A History Lesson from Erika Mann

Erika Mann, the flamboyant, fascinating daughter of Nobel prize winner, Thomas Mann, piqued my interest a few months ago when I saw the 1932 film, Mädchen in Uniform. Erika plays a supporting role as one of the teachers in the film, and seeing her onscreen sent me in a spiral of research, reading works by and about both of the eldest Mann children, Erika and her close brother, Klaus.


Library of Congress: Erika Mann

From Berlin’s cabarets in the 1920s to a life of exile in the 1930s that made her stateless until her lavender marriage to English poet, W.H. Auden, got her a passport, Erika zoomed about trying to find joy while taking issue with the political climate.

I have no desire to be political myself, but as it becomes more likely that someone many of us once thought was a joke is now a viable candidate for president, with comparisons to even contemporary leaders that make one shudder, we must look to history for proof of what can happen when radical leaders take power. Because it’s all there.

Erika Mann’s essay, “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes,” appears in the 1940 collection Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free. This appeal, to a young American she meets on a train on the way to Los Angeles, is meant as advice to a country on the sidelines of a Europe under siege, but her words are just as applicable today:

But what constitutes the disease? Fascism, Nazism, dictatorship, defeat? No! Because they already are death. The “disease”—that is the inability of the body to resist Death. The decay of the organism, the breakdown of resistance, that is the disease.

She goes on to write a full essay-within-the-essay for her young companion, outlining the symptoms of decay, her own experience as a non-political actress silenced by a horde of Brownshirts in 1931, a political meeting with a group of friends in Berlin, and ultimately the failure of resistance. Perhaps most haunting of all are her words closer to the beginning of the essay, when she passionately tries to explain why this history matters:

“You will not believe,” I added, and noticed that my tone was a little too intense, “you can’t imagine how painful it is gradually to discover that no country, no nation, no youth has wanted to draw a lesson from our dreadful example.”

Please, draw a lesson. History like this—a dreadful example like this—should not be allowed to repeat itself.

The Best 100 Movies Challenge

I couldn’t help but play along when Nathan Bransford listed his best 100 movies on his blog.

I’ve been working on my list for a while (likewise while procrastinating), and hereby share my best 100. I guess I dig the foreign flicks and musicals. 😉

  1. Run Lola Run
  2. Breathless
  3. An American in Paris
  4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  5. Enlightenment Guaranteed
  6. Amélie
  7. Midnight in Paris
  8. The Thin Man
  9. The Sound of Music
  10. Cabaret
  11. West Side Story
  12. Love and Death
  13. Pan’s Labyrinth
  14. Spirited Away
  15. Brother of Sleep
  16. The Nasty Girl
  17. Life is Beautiful
  18. Shakespeare in Love
  19. Das Boot
  20. Goethe in Love
  21. The Departed
  22. Before Sunrise
  23. Before Sunset
  24. Reality Bites
  25. Blue
  26. Finding Neverland
  27. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  28. Moulin Rouge!
  29. Il Postino
  30. The Red Shoes
  31. Pulp Fiction
  32. Goodfellas
  33. The Lives of Others
  34. Russian Ark
  35. The Others
  36. The Reader
  37. Funny Face
  38. On the Town
  39. The Blue Angel
  40. Singin’ in the Rain
  41. Saving Private Ryan
  42. Good Will Hunting
  43. The Great Escape
  44. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  45. Full Metal Jacket
  46. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  47. Seven Samurai
  48. The Princess Bride
  49. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
  50. Barcelona
  51. My Neighbor Totoro
  52. Dr. Strangelove
  53. 8 1/2
  54. Annie Hall
  55. Bonjour Tristesse
  56. Blade Runner
  57. Fargo
  58. Almost Famous
  59. A Fish Called Wanda
  60. Next Stop Wonderland
  61. Revolution Road
  62. Pirates of the Caribbean
  63. Star Wars
  64. Elf
  65. The Tourist
  66. Chocolat
  67. The Blues Brothers
  68. Blue Velvet
  69. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  70. Taxi Driver
  71. The Bourne Identity
  72. The Flight of the Condor
  73. Good Bye Lenin!
  74. The Manchurian Candidate
  75. When Harry Met Sally
  76. Vertigo
  77. Heaven
  78. La Femme Nikita
  79. Alien
  80. The Terminator
  81. Like Water for Chocolate
  82. The Matrix
  83. Inception
  84. The Wizard of Oz
  85. Schindler’s List
  86. Hope and Glory
  87. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  88. Lost in Translation
  89. On the Beach
  90. Beauty and the Beast
  91. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  92. Kirikou and the Sorceress
  93. Ponyo
  94. North by Northwest
  95. The Hours
  96. Sleepless in Seattle
  97. Casablanca
  98. Romeo and Juliet
  99. The Dirty Dozen
  100. Black Swan

movie review: Broken Embraces

In some ways, it’s a typical Almodovar/Cruz movie: love, sex, relationships, complications. But let’s face it, I really like most Almodovar movies anyway. Why?

  • They are set in Spain.
  • They speak Castillian, sounding almost as nice as my Spanish husband.
  • They are generally both uplifting and depressing, with a bit of humor sprinkled in.
  • He (or they, I should say) generally gets really good actors. And lets face it, Penélope Cruz has come a long way from Jamón Jamón, not that that was a bad movie itself.

On top of that, this had some great intrigue that kept you guessing, and some really intricate, layered characters.

Overall, highly recommended.

movies to see after the 2008 awards shows

Now that I don’t get out much, I like the awards shows to tell me what movies I should see once they make it to DVD. Although I really wanted to see “No Country for Old Men” after last year, and ow-ow-ow, was that ever NOT my kind of movie! I had nightmares of Javier Bardem jumping out of my closet to kill me for days! Thank God I saw it after I saw the one movie I saw in the cinema last year, Vicky Christina Barcelona, because otherwise I wouldn’t have seen that, and I would’ve missed out on Penelope Cruz’ magnificent performance.

Anyway, from 2008, in my own particular order:

  • The Reader (OK, didn’t even know this had been made into a movie! Like I said, I don’t get out much. I read the book years ago and loved it though, and I already knew Kate Winslet makes any movie fabulous)
  • Slumdog Millionaire (OK, who doesn’t want to see that now?)
  • Revolutionary Road (Kate Winslet again)

coming up: Billy Wilder festival

Another one of those scratching-my-head moments: “Aaaah, that name sounds familiar – who was that guy?”

My husband mentions the movie “One-Two-Three” – one of my favorites! and “The Apartment” and others I wanted to see. So I look him up, and, holy cow, was he a somebody!

Elevator biography: Born in Austria-Hungary in 1906, emigrated to the US (family died in Auschwitz), became a great Hollywood director in the 1930s, died in 2002 after a long and amazing career. Credits include:

Ninotchtka (Greta Garbo, with her famous kissing line: “Again …”)

Double Indemnity (co-written with Raymond Chandler, film noir, gotta see this!)

The Lost Weekend (another on my must-see someday list – I’ve gotta get cracking!)

Stalag 17

Some Like it Hot, The Seven Year Itch, Sabrina (good, good, good!)

The Apartment (another to-see!)

movies to see: Oscar winners from the 80s

Still to see:

1989 – Driving Miss Daisy. Although I don’t really have a lot of interest in seeing this one, I have to see it before I can see how it stacked up against the rest that year, bother.

1983 – Terms of Endearment. Another one I hadn’t really been interested in seeing, but I guess I have to now …

1981 – Chariots of Fire. OK, I’ve definitely seen bits of this when it’s been on TV, and I remember the song that went along with it of course, but I guess it deserves a full viewing before I render further judgment.

1980 – Ordinary People. Ah, this one I kind of want to see. I think I remember hearing about it, in the “this movie is too grown-up for you” sense.

Already saw:

1988 – Rain Man. Hmmm, not a Tom Cruise fan, so it made it hard to like this movie, although it was a great script and well done overall. My preference that year would’ve been for Dangerous Liasons.

1987 – The Last Emperor. Oooh, tough call. Nice, grand sweeping picture, but I have to say that Hope and Glory was just so well done that it would’ve gotten my vote.

1986 – Platoon. Yes!! Awesome flick. ‘Nuff said.

1985 – Out of Africa. Yawn. Too boring for me. I wasn’t thrilled by any of these choices as a best picture, although I liked The Color Purple (probably more because of the great book than the movie though) and Witness was pretty exciting.

1984 – Amadeus. Oooh, I adored this movie. But then again, I’m a huge fan of Mozart, Vienna, and the like. The Killing Fields was another amazing movie that year, so it would have been a tough call for me.

1982 – Ghandi. I vaguely remember seeing this and liking it, although E.T. definittely sticks in my mind more!

movies to see: Oscar winners from the 90s

Still to see:

No way! I’ve actually seen them all! I can hardly believe it myself …

Already saw:

1999 – American Beauty. Definitely a winner in my book.

1998 – Shakespeare in Love. This must have been a wicked tough year for the judges! I was pulling for Life is Beautiful that year, which at least won for Best Foreign Film, and Benigni won Best Actor. But I did also really like Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, and of course Saving Private Ryan.

1997 – Titanic. Definitely a good movie, but a bit too Hollywood-y for my tastes. I would have picked the much more Bostonian (a-hem) Good Will Hunting, which grabbed Best Original Screenplay.

1996 – The English Patient. Can you say “barf”? Or perhaps more appropriately “gag”? To this date, I have not seen a movie with that woman (Kristin Scot Thomas, barf) or that man (Ralph Fiennes, gag) which has not made me barf or gag. A much better movie in my opinion was Fargo (you knoooow?).

1995 – Braveheart. OK, this was a good one. Nice historical picture with a ton of action. But of course I was pulling for the much more literary Il Postino, based on the exile of Pablo Neruda.

1994 – Forrest Gump. I’m not denying this was good. But a bit too schmalzy for my tastes. I much preferred Pulp Fiction. My favorite line: “But bacon tastes GOOD.” (10 points if you know which character said that)

1993 – Schindler’s List. Finally, one that should have won! Enough said.

1992 – Unforgiven. Way to go, Clint! Another very deserving movie that actually won.

1991 – The Silence of the Lambs. No way! I actually didn’t remember that this one won. A thriller – how thrilling! This movie scared me silly, but of course, I’m a major wimp in that department. But looking at the other choices, I don’t see that there was much of anything better that year, so I’d have to agree.

1990 – Dances With Wolves. Tough call. This was good, but I was pulling for Good Fellas, which is, after all, one of the best gangster movies of all time (although I now have a softer spot for The Departed).

movies to see: Oscar winners from this decade

Kips like movies.

I recently decided that I should see all of the movies that ever won the Academy Award for best picture. Let’s go in reverse chronological order and take things in decades (nice manageable chunks!). I’ll include my opinion for which picture should have won, ha!

Still to see:

2007 – No Country for Old Men

Already saw:

2006 – The Departed. This should have won, and it did! Yay, Martin Scorsese, yay, Boston, yay, Dropkick Murphys, and yay, Irish mob! (er, um, yeah)

2005 – Crash. Another won which should have won, and did. One of those movies that you think you hate until you discover you love it.

2004 – Million Dollar Baby. Yeah, chicks pounding on each other in the face is not really my thing. My pick for that year was Finding Neverland, because:

  • Johnny Depp rocks
  • Kate Winslet rocks
  • Peter Pan rocks
  • More than a nice heartwarming story, it was a great glimpse into the creative process

2003 – The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King. OK, I liked these movies (probably the first one best). Great special effects and all that. But this one just had too much in the way of cast-of-thousands battle scenes. My pick for that year was Lost in Translation, which was just such an excellent flick, especially to those who have experienced life abroad.

2002 – Chicago. Tough call here. It was great, don’t get me wrong, and it’s always cool to see a musical win, but I have to say I was pulling for The Hours. Excellent novel, and excellent acting.

2001 – A Beautiful Mind. OK, this was a good movie. But Russell Crowe always kinds of ruins a movie for me, blech. My pick that year was Moulin Rouge (Yes! A musical!).

2000 – Gladiator. OK, Russell Crowe rule again, so, nope, not my pick. Also, see above about Johnny Depp. Yup, my pick was Chocolat. You’ve got a cute French village, Juliette Binoche, even a cameo by Leslie Caron, and tons of chocolate – how can you go wrong?

Well, then. All in all, only one movie to see from this decade. Stay tuned for the list from the next, er, previous decade.