The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
is a disturbing and timely exploration of the media's reckless disregard for individual freedoms and common decency. Based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Boll, the 1975 film tells the story of one Katharina Blum, an unassuming, hard-working, and faithful servant to her friends and employers, who is accused of knowing and harboring wanted man Ludwig Goetten (Jurgen Prochnow). But aside from just being hauled in for questioning by a coldly efficient government official named Beizmenne (Mario Adorf), it is Beizmenne's collaboration on the side with Geraldo-esque tabloid "journalist" Werner Toetgess (Dieter Laser) that truly wrecks this Everywoman's life. With no regard to any notion of civil liberties, Beizmenne and Toetgess's double-barreled shotgun of government intrusion and media spectacle brings down on Katharina's head the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for Supreme Court justice nominees in America.
Criterion has issued an excellent edition of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
onto DVD. Per their usual standards that redefine excellence and quality, Criterion's disc does not disappoint. In addition to a crisp transfer of the film, Criterion provides a cornucopia of supplemental material, even for a film that may have heretofore escaped the attention of most American viewers. There is a lengthy interview with the co-directors, Schlondorff and von Trotta, both separate and together. Among the topics they discuss are the particular reasons why they chose to adapt Boll's novel, as well as the unique situation of a husband and wife team co-directing a major motion picture together. The co-directors are not the only ones who chime in; cinematographer Jost Vacano, who later went on to serve as DP under Wolfgang Peterson on Das Boot
(1981) and Paul Verhoeven on Robocop
(1987) and Starship Troopers
(1997), talks about his particular visual style that he brought to the project. Even Heinrich Boll shows up, courtesy of a documentary interview filmed during the 1970s. A lengthy and well-written essay delves into the themes of violation and loss of freedom from an uninhibited media and quasi-fascist government.
If one had to choose the "evil of two lessers," it is the media that is nailed in the most damning crosshairs. The media, whether it is the inhuman Toetgess or the pervasive and perverted "The Paper," the rag Toetgess writes for, the media as a whole is portrayed as a swarm of locusts. Philip Kaufman, in his film The Right Stuff
(1984), took the metaphor one step further by actually providing insect sound effects over the shutterbug reporters that pry into the astronauts' lives. But in that film, the metaphor remained in the realm of satire. Katharina Blum's ordeal is no satire, but it is absurd. Our fascination with the media's incessant digging into even the minutest details of her life, measured to the smallest mark or kilometer, causes us to forget about why she's being investigated in the first place. It's not the end result of the media's investigation; it is Katharina's harrowingly unpleasant experience of being dragged through the headlines that destroys her life.
Like Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd
(1957), another jarring depiction of the media's impact on our lives, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
is a scary piece of fiction that has a habit of foretelling actual events of private people being publicly flayed by the media machinery. Richard Jewel, the hero in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta whose reputation was destroyed by an inept criminal investigation and a reckless local newspaper, is but one example of Katharina Blum's unfortunate truth.
For more information about The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
, visit Criterion Collection
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by Scott McGee
Co-directed by Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta,