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Friday, December 28, 2012

Die Feuerzangenbowle (1944)

(unfortunately the youTube video of this 1944 movie is no more available)

Okay, before starting the talk over Feuerzangebowle the movie, let's explain a little bit what a Feuerzangenbowle means. It's a traditional German drink, a punch made basically from rum and mulled wine: a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set over a bowl filled with heated dry red wine (mixed with the usual ingredients, cinnamon, cloves, all that stuff). Important details: the sugarloaf (more exactly a hat made of sugar, ein Zuckerhut) should be around seven inches high and the rum should have at least 54% alcoholic concentration. The bowl (with the sugarloaf on top) is suspended over a fire, thus the sugar saturated with rum drips into the wine. After the whole Zuckerhut disappears into the bowl, you start drinking. Here is the impression of someone who was visiting Germany and attended such a celebration: one shot ignites a deep warmth and sense of charitable giving, two shots bypass one's social inhibitions and encourages inviting strangers to waltz, three shots disconnect one's legs, hastening the necessity of a taxi for the 3 minute journey back to the hotel (http://bourbonandpearls.blogspot.com/2011/12/die-feuerzangenbowle.html). The name translates literally as fire-tongues bowl, which makes sense: after four shots one starts to speak in tongues. What's essential, this drink is prepared on the spot, during the meeting of those who will consume it, thus preparation and drinking form together a sophisticated ritual, calling in mind masonic initiations or chivalric stories. It's not for everyone, and actually the honor of a Feuerzangenbowle is reserved for those who deserve it, a Studentenverbindung or something.

The movie opens with a group of gentlemen gathered around a Feuerzangenbowle, each one is telling great stories from distant schooldays as the shots go on. There is among them a guy without such memories: a well-known writer, Dr. Pfeiffer (played by Heinz Rühmann) who hadn't go to the public school in his childhood, being taught at home. After a sufficient number of shots, Dr. Pfeiffer decides to masquerade in a student and go to the high school, and get this way his own stories to remember. He quickly becomes the number one prankster in school and together with the other students torments the professors. Did Dr. Pfeiffer really go incognito to the high school or rather was it a dream due to drunkenness? You'll never know, but does it matter? The continuous flow of pranks, going crazier and crazier, is simply irresistible.

It was the most famous movie of Heinz Rühmann and it got in Germany a cult status: during party-like showings in university auditoriums in early December, students bring props to participate in the movie’s action; for example, the audience will ring alarm-clocks whenever an alarm-clock rings in the movie and use flashlights when Pfeiffer uses a pocket mirror to pinpoint the location of the Goths on a map behind the teacher in order to help a fellow student in history class; in 2006, more than 10,000 students participated in this tradition in Göttingen alone (wiki).

Now, the thing is that if you aren't fluent in German, you will miss most of the charm this movie has: it's about wordplays and about old teachers having funny accents. Well, I'm far from fluency in German, so I could only imagine how much I were to be gained by the film. It remained though the rhythm of the follies: even if you don't know the language, you get the atmosphere, it doesn't give you a moment to breathe.

The movie was actually a remake: the first version, made in 1934 (So ein Flegel), was also starring Heinz Rühmann. Here is this original movie, as I found it on youTube:

Some consider that first version better (see for instance Jan Onderwater), but most reviewers saw the version from 1944 as the timeless escapist masterpiece. There is however the ambivalence of an escapist German movie produced in 1944. Here are pros and cons, naturally, and I'll send you in this respect to the considerations that I found in Die Feuerzangenbowle (1944 film) / Historic context and criticism.

And another remake was made in 1970 (with Nadja Tiller in the role of Marion, I knew her from El Hakim):

Dieser Film ist ein Loblieb auf die Schule, aber es ist möglich, daß die Schule es nicht merkt.

(Heinz Rühmann)

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