Walker Evans/America. Aired on PBS, Spring, 2000
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 30, Number 2, 2000
- pp. 77-78
- Additional Information
Regular Feature | Film Reviews from Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire. Tellingly, Schroeterhas Hoppe read Lady Macbeth's soliloquy, "Out, Damn Spot!" as she refuses to discuss her close involvement with the Nazi regime. The film is at times too allusive, requiring that the spectator already know a considerable amount about the actress's life, but it remains a positive yet probing study of a controversial character Thomas Heise's documentary about the radical rightwing milieu in the suburban area of Halle called Neustadt was highly controversial. Several years ago, Heise provoked harsh reactions for a documentary about the same subject, Stau— Jetzt geht's Los (Jammed), because of his studiously nonjudgmental treatment ofthe radical right. Now he returns to the subject with the same technique in a documentary called Neustadt: Stau—DerStand derDinge (Neustadt: Jammed—The Status Quo). He interviews members of a large family, all of whom have some connections with the far right. The men have pictures painted by Hitler on their walls, are working off 12,000mark debts for damages caused while beating up foreigners, and yearn for a middle way between capitalism and socialism with an authoritarian government. One woman refuses to speak on camera, because she plans to be a lawyer for the cause and doesn't want to hurt her professional chances. The social situation is desperately lower middle class; the families afflicted with alcoholism , spousal abuse, unemployment and a general sense of hopelessness. The film's concentration on poverty is deceptive— one gets the sense that poverty and far-right thinking are identical in Germany, yet one of the men tells the interviewer that his rent is paid by supporters of the party, who are presumably financially comfortable. After the screening, there were boos from the audience, many ofwhom felt that Heise had once again sentimentalized the radical right. But without this film, many in die audience might have complacently ignored the plight of the poor and the rise of the right in eastern Germany. Overall, it is certainly not the case that German films currently exhibit a stronger moral stance than other films. Indeed, the more mainstream films seem to exhibit a certain moral obtuseness to issues of anti-Semitism and patriarchy, which is all the more noticeable because of the claim to the moral high ground. But among the smaller German films and documentaries , the foregrounding of the complicated relationship of the medium to the message is noticeable. Robert Tobin Whitman College Tobin @ whitman, edu Walker Evans/America (Aired on PBS, Spring, 2000) "I guess I am deeply in love with America, really . . . traditional , old style America." Walker Evans "America was big business and I wanted to escape. It nauseated me." Walker Evans Honored this spring with a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum ofArt, a group show at the Museum of Modern Art and biographical feature essays in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, 20th century American photographer Walker Evans has achieved something akin to cult status among 21st century critics and historians. Described as "a charming rebel in a Brooks Brothers suit" whose moving images ofDepression-eraAmerica redefined the documentary style, Evans was the first photographer to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art and has been credited with single-handedly revolutionizing 20th century photography. His puritanical "portraits" ofvernacularnineteenthcentury architecture have elicited comparisons to EugeneAtget's photos and Edward Hopper's paintings while his candid "common man" shots of New York subway passengers and Alabama tenant farmers earned Evans a reputation as "the Walt Whitman of photography." Still more impressive is the list ofmodern artists who count Evans' work as crucial to their own aesthetic development. Pop artists Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol found inspiration in Evans' images of commercial billboards and gas station fuel pumps. Photographers Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston admired the narrative complexity and honesty ofhis documentary approach as well as his valorization of America's underclasses. Add to this acclaimYale's School ofArt Dean Richard Benson's recent declaration that Evans is the great artist of our time and it's not difficult to see why PBS supported the production of Sedat Pakay's documentary film Walker...