimaisuutta, lipevyyttä, irstautta, vahingoniloa, halveksuntaa, sadismia, hedonismia, tekopyhyyttä, ja (oman esimiehensä edessä) hurskastelevaa nöyryyttä, ja tekee Sir Henrystään sellaisen cocktailin ettei moista aikaisemmin ole kuultu.

Järvisen Sir Henry on varsinainen huonojen ominaisuuksien renessanssi-ihminen jolle mikään alhainen ei ole vierasta. Jokainen valhe, jokainen potku tulee suoraan sydämestä. Siksi Järvisen Sir Henryn auktoriteettiasema ei ole pelkkä tyhjä klisee vaan aidosti pelottava. Ja siksi HJ ja Lamm tuntuvat entistäkin inhimillisemmiltä protagonisteilta.

Mutta toisaalta, Järvisen Sir Henryn rinnalla kuka (tai mikä!) tahansa vaikuttaisi inhimillisyyden perikuvalta.

Knallissa ja sateenvarjossa operoidaan kliseillä. Helovirran, Autiovuoren, Järvisen ja Svedbergin käsittelyssä kliseet muuttuvat joksikin muuksi. Lyijy jalostuu kullaksi, hiili timantiksi.

Ei siis mikään ihme että täällä sarja pysyi elossa kun se muualla, kotimaassaankin, kuoli pois. Täällä siihen suhtauduttiin vakavammin, täällä se otettiin tosissaan. Täällä siihen satsattiin parhaat voimat, niin kääntäjien, ohjaajien kuin näyttelijöidenkin osalta. Täällä se ansaitsi jäädä henkiin.

Täällä se tehtiin paremmin kuin muualla.


Herrschaft des Verbrechens

I've always had a soft spot for the early work of Fritz Lang, partly perhaps because they were such standard fare in the film clubs of my youth. Never a season without Metropolis or M, it seems like.

Metropolis even had a commercial run in the theatres in the mid '80s with a spanking new and remarkably loud and fairly ghastly score by Giorgio Moroder. I'm still not quite over that experience, to be perfectly honest. But hope does spring eternal, or so they say.

Othet stout Lang favorites are the fascinating international spy thriller Spione (1928) and the massive historical fantasy Die Nibelungen (1924), in two parts, which draws on the same material as Wagner's Ring cycle (or the last two operas Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, to be specific), Das Nibelungenlied, though Fritz does the mediaeval epic more justice than did old Richard. The special effects are pretty spectacular. In their day they were almost beyond belief. I've only ever seen it on video so I probably can't imagine how spectacular the effects really are. But the intrepid Siegfried slaying the dragon works whatever the format.

Two of his early films I've never come across (well there are more, of course, but these two irk me no end): the very early adventure yarn in two parts Die Spinnen (1921) and the absolute science fiction classic Frau im Mond (1929) that defined the way space crafts and interstellar travel would look on film for decades to come. Even the Moon got its definitive look by Lang and wasn't redefined (prior to the landing, that is) until along came Stanley Kubrick almost exactly 40 years later.

Now that I come to think there are a couple of things that the Lang films that I like have in common. They were made in Germany (and hence in German) and, perhaps most importantly, written by Thea von Harbou. Harbou's name may ring no bells today but in the '20s and '30s she was a pretty big fish, a screenwriter, a succesful novelist, and she even directed a few films. Harbou and Lang were married for a while and the time of their marriage constituted the golden age in both their professional careers. They made quite an ideal team. The scripts were extremely well balanced dramaturgically and featured everything a good film needed: exciting locations, mysterious circumstances, riveting chases, exotic killings, a smattering of esoteric philosophy, extremely modern or even futuristic contraptions, and a solid plot that moves with fierce speed and is told mostly visually. Harbou provided the setting and the conceptual frame, Lang the innovative visual splendours. As a mix it was well-nigh perfect.

So perfect that it was sometimes hard to notice that the scripts didn't bear a closer inspection as they were essentially puerile nonsense. Metropolis, for instance, looks grand, bold, even intellectual, but makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It's just hokey. A lovely movie and deservedly a true classic but still nonsense. The images, however, live on.

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse is the perfect Lang-Harbou collaboration. It's a crime story with supernatural elements and even vague but chilling political implications. The mad master criminal Mabuse (first seen in the 1922 movie Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler) has spent the last decade in an asylum, in a state of near catatonia, scribbling nonsense on sheets of paper all day. Yet his crime empire still functions. And seems to be led by him. How?

Now ordinary crime is no longer enough for Mabuse, he's striving for world domination by the means of Herrschaft des Verbrechens - The Rule of Crime. This he will achieve by chaos. He will wreak so much havoc, instill so much insecurity, reduce society to such a state of fear, anxiety and weakness, that people will welcome him as their leader and do anything he wills. For crime is the true strength of man and anything else is mere weakness. Anybody resisting will be eliminated: "Menschen die eine Gefahr für die Organization bedeuten sind ausnahmlos sofort zu vernichten." The militarily led organization has its own branch to take care of that: the assassination unit Abteilung 2-B.

It might possibly be worth to mention that the movie was made in 1933.

I'm not certain how deliberate and conscious the Nazi references are. To me they seem quite obvious and unambiguous. The criminals cannot but be seen as Nazis as they salute their omnipotent leader by bowing and clicking their heels. They have their Sektions and Abteilungs. The ruthless vocabulary is the same. Vernichtung - annihilation. The ideology of the mastery of crime, the superiority of violence, the supremacy of power - isn't that exactly what the Nazi Party craved and realized? What else was the rulership of the Party during those twelve bleak and abominable years than Herrschaft des Verbrechens? The Rule of Crime?

However, Harbou was quite the Nazi, eventually becoming a member of the Party (though she seems never to have been a racialist or an antisemite). And one does have to bear in mind that Lang was - very early on - well in cahoots with the Party: Die Nibelungens actually being a solid favourite in Nazi circles, indeed even something of a cult movie about the superiority and superhumanity of the Aryan race and its mythical and mystical past. How could it not warm a Nazi heart with blood and gore and brutal sword-fighting and the slaying of dragons and on top of that the Nazi of Nazis: Siegfried? I seem to recall it even having been the favourite movie of one Dr. Goebbels. Lang was well on his way of becoming the official movie director of Das Reich and would certainly have become it, and welcomed the position, had it not been for one unfortunate and rather embarrasing fact: he was Jewish. Even Dr. Goebbels couldn't overlook that slight piece of information in all eternity. So ultimately Lang had to flee the country.

Clearly Harbou and Lang didn't at first quite know what to make of the Nazis. Were they a bunch of thugs and criminals or the saviours of Germany? They were sensitive artists, they could see and sense things others couldn't. They seem also to have been ever so slightly opportunistic and ready to avert their eyes from the truth about Nazism and the banal horrors it entailed, were the Party willing to bestow favour upon them. And in fact the dynamic duo and their cinema would have been an invincible propagandistic tool for the Nazis, far superior than poor old Leni Riefenstahl, because they knew how to entertain, bewitch and lead the masses on. There is always a slight but unsound fascist undertone in any Harbou-Lang movie, a hypnotic element that disturbs one but also beckons. Can you find a more fascist piece of cinema than Metropolis?

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse didn't best please the Nazis. Goebbels was no fool. He saw what it was and didn't like it one bit. Dr. Mabuse's plans were almost exactly those of the Nazis, likewise his meas of realizing his plan. Goebbels delayed the premiere but didn't ban the movie.

Not much point, really. They already were in power.

There's a brilliant scene in the movie, by the way, where a handful of Mabuse's men get cornered in a flat with no way out. One of the criminals goes mental and declares that no one gets in or out - if anyone goes near the door they are going to get it. Better for everyone to die inside the flat than surrender. Again Vernichtung. The way he speaks, or rather shouts and barks in semihysteria, bears a striking resemblance to the way Hitler makes his speeches. In the end they can't keep the police out so the Adolfian crook ends his life by shooting himself. Eerie echoes of the bunker, I always think. 12 years before the fact. Does gives one quite the willies.

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse was the last movie Lang ever made in Germany. One day, after having received a warning, he took the train to Paris and didn't return. Thea von Harbou stayed on in Germany but had a pretty unspectacular career without Lang. On their own they were never much good. I shudder to think what villanous, dastardly, megalomaniac propaganda movies they might have made together in and for Nazi Germany had Lang's Jewishness been hushed up or overlooked

I'd also very much like to see them.