Berlin Alexanderplatz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Shot on 16mm film, this tended to be an unattractive presentation.
How much of the unappealing visuals stemmed from the original photography or from deterioration in the source remained unclear to me. Given the 16mm photography, Berlin started out with inevitable issues.
In addition, even though the film wasn’t shot that long ago, apparently the negative went downhill quickly. That necessitated a restoration effort in 2006.
Whatever the circumstances, I can say that Berlin offered consistently bland visuals, without any obvious strengths on display. Sharpness appeared generally decent, as the image usually gave us acceptable delineation.
However, softness became a factor in wider shots, and heavy grain diminished clarity as well. Berlin offered a seriously grainy film much of the time, and that impacted the overall presentation.
No obvious signs of jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and edge haloes remained absent. Print flaws largely remained absent, but occasional instances of small specks or lines popped up at times.
In terms of colors, Berlin opted for a palette that heavily favored a yellow/sepia look. The hues felt bland and lackluster.
Blacks seemed acceptably dark, but shadows could become somewhat dense and muddy. While I suspect Criterion did the best they could with the source, this nonetheless became a less than appealing presentation.
Similar thoughts greeted the wholly average DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Berlin, as it failed to make a positive impact. That said, it worked fine given its age and origins, with music that seemed reasonably robust and concise.
Effects could be a little shrill at times, but they usually seemed fairly accurate. Dialogue also mainly felt well-reproduced, despite some reedy lines at times. Nothing here impressed but the mix was adequate for the material.
All the package’s extras appear on a fourth disc, and these open with a documentary called A Mega Movie And Its Story. This one-hour, five-minute, 10-second program brings notes from costume designer Barbara Baum, artistic collaborator Harry Baer, line producer Dieter Minx, producer Günter Rohrbach, director of photography Xaver Schwarzenberger, critic Wolfram Schutte, MOMA Department of Film curator Laurence Kardish, editor Juliane Lorenz and actors Hanna Schygulla, Günter Lamprecht, Gottfried John, and Barbara Sukowa. We also hear from late director Rainer Werner Fassbinder circa 1979.
“Story” looks at story/characters, cast and performances, costumes, sets and locations, photography, and reactions to the film. “Story” offers some good moments – especially when we see behind the scenes footage from the shoot – but it’s a bit too scattershot to tell a coherent tale of the production.
With Notes on the Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz, we get a documentary shot in 1979. It runs 44 minutes, 10 seconds and mainly focuses on behind the scenes footage from the set.
A narrator provides notes about the production and the source novel, but the material from the shoot remains the biggest draw. I like the ability to get a candid view of the set and think this becomes an enjoyable program.
For a look at technical elements, we go to the 31-minute, 58-second Notes on the Restoration. Here we find comments from Schwarzenberger, Rohrbach, Fassbinder Foundation director Juliane Lorenz and restoration crew members Josef Reidinger, Steven Stuaert, Sueda Yamac, Alexander Klippe, Bianca Stumpf, Michael Welzel, and Bettina Winter.
As expected, we get details about the methods use to improve the picture and audio of Berlin. Some of this proves interesting, but at more than a half-hour, “Notes” goes on too long.
Next we get the 1931 Version of Berlin Alexanderplatz. This film goes for one hour, 23 minutes, 56 seconds and comes from a screenplay written by original novelist Alfred Döblin himself.
Given that it runs 822 minutes shorter than the 1980 version, one obviously can assume that the 1931 film omits a whole lot of story and character elements. The 1931 Berlin streamlines the tale to an extreme and brings a severely abbreviated edition.
The rapidity with which we careen through Berlin makes it more appealing than the paint-dry pace of the mini-series, but it doesn’t render an appealing take on the material. Shorn of everything other than the most basic plot points, this Berlin fails to provide a particularly coherent film. It’s interesting as a curiosity but it doesn’t turn into an effective movie.
To finish Disc Four, we find an Interview with History Professor Peter Jelavich. Recorded in 2007, this 23-minute, 54-second chat discusses the source novel, themes, history and adaptations. Jelavich brings a nice overview of the book and its subsequent life.
The package also includes a booklet. It provides an essay from filmmaker Tom Tykwer, discussions of the novel from Fassbinder and author Thomas Steinfeld, and a chat with Schwarzenberger. It becomes one of Criterion’s better booklets.
With 15 hours at its disposal, one might expect Berlin Alexanderplatz to present a rich, dynamic character drama. Instead, the mini-series offers a sluggish, dull, and largely pointless exploration of how much tedium a viewer can tolerate. The Blu-rays come with mediocre visuals and audio as well as a fairly positive package of supplements. I can’t believe I wasted 15 hours of my life on this nonsense.