Saturday, November 27, 2010


For reasons that are not really very clear, not even to me, I subscribe to a weekly e-mail newsletter that lets me know what films are playing in the Programmkinos of the Ruhr region in Germany. I live in Utah now, and the likelihood that I would attend a showing of say, Броненосец Потёмкин (The Battleship Potemkin) by spontaneously hopping a flight to Düsseldorf, hovers right around zero. I should cancel my e-mail subscription, but I don't. I think I keep it for the same reason that people buy exercise machines that gather dust in the basement. A combination of wishful thinking and just plain foolishness.

A Programmkino is what we in the US would call an "art cinema" or something like that. My first art cinema was the Avon in Providence, RI, where I saw Seven Beauties and my first Woody Allen films. I think we might have called it a "revival cinema" or even a "revival house." I visited the Avon Cinema website to check, but they don't call themselves anything but "The Avon Cinema." They are still there though, and still showing Grand Illusion and The Seventh Seal to each new class of first-year students at Brown, RISD, and to the odd townie.

I don't really know why I read this newsletter every week, but I do and I was surprised this week to see that Berhard Schlink is appearing on stage at the Lichtburg to read from his latest book, Sommerlügen. If I were in Essen now, instead of northern Utah, I would certainly be attending this event! Schlink is a great author and all-around clever guy. But in spite of my excitement, I find two things about this announcement disconcerting: first, I'm irritated to be missing an event I'm sure I would have enjoyed, and second the picture of Schlink makes him look uncommonly goofy.

I admire Schlink, but don't think I had ever seen a picture of him before. I'm not so shallow as to judge people only by their personal appearance, but I was sort of hoping the author of The Reader would radiate a little more gravitas. I've read almost everything he's written and in some cases the "reading" was actually listening to the novel read aloud on CD or tape, by the author himself. His voice sure didn't sound like the guy pictured above.

Schlink was trained as an attorney, but began writing in the late eighties with a detective novel called Selbs Justiz.  I didn't learn of his work myself until about 2001, when I read Der Vorleser for the first time. As most Americans probably know, the novel is about a teenager who has an affair with a woman in her thirties. She vanishes from his life when he graduates Gymnasium, but he meets her again, when as a part of his law training, he winds up attending her trial for war crimes. It's a fascinating book, with many of the attributes of detective fiction, but none of its drawbacks. The book became a bestseller both in Germany and the United States and was translated into 39 languages. It was the first German book to reach the number one position in the New York Times bestseller list.

So was I over reacting? Maybe the image in the Essenerfilmtheater newsletter wasn't so bad. I checked it again, and there was still something distinctly avian about Schlink's appearance. He looked like a seagull. No, an albatross. In fact he looked to me like that Disney character in the Rescuers Down Under. Wilbur.

I've heard it said that we dislike most in others, that part of them that reminds us of ourselves. As I looked for more images of Herr Schlink, my initial perception was confirmed. Most certainly bird-like, but he did begin to remind me more and more of myself. Mouth a little thin, nose somewhat beak-like. And like me, Schlink is probably a sterling fellow, in spite of not looking like a movie star. In fact, the best of us have flaws. One has only to think of Barak Obama's ears.

And the good news here is that the book Schlink will read from is a new one. He's retired from his position at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin now and maybe he'll have more time for writing. I'll look forward to reading the new book this summer, maybe while I'm back in Rhode Island. I really ought to check out the Avon cinema in Providence again too. With any luck, they'll be showing The Reader while I'm there and I'll be able to get my favorite balcony seat to relive old memories. I really ought to subscribe to their newsletter so I can keep up on the schedule.