Movie Monday: The Counterfeiters (2007)

counterfeitersWritten and directed by Stefan Ruzitowsky, The Counterfeiters won an Oscar when it came out back in 2007. The film stars Karl Markovics as Salomon Sorowitsch, a Ukrainian-German counterfeiter who was involved in Aktion Bernhard, a German plan to attack the economies of Britain and the United States by circulating forged banknotes. Printers, engravers and so on were recruited from among the inmates to work on the project and Sorowitsch was one of them; they enjoyed a relatively privileged status, with better food and more humane conditions — essentially the film portrays it as being in prison, which is a significant step up from being in a concentration camp, I guess.

I have less to say about this than I often do about Movie Monday selections; although it is a historical film, and its events seem close (in the usual streamlined, simplified way) to the actual events of the counterfeiting plan, it’s primarily a character piece that looks at the ways people react to being in a concentration camp. Sorowitsch’s fellow inmates range from political radicals to respectable German citizens to hapless victims who’ve blagged their way into a detail they think will be easier for them. Sorowitsch himself is an interesting case — a lifelong criminal, he treats being in a camp like being in jail, with all the rules of jail applying.

Holocaust films often try to find a redemptive or uplifting aspect in the story, but there actually isn’t much of one here, which I like. People cling to whatever they cling to to help them not go crazy in the camp — not survive in the camp, because it’s clear that isn’t up to them. Salomon gets by by being a son of a bitch, but it’s clear that a lot of that is luck; not all sons of bitches survive. I guess he gets a little of his own back at the very end, where he turns the tables on the SS officer who runs the program, Bernhard Kruger, reducing him to the same terrified, humiliated state that the Germans mock the Jews for.

But even then, Kruger is quite an ambiguous character — inmates (including Sorowitsch?) provided testimony that helped him get off without punishment after the war, and he claimed that one of the reasons he started the dollar project was to prevent the inmates who worked for him from being killed. That doesn’t make him a hero, though; the film clearly portrays him as short-sighted, self-interested and motivated largely by self-image. He wants to be liked and to think of himself as a good guy; there’s a brilliant scene in which he gives the inmates a ping-pong table as a reward, and when they’re not impressed with it he’s hurt and embarrassed.

As with all of these things, one wonders about the larger historical context — the forgery plot is presented as something that would have really helped Germany win the war, which seems unlikely. But then if you watch war movies, you’ll discover that there were many many secret German projects, and each one of them would have won the war for Hitler if not for a plucky band of etc., etc. That isn’t the narrative of this film per se, but it does feel like they want to establish that there’s some significance to the story outside of just being this one guy and his experiences.

Anyway, I thought it was good; well-made, atmospheric, well-acted, thoroughly depressing. It’s on Amazon UK at the moment, I believe.

Movie Monday: The Counterfeiters (2007)

I got nothin’

A while back I went on a regular schedule for this blog — well, regularish anyway. One week I post on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the next I post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, alternating with my gaming blog. So here it is Thursday and … I got nothin’. My brain is full of other topics, but I’ve set myself a schedule that doesn’t accommodate them. It’s my own fault, of course — the proverbial rod for my own back — but I think that overall the schedule has helped me write more so I’m reluctant to abandon it.

I do have a piece lined up for Monday, so normal service will be resumed then. But today I got nothin’. Please enjoy this humorous and yet saddening advertisement from The Wipers Times.

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And if you think that’s dark for a Thursday, there’s concentration camps in Monday’s post.

I got nothin’

Old books and geographical confusion!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I spend a lot of my leisure time browsing used book stores, charity shops and car boot sales. I often buy old history, especially popular history, books if I see them for cheap — like this 50p car boot sale find!

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Hey, Early England is my specialist subject! Let’s see what we can learn.

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OK, a geography prize in 1929. Not bad condition for its age. Let’s see if we can learn something about geography!

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That Beowulf takes us off to a good start, but I was really hoping to learn more about early England!

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What?!

whereland

bigland

england

hugeland

That is the first story in the book.

I don’t think that’s a great thing to do to someone who you want to encourage to be good at geography.

Old books and geographical confusion!

Welcome Lovecraft fans!

If you’re just visiting this blog from Tentaclii, welcome! I hope you enjoy reading. If you like the stuff you find here, may I recommend some other Lovecraftian things I’ve written that you might enjoy?

Over on another blog I write for, Bad Movie Marathon, we’re reviewing HPL-based movies in a foolhardy project we call The Summer of Lovecraft

Also, I have a gaming blog, on which I have written a few Lovecraft-relevant pieces such as Part 1 and Part 2 of “What Makes a Monster ‘Lovecraftian’?”

And of course I wrote a Lovecraft-inspired novella set in the 9th century, The Barest Branch, available in the ebook format of your choice as long as it’s .mobi or PDF from Amazon UK, Amazon US or DriveThru. Or if you’re in Japan or whatever, you should just be able to search for it on your local Amazon and it’ll come up.

Thanks for reading!

Welcome Lovecraft fans!

Charming nonsense

So, I have mentioned on my other blog that on my last trip to the metropolis I picked up a cheap copy of Joscelyn Godwin’s Athanasius Kircher: A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge: A Late Renaissance Philosopher and Scientist (Art and Imagination).

And very nice it is, too. Athanasius Kircher, for those who don’t know of him, was a 17th-century Jesuit who studied everything, from music to historical linguistics to engineering to ancient history to the culture of China. He’s been called “the last polymath,” and while I don’t know about that, the breadth and erudition of his studies is breathtaking. But there’s one aspect of Kircher’s work that sets him apart from contemporaries like Kepler and, I dunno, Newton or whoever:

It’s all bollocks.*

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Like, for instance, Kircher tried to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs, but he didn’t really know anything about them and he had a lot of goofball ideas about mysticism, so instead of actually translating them like Jean-Francois Champollion would eventually go on to, he just … made a bunch of stuff up. It’s fascinating from a history-of-science type of perspective, but Egyptologically it’s just a fantasy.

(*I’m sure it’s not all bollocks; dude wrote a billion thing, and I’m sure one or two of ’em are true.)

Or he tried to map the rivers of the world, claiming that each continent has a particular underground source from which all its rivers flow. A fascinating idea, and super interesting in terms of thinking about medieval and post-medieval cosmology. But it’s not actually true.

So far so much the usual in the history of science. Kircher spent a long time on the same highways to nowhere as a lot of other Renaissance and medieval thinkers, he just did it harder, he did it faster and he definitely did it with more love, baby. And there are some amazing engravings; it is really the amazing engravings I bought it for.

But what really makes this book fascinating to me is Joscelyn Godwin, who clearly writes with a lot of love for Kircher. And who wouldn’t? He was clearly an exceptional scholar, thinker and writer. But Godwin is so attached to him that he just can’t accept that, you know, it’s all nonsense.

Or so I thought as I started the book and read passages like this:

Yet there are those who regard the last three centuries of ‘practical results’ as an utter aberration, and modern man as guilty of far worse errors than Kircher ever made. To the mockers of geocentricity they reply that symbolic truth is ultimately of more value than physical information. Are we wiser or better for knowing our earth not as the centre of the universe but as a speck of cosmic dust?

That’s what we call a “category error”.

But as I got into it I began to notice all these remarks about the inward Sun and the “revelations of the Theosophists” and that “the Deluge itself is no fable, but an account of the fate of the mid-Atlantic continent whose remains are even now coming to light.”

And that was when I remembered where I’d heard that name before. They got a bona fide Atlantis believer and Theosophy dude to write this book. At Thames and Hudson! OK, in 1979, but still. It’s like finding a coelacanth. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I’m just surprised.

Hi kids!
Hi kids!

But what bugs me about Godwin’s analysis, and maybe all esoteric readings of history, is that the mystery and power of the trappings is so much greater than the information it supposedly conveys. Godwin tells us, for instance, that:

Kircher concluded that [Egyptian hieroglyphs] enshrined ‘not histories or eulogies of kings, but the highest mysteries of Divinity’ … and spurned any lowlier interpretation. … His interpretation of the hieroglyphs was therefore strictly inductive: he took what he had learnt from later philosophy and read it into them.

“Lowlier” is a funny way of saying “actually correct.” And then this character has the unmitigated gall to say that this mystical interpretation is actually better than the real one.

Are you shitting me?!

Listen, not-present-35-years-ago-guy: I don’t need deep ancient wisdom to tell me a bunch of shit I already know, and, and I’m just spitballing here, but maybe listening to what other cultures actually had to say for themselves instead of erasing it and replacing it with your empty-headed hippiefication of some other culture’s philosophy could be good for the soul? Because I don’t know if I’m better or wiser than guys from the Thirty Years’ fucking War**, but I suspect that openness to actual new knowledge instead of self-comforting psychoblather dressed up in fake Horus hats might be good for the thinkybrain.

It would be a little more acceptable if the answer were something better than wah wah inner light, wah wah world soul, wah wah spiritual enlightenment. If you’re going to give me an ancient secret, I want an alien death ray, minimum. Or at least a terrifying new vista of reality. “Inner Sun” my ass.

To summarise, I like this book and it has a lot of very pretty pictures, and the text is by someone who likes Kircher and is very informed and informative about his work, but he pushed one of my buttons and work has been buying me sodas all afternoon so I’ve had a little more caffeine than is probably good for me. Sorry, Joscelyn Godwin; I’m sure you’re actually a good dude.

(** PS I don’t know if I am wiser than Thirty Years’ War guys, but I have stabbed a lot fewer people.)

Charming nonsense