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Customer Review

36 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Patience? You May Need It, 3 July 2012
This review is from: Patience (After Sebald) [DVD] (DVD)
Following in the footsteps of the narrator of W G Sebald's extraordinary work The Rings of Saturn sadly makes for a most pedestrian experience.
The film is disappointing on so many levels that it left me, as an admirer of Sebald's books, angered and profoundly depressed but, sad to say, not really surprised, given the British tendency to reduce all forms of cultural enterprise to the level of a National Trust magazine feature. One wonders whether director Grant Gee thought at all about the medium he was using or what 'a documentary film' actually means; surely the opportunity was there to explore in a Sebaldian way - allusively, tangentially, playfully - Sebald's extraordinary text and its impact on a generation of artists. Instead, we have a film which is earnest but wearisome; leaden-footed, and deeply unimaginative. Why, for example, are all the people interviewed either British or American? Given that Sebald was German, and wrote in German, achieved literary fame first in Germany and given that his subject, by and large, was the 'tacit conspiracy' of silence in post-war Germany, would it not have been worthwhile to talk to some Germans? It says something about the film's cosily insular outlook - something Sebald repeatedly and pointedly pokes fun at - that even though much is made of his European sensibility, and his work's Nobel Prize-worthy international resonance, the only German accent we hear belongs to Sebald himself. And even though Sebald's highly distinctive and exciting way of creating meaning and of questioning the value of documentary 'evidence' is exactly what all the people in the film are talking about, Gee seems to imagine that a series of images of the places Sebald mentions (rendered somehow more 'meaningful' or 'poetic' by being in black and white, or blurry, or wobbly, or all three) and some close-ups of the pages of the book, somehow magically add up to a worthwhile enterprise. They don't. They add up to some rather dull pictures to go with some rather dull talking and some rather dull music. The people interviewed have, with a few honourable exceptions, very little interesting or perceptive to say about the book, being largely content to try to explain how it works (as if we, as readers, had somehow missed this) how good it is (ditto) or, even more boringly, 'what it meant to them'. The film would probably be so boring for someone who has not already read The Rings of Saturn to sit through that it would put them off Sebald for life, and for those who have read the book it adds absolutely nothing to the experience beyond, perhaps, a sense of wonder that such a magical work can be made to seem so dull. Bewilderingly, Gee even gives space to some deluded individuals who think that by 'mapping' the places Sebald mentions they are doing something other than vapidly parasitizing his work. But their contribution seems positively scintillating in comparison with a final sequence discussing Sebald's untimely death which is as tasteless as it is pretentious.The absence of any adequate critical or artistic engagement with Sebald's work on the part of either the contributors or the film-maker is, given the intellectual generosity and fertility of its subject, profoundly dispiriting.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Jul 2012 19:37:39 BDT
MacGuffin says:
Don't hold back - tell us how you really feel!

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jul 2012 20:53:58 BDT
Trust me, this was mild compared to how I really felt!

Posted on 19 Jul 2012 23:48:52 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Jul 2012 23:49:09 BDT
Uwe Schutte says:
I could not agree more with this review which is spot on in every respect.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jun 2014 18:59:09 BDT
H K Cocker says:
Could you name one or two documentaries whose 'critical or artistic engagement' with their literary subjects does them justice?

Posted on 3 Aug 2014 11:44:11 BDT
Thanks for that rarity, a 1* review that explains the author's viewpoint on rational grounds rather than one line of dismissive abuse and/or regret about "wasting 2 hours of my life". However you won't be pleased, I expect, that your review has motivated me to see this film (but also to read the book which is in my unread pile).

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Aug 2014 21:17:34 BDT
Hope you enjoy reading. Strongly advise you to do this, however, before you watch the film - and would also be interested to know what you think (of both).

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Aug 2014 08:53:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Aug 2014 08:54:36 BDT
H K Cocker says:
Speak again please, vulture. Perhaps I should've prefaced my question with an expression of gratitude like Mr Schutte's since, having read the book and seen the film, I also thought your review spot-on. I didn't mean to challenge it but to appeal to your knowledge of documentaries based on literary works. I asked as someone with virtually no knowledge of such works. [I'll never, for example, see the recent bio-pic on some of Keats's life and work, because I trust Christopher Ricks's revulsion in the New York Review--'The Jane Campion film Bright Star, about the love that John Keats and Fanny Brawne had for one another (more particularly about the love that she had for him), does indeed exercise its imagination. Yet it does not truly exercise ours.'] I ask you again to recommend a couple of things that do truly exercise your imagination because I'd like to see them.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Aug 2014 20:46:17 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Aug 2014 20:51:20 BDT
HKC, thanks for your kind remarks. I don't have a TV any more- for all I know there are lots of good documentaries out there. I'm not a documentary buff. It just struck me watching the Sebald film that it was a missed opportunity, because here was a film-maker who could have decided to use their own medium in a way which complemented Sebald's playful, discursive, digressive but ultimately very serious and affecting work. The fact that they didn't, and the extraordinarily turgid, clichéd and banal quality of the film, left me concluding (perhaps harshly) that they probably hadn't read much Sebald, and perhaps had not understood that his central message is not about having a nice stroll through Suffolk. Maybe the producers just wanted something safe. Sebald, however, deserves better.
PS - Here's a thought: although not a literary subject remember Ken Russell's film about Elgar made for BBC TV in the 60s (before he went bonkers)? There was a film-maker thinking about how best to serve his subject. I believe it's on DVD now.
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