04 February 2013

Karl Kraus bio-pic set to smash Arendt flick

        In one of the most unlikely cinema stories of the new year, we can exclusively reveal that leading Holywood studios are lining up to scoop the rights for a bio-pic about the life of the early 20th century German intellectual, Karl Kraus. With movie-theatre screens still warm with the release of the Hannah Arendt movie, Holywood bosses, dealing over their decafs, have been saying things like, ''If not now, when?” and ''What is to be done?”, the thought that in so doing they may be quoting Lenin nibbling only at the corners of their minds.
        Karl f *** ing who? I got onto reading Kraus through a sixteen year old series of connected accidents, which I now feel grateful for and flattered by, leading as they did to the Santa Barbara agent phoning me up, asking me if I thought the slim, regional, small-press and German language Kraus biography could work converted for world-wide cinema release. The first accident: Alison, who my sister shares a house with in Oxford, subscribes to the LRB & leaves it in the Oxford loo, where I find it during my visits from ’97 onwards, & get hooked on it. The second accident, also from 97: I fall in love with & pledge allegiance to the woman I’m now married to; she’s German. Over a geologically slow time period  I learn to read enough German to be bothered to confront the middle-class middle-brow German literature that her generation carry with them from their parents: Stefan Zweig, Hesse, Günter Grass (always there on the shelf: do find me someone who’s reading him in bed), a few woman poets like Ingeborg Bachmann, Nelly Sachs & Rose Ausländer thrown in. Before we grew older, happier, wiser, we tried to get each other to read stuff that was important to us, so she tried to get me to read Stefan Zweig. A pressure which I resisted, apart from one lapse on a fearful winter night in 2004, before the morning on which I was due to teach the whole history of the colonisation of South America to a class of badly-educated, undisciplined twelve year olds. (Part of my training in flagellation / Steiner-Waldorf teaching). Genuinely not knowing how to whip the appropriate worksheets out of the net in those days, I thought I’d whip through Zweig’s historical novel about Magellan, the south American explorer, instead: perfect teaching prep. I could still only read German at snail speed in 2004, the heart banging away like the clappers all the while with the thoughts of the kids the next day.

 The final incidents in the Kraus chain were no longer accidents: reading Michael Hofmann, writing in the LRB in 2010 (here), doing an entertaining hatchet-job on the sympathies which Stefan Zweig’s writings have engendered in his readers over the last century. Zweig is sent into the exile of the second-rate; there are, it appears, contemporaries of his who it’s actually worth reading, including your man Kraus. I make a mental note & do nothing about it, until I go to the Hamburg literary translator’s Christmas-do 2011, where, each year, the translators try & get rid of their stack of publisher’s copies of books they’ve translated by doing a book table where everyone’s free to take what they want. Avoiding books which are crying to me — “with me you will have easy, care-free pleasure” – including Herzke’s translations of Alan Bennett & some biographies of south American footballers — I go for Annette’s (Kopetzki’s) translation of Cesare Cases (no idea at that time who that is). Thickish paperback, orange spine, bluish tinged black & white photo on the cover showing pudgy, serious man, top-button done up crowning a pale V-neck, rain coat slung over left arm, newspaper coming out at odd angle out of left-hand suggesting it is posed, fag aloft in the right. Discoursing with a similarly paper holding, corduroy-trousered man — by God, are these chaps writers?  Book titled, in English translation, “The Loss of Totality: Essays 1953 – 1989.” Easy to imagine who the first essay I find in Cesare Case’s book is about.

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Karl Kraus, c. 1900. Photographer: unknown.

         The strategy which the New Jersey based P.R. duo responsible for international promotion of the film have decided upon, is, in contrast, unimaginable: when announcing the film last Thursday in the print-editions of several tiny-circulation south American newspapers, (Latino lefties being the main target audience, as Kraus himself could be depicted as being left; bloody lucky that Olivia phoned me up from Rio, pissed off about that €200 I still owe her, & we came to talk about our favourite newspapers), they demonstrated allegiance to Kraus’s ideals, by refusing to collaborate with any internet journalists during their public relations investigations. Or any journalists for that matter: the Peruvian & Chilean hacks who got their grubby hands on the story are said to have obtained it under duress. The New Jersey duo deny that this so-called “duress” (we can’t yet confirm that is a direct quote) invalidates the sincerity of their undertaking.
         And where did the New Jersey-ites get the idea that Kraus wouldn’t have wanted them to publicise his own bio-pic by consorting with scriveners? Why, from Kraus, dummy, Karl Kraus, who, in his very own newspaper, The Firebrand (Die Fackel) in 1909, under the headline The Hounding of The Lady (Die Hetzjagd auf das Weib), declared journalists to be the true representatives of prostitution, the prostitution of their own minds & thoughts infinitely worse than women’s prostitution of their bodies. And there it gets tricky, as Kraus refutes that what we normally call prostitution, specifically women selling sex, is in fact prostitution at all. As Kraus put it:  
        “It was [his, the journalist's] most pathetic, competitive envy, which designated prostitution as the worst of all evils, because he [the journalist] really conceives prostitutability to be the most valuable of commodities, and respectable outrage is the fig leave which hides his envy. And therein is humanity’s limitless possession of grace and elementary beauty outlawed.” i
     Twenty years later, in 1929, the same motif was still being worked on:
             “It’s a well-known fact that I’ll never allow, til the day I die, the concept of the prostitution of a woman’s body to be granted the same significance as my condemnation of the prostitution of the mind. And now, at a peak in knowledge of  such matters, I’d like to voice my suspicion that sexual activity is perhaps the only  activity in which this world does not prostitute itself, and that the framing of women with this stigma only serves to distract attention from the prostitutability of all male professions.” ii
         Film-director, journalist, blogger or film-rights consultant: these weren’t exclusively all-male professions in 1929, and are even further from being so now. Can such high-mindedness work on the big screen, and can the film-director that finally gets the job — names under consideration range from younger German talents like Christian Schwochow to political-film heavyweights like Oliver Stone — do anything but prostitute themselves — and Kraus’s name — in the making of the picture? And what’s with the apparent misogyny behind the press (non)-release: “Karl Kraus bio-pic set to smash Arendt flick.” Why “smash”? Is it in fact a contorted hatred of women that lurks behind Kraus’s idealisation of women selling sex? Has this misogyny been taken on by the anti-publicity team’s weird way to back the movie down in Brazil? Or is that “smash” simply a mis-translation from the Brazilian Portuguese by Olivia on the phone, whose mind was more focussed on that €200 she’s missing rather than on semantics?
         Negotiations as to who will snap the main part as Kraus are still underway; I very much hope the part of the young Kraus goes to young German actor, Sebastian Urzendowsky, as a St. Pauli film bloggist has suggested.
         As regards the part of the older Kraus, branch insiders are in no two minds about that. The part's going to go to Helmut Berger. Isn't it?

Datei:Sebastian Urzendowsky 2012.jpg

Does the seriousness Urzendowsky showed in the TV adaption of "The Tower" qualify him for the role of Kraus?

Photo of Sebastian Urzendowsky by Martina Nolte. Courtesey of Creative Commons.

i. Translated from Karl Kraus, quoted directly from p. 101 in: Cesare Cases. Trans. Annette Kopetzki. "Der Verlust der Totalität. 1953-1989." Carl Hanser Verlag. Munich, 2009.
ii. Ibid. P. 101-102.

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