Friday, 7 November 2008

REVIEW: "Linie 1" (Film DVD)

Back in July I reviewed the long-running musical Linie 1 after a trip to Berlin. At the time the stage version had just come out on DVD, but getting a copy is difficult: one needs to either visit the GRIPS Theater in Berlin or order a copy directly. As the company doesn’t have the facilities to process credit cards, getting ahold of the disc outside of Germany is troublesome to say the least. Fortunately the 1988 film version has recently been released on mass market DVD after spending over a decade out of print on VHS.

In many ways the film is an easier watch than the stage disc: the movie runs barely 100 minutes (vs. the play’s 180+) which has greatly streamlined the rather messy plot. The film also offers the benefits of specialised casting: while most of the cast were in the original stage version, characters such as the Boy in the Raincoat (played here by Andreas Schmidt, most recently seen in The Counterfeiters) have been recast for age appropriateness whereas the stage DVD cast is full of ageing members about to finish their contracts. The songs also have a poppier and in some places stronger arrangement than on stage (e.g. Hey du.)

That’s about where the benefits end, though. A number of songs (including the haunting 6 Uhr 14 and the angsty Tag ich hasse dich has been replaced with the poppier In jeder GroƟstadt bin ich zu Haus) have been axed, and the design can only be described as bizarre: the film will spend ten minutes in a realist mode only to throw ticket inspectors to smoke filled tunnels or have policemen dancing for one shot of a song while chasing down a busker while moving normally otherwise. Scenes set outside of a train car or station hearken back to the 40’s with a combination of fake buildings and painted backdrops, and the film’s altered ending does nothing for the sake of clarity. It’s not bad like the RENT movie was, largely due to the continued input of the theatrical creators, but the aesthetic is jarring and may put viewers off the first time through.

The filmed Linie 1 also fails to tackle some of the play’s larger themes, such as urban anonymity: the Girl is given a proper name (Sunny) as is the Boy (Humphrey - three guesses as to why) and even though it’s a minor issue given the wholesale reduction of material, it takes away some of the magic and the grit. I’d need to pull out the stage DVD or the script books to check, but I suspect the play’s extensive use of Berlin dialect has been toned down, though it’s still present.

As far as the DVD itself is concerned, the film is presented in a 1.66 aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The print has been newly telecined (with 4% PAL speedup) and remastered and the colours are nice and intense with no visible film damage and retains an appropriate amount of film grain. The audio track is straightforward 2.0 stereo encoded in Dolby Digital. As is annoyingly standard for German releases there are no subtitles, either in German for the hard of hearing or alternative languages for foreign viewers.

In terms of extras, there’s a 30 minute making of which is mostly talking head footage of Reinhard Hauff (director) and Eberhard Junkersdorf (producer). There’s some interesting discussion of how they adapted the material and some of the technical constraints (getting a real train car into the studio proved rather difficult), a photo gallery with some music, the original trailer, and direct links to the songs. The original press kit is also included as a rather nifty DVD-ROM extra.

Overall, Linie 1 the movie is a product of its era which hasn’t held up as well twenty years on as its inspiration, but it’s an accessible version of the work and is well worth the price (a scant €10 online - cheaper than the OCR) for those who are curious and is available from your German DVD merchant of choice including amazon.de.

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