Married independent filmmakers Ross McElwee and Marilyn Levine shot a documentary film about the Berlin Wall in 1986, the climax of which was to be the 25th anniversary celebration on August 13th, and attendant demonstrations against the dividing line, erected in 1961, between East and
West Berlin. But history intervened; before they could finish editing their film, the 100-mile-long, graffiti-covered wall came tumbling down, after 28 years of existence, in 1989, heralding the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The filmmakers returned, now armed with
their infant son, to see what was going on.
In the earlier footage, the pair pretty much just filmed everyday events by the Wall, around the famous Checkpoint Charlie, and interviewed American border guards and tourists, who blithely bounce jokes off it, and West Germans living in the shadow of it, including John Runnings, an aged,
eccentric American protester who walks a mile along the top of it, hoping to be arrested by the East Germans (at another point, he weakly takes a sledgehammer to it); Gunther Heinrich, who's living in an abandoned bus with his young son; Sigi Schmidt-Joos and Katherine Brigl, who run a radio
interview program; and photographer Michael Lange, who makes a living photographing the Wall for magazines and enthusiastically describes it as "better than Disney World."
When the filmmakers return, three years later, McElwee (who made the wittily autobiographical SHERMAN'S MARCH) and Levine look up and re-interview the same people, except for Runnings, who was in a Seattle jail for creating a disturbance while distributing leaflets at a local shopping mall. In
one sense, it was a stroke of good luck that history got in the way, since the documentary meanders, the people aren't all that interesting, and the "climactic" 25th anniversary comes across as a bit of a bust, mostly composed of TV crews, East and West Germans, including police, and tourists
(and, of course, the McElwees) all standing around and filming each other filming, especially one fellow, mainly by default, as he's the only one actually doing something, writing on the street with his own pricked finger "Down With The Bloody Wall."
SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE WALL is naggingly interesting but non-incisive, with the later footage somewhat surprisingly unmoving, considering the world-changing historical event that has just occurred. (Profanity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: Married independent filmmakers Ross McElwee and Marilyn Levine shot a documentary film about the Berlin Wall in 1986, the climax of which was to be the 25th anniversary celebration on August 13th, and attendant demonstrations against the dividing line, ere… (more)