Koch on Film


By Ed Koch

“Demon Lover” (-)

The flick begins in Japan where the central characters are discussing the purchase by an American company of a Japanese company making animation videos. The Japanese are depicted as the best in this very lucrative field which seems to be the case in real life. They have surpassed Disney in technology and ability to make the characters on screen come to life. The art form is now referred to as anime.

The central, prominent characters include Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malartre), head of the American company; his lawyer Karen (Dominique Reymond); her replacement Diane (Connie Nielsen); Elise (Chloe Sevigny) the gal Friday to both of them; and, Herve (Charles Berling) corporate executive assistant to Volf and lecher who seems to succeed romantically with Diane.

We travel by plane to see and walk in the most elegant buildings in Tokyo and Paris. The film takes place in the present. While there are no special effects as existed in the Matrix series, there is the feeling of existing high technology in the air. The architecture both inside and out is breathtaking. The acting of everyone is quite good.

The idea, which focuses on the commercial success for companies dealing in pornography, is provoking. The characters on the American side make clear that pornography – here really obscenity – is probably illegal but in any event must not include child pornography.

I recall that organized crime used to convey to the world that it rejected drugs as a legitimate source of income for them when, in fact, it became their major source of income. In this film, obscenity and pornography of all sorts, including child porn, is manufactured by the Japanese producers, with American and European retailers ready to offer the merchandise for sale throughout the world.

Competing firms spy in each other’s companies, turning the top officials into agents working for the competitors. We witness sexual depravities on web sites, including sadomasochism and torture, and in the lives of the principals we witness rape and murder. Sounds interesting, right? But somehow it is all a big waste and falls flat. There’s just too much to comprehend and pretty soon none of it shocks and most of the action is not comprehensible.

A warning for those with prostate problems . You cannot leave the theater during this two hour film. If you miss just two minutes of it, you will never pick up a single thread of the story when you return. Maybe they should bring back the courtesy extended in “Gone With the Wind” when it was first shown in the 30s and allowed for a brief intermission.


“Taking Sides” (+)

This is an excellent docudrama reporting on an incident that took place after the defeat of the Nazis in 1945. We witness a denatzification scene in Berlin when the world-famous conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, was investigated.

Major Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel) is in charge of the interrogation. He is deciding whether to punish Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgard) for his pro-Nazi activities or allow him to again direct the Berlin Philharmonic in Germany. Two other people make up the major’s team: Lt. David Wills (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Emmi Straube (Birgit Minichmayr). Willis, who is Jewish, is assigned by central command to serve the major and also to make sure he doesn’t violate the rules of interrogation. Emmi, the interpreter/secretary, is the daughter of a German military officer involved in an unsuccessful plot on Hitler’s life.

Furtwangler received the highest honors under the Nazis, although he never joined the Nazi Party. He was Hitler’s favorite conductor and often played for him, especially Beethoven, with a full orchestra. Maj. Arnold pounds away at Furtwangler for having received the favor of Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering and Hitler, and using them to further his reputation as the most famous German conductor. His defense, verified by others, is that he saved hundreds of Jews by getting them out of Germany to safety.

The breaking of the director’s confidence, pride, and will by humiliating him and causing him to reflect on how he behaved during the Hitler years is brilliantly done. Furtwangler is magnificently played by Skarsgard while Keitel somewhat overacts. The unfolding drama is a tour de force by the four principals.

When I left the theater, a man in his 50s asked me what I thought of the film. I told him I thought it was brilliant and thought provoking. He said he was the son of Holocaust survivors, and he would have barred Furtwangler from his profession. I said that I would have judged him by his good deeds of having saved many Jews and acquitted him, even though he worked with the Nazis to gain fame and fortune, or, as he said, to save his own life and career.

I thought of FDR who saved the word from Fascism but took no action to save hundreds of thousands even millions of Jews by providing them with visas. I will always hold him responsible for the latter but, nevertheless, honor his achievements. Similarly, Harry Truman left a diary in his own handwriting slandering Jews, but he helped Israel during its formation in 1948 and deserves a pass.

Life is often complicated. This is underlined by the comments in the film of Lt. David Wills responding to the major’s reference to the anti-Semitic statements made by Furtwangler. Wills asks, “Do you know anyone who hasn’t made such comments?” Birgit is reprimanded by the major when she offers a defense of Furtwanger saying he was only trying to save himself. The major reminds her that her father sought to kill Hitler. She replies, “Only after he knew that Germany could not win the war.”

I believe that in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, the Israeli government has recognized about 11,000 righteous gentiles of which about 5,000 were Poles who stood up against Hitler and saved Jews. Think of the numbers who never demurred, or worse participated in the Holocaust, and the millions living in occupied territories that collaborated.

  – Ed Koch

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