In a bi-monthly collaboration with Berlin Community Radio, The Berlin Film Journal brings The Kino Connection, a radio show to guide you through a weird and wonderful maze of film soundtracks, twisting and turning on the points of links that would otherwise have remained hidden. Listen to the podcast (just there ↓) and hear Elle taking us through the music, giving us the themes and the links; masterminding the operation as we explore the films she pulls up for us.
This week we look at Odd Couples, the central conceit of more films than you’d think. We begin with a scattered animated documentary, a conversation about philosophy and linguistics and a more European approach to exploring the meaning of existence than the film we end with; a grand epic of American identity and progression. In between are films where the apparent oddity of the couples lies in race, religion, rock, romance and the ridiculousness of being a teenager.
We start then with Michel Gondry’s 2013 documentary “Is the Man who is Tall Happy?” an animated conversation between the eccentric director and Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, academic, political activist and, as it turns out, quite a sweet man. The film largely gives Chomsky room to explain what he wants but the doodling interruptions and clever image of Gondry as an 8mm projector shows us how one brain perceives another.
Artist: HCD 1
Track: Surface Tension 1
Next on the list is My Beautiful Launderette by Stephen Frears, a very British film, which explores a homosexual relationship between Johnny, (Daniel Day-Lewis) a white street punk, and the Pakistani manager of a launderette, Omar (Gordon Warnecke) against the backdrop of contemporary Thatcherism. It is a film of two outsiders – who would be poor, or of an ethnic minority, or gay in the 80s? – who come together regardless. The film is one which gave Day-Lewis his big break, but all the performances are touching, and orient us to some extent to the worlds of difference within one city.
Artist: Starshine Orchestra
Track: Theme from My Beautiful Launderette
Number 3 is another of Frears’ films, High Fidelity. There are a number of odd couples in this film, most obviously between Rob and his veritable deluge of exes, all of whom are unsuitable and somewhere on an insanity spectrum (Hornby writes well, but not so favourably towards women). My favourite odd couple in the film however is between Rob’s two underlings Dick (Todd Lousio) and Barry (Jack Black) who represent the two poles of music appreciation, nerdy introspection and taste fascism.
Artist: The Chemical Brothers
4th is cult classic Wayne’s World. Whilst other couples have been odd because of their differences, this couple, Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey), is odd simply because they themselves are odd. Hosts of a popular music show, the pair lust after beautiful women, and subtly make fun of the people they interview before they hit the Big Time, obviously bringing dissatisfaction, a break up in the friendship, and the inevitable reunion. And “Schwing”.
Artist: Jimi Hendrix
Track: Foxy Lady
At 5 is another teenage film that garnered something of a cult following: Mean Girls. Damien (“too gay to function” what a line!) and Janis are funny, weird and at the same time as normal as you’re allowed to be in a film which satirises high-school stereotypes (most films in this vein are unwatchably clichéd, Mark Waters does well in that regard). They win the day, but nothing changed in my school.
6th is Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (played by Amanda Seyfried) a film about a call girl, expert seductress and enigma. She strikes up some sort of relationship with gynaecologist Catherine (Juliane Moore), who proposes Chloe trap her husband (Liam Neeson) so she can prove adultery. What happens instead is that Chloe seduces Catherine as all kinds of eroticism abound in this sweaty palmed story.
Artist: Great Lake Swim
Track: Your Rocky Spine
The 7th film is absurd. Kindergarten Cop sees Arnold Schwarzenegger as an undercover cop forced to teach a bunch of 5 year olds as he hunts down a kidnapping, drug pushing slime. Managing what he does best, gentle comedy (he is laughable, not deadly) Arnie also balances a little romance with genuine teacher Joyce (Penelope Ann Miller) before the obligatory violence of the film’s ending.
Artist: Randy Endelman
Track: The Tower/Everything is OK
Number 8! Sid and Nancy, by Alex Cox. A sad couple from music history and evidence of Hunter S Thompson’s wicked line “you can turn your back on a person. But never turn your back on a drug.” Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb play in the title roles with no restraint, neither glorifying nor demonising and make the film possibly the best on today’s list; a harsh glimpse of how punk became a money game, where success depended for a little while on how unhappy you could make yourself.
Artist: The Pogues
The penultimate film is a strange coupling in itself between religious crusade and post-apocalyptic thriller. The Hughes’ Brothers’ The Book of Eli follows Denzel Washington in the title role, entrusted by God (who has decided to intervene in the affairs of the world after having let itself get blown to smithereens) to deliver the bible to the other side of the US. On the way he meets Solara (Mila Kunis) a victim of Gary Oldman’s warlord and the two help each other out without any real understanding of each other’s lives.
Artist: Anita Ward
Track: Ring My Bell
Lastly, the American epic, Once Upon a Time in America, by Sergio Leone is long, violent, complex and an ode to America’s criminal enterprises in the first half of the last century. There are two odd couples at work here, one between Noodles (Robert de Niro) and Max (James Woods) best friends until the betrayal inevitable amongst criminals and the other between Noodles and Deborah (Jennifer Connelly), which apes sentimentality until it erupts into violence. It is a film impossible to sum up so briefly, but a majestic work which impressed on me the size of America.
Artist: Ennio Morricone
Track: Once Upon A Time In America (Deborah’s Song)