Cinema as the only absolute national language

- by Tinnie P. Esguerra () - October 15, 2000 - 12:00am
Have you heard the anecdote about the film critic who wrote a "smashing review?"

It goes like this: After writing a rather critical review, she meets the director in a party. The guy, then cradling a guitar, looks up, sees her, stands up and hits her with the guitar.

It seems like the stuff you’d see only in the celluloid flicks, but here’s the catch: it really happened – to an esteemed critic, no less!

Today, Christa Maerker looks back at that incident with fond amusement.

She is perhaps one of the most powerful figures in German cinema. A respected film critic, journalist and filmmaker, her words are taken as gospel truth and her mere presence lends credibility to movie premieres and festivals. Her books include extensive profiles on Philip Roth, John Wayne, James Cagney, Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski, to name a few.

A Berlin native, she has been conducting lecture tours for the Goethe Institut, shuttling to and from the US, Canada, New Zealand and a few Southeast Asian countries.

Christa flew in recently to grace the opening of the just-concluded German film festival. A joint project of Shangri-La and the Goethe Institut, the festival’s theme for this year was "Women and Film."

With such conviviality and candor uncharacteristic of most critics, Christa effortlessly captured the hearts of the few media guests invited to the opening ceremonies. Her movements were brisk and snappy, jabbing mid-air to make a point, occasionally hitting passersby and flirting graciously with those within earshot.

Maybe it was the caffeine. On her 10th cup of decaf for the day, and with an endless supply of nicotine, she talked fervently about her cinematic passion.

Her love affair with cinema started when she was 11. "I had a girl friend whose mom was a nurse, and one of her regular patients was a cinema owner who had to see her everyday for a series of injections. Lucky for us, he paid using theater tickets, so, me and my friend would sneak into the grown-up films, sitting in the last row. I just loved it!," she recalls.

Ironically, she did not study film or its related disciplines. "I studied Economics in London. It was an exchange program, so it was easy to handle. I stopped that soon, went to the movies, wanted to be a journalist, started as a journalist and wrote for a newspaper in Berlin."

"The paper’s film critic died and I was asked to do it. I did it and loved it! I felt very powerful at such a very young age. Looking back now, I realized that abusing that power was so unfair. Imagine, you had the chance to say no to a work which involved other people."

Instead of the stuffy, technical stance adopted by the usual crop of critics, Christa opts for a more Zen-like approach when asked to cite the essential traits for would-be critics. "It must be common sense combined with soul, a good eye and good mind. They should also pass the test of decency and fairness."

What about filmmaking knowledge? "Knowledge has nothing to do with filmmaking. You have to learn to be a psychoanalyst, a sister, a girlfriend and a mother. You have to learn things that have nothing to do with making a film," she emphasizes.

"My first film was a catastrophe. I had an alcoholic cameraman who kept saying, "I can’t work!" In 1974, when I did my first documentary about women in jail, I had to interview many inmates, and this camera guy kept focusing on legs! That film would’ve been a wonderful study for film students, since it was so full of mistakes," she candidly admits.

Her fascination with journalism can be attributed to her penchant for facts. Armed with such zeal, it is not surprising to know that personal profiles are her best work. And true enough, a sizeable bulk of her career has been spent hobnobbing with the likes of John Wayne, James Cagney, writer Philip Roth, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Mel Brooks, Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski.

Asked to name her favorite personality, she said, "One of the most important people I met in my life is a leprosy patient in Hawaii. He’s 65 now and he’s one of the richest, most tolerant people, in my book. What his sickness has made of him is so incredible. I go and visit him every year."

Cinema, according to Christa, should have no boundaries. "I don’t think there are any differences between German and other foreign films. Why do you think there are? Cinema is the only absolute national language. If you look at Chaplin in his silent films, you didn’t need anybody to translate anywhere in the world. I wish films could be like this today."

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with