Real Life on the Silent Screen : BOOKS : FICTION
Scammell, William, The Independent (London, England)
GERT HOFMANN was born in Limbach/Saxony in 1931. He made his living as a lecturer in German literature, and was also a prolific author of radio plays. In 1979 he published his first prose work, and thereafter put out a novel a year until his death in 1993. His poet son Michael painted a memorable portrait of the father as sacred monster in his 1986 book of poems Acrimony, a portrait compounded of fear, exasperation and thwarted love. Here was a modern Polonius skewered in verse: the bundle of accidents, incoherence and bad breath who sat down every day to work it all up into art.
The Film Explainer is his last novel, translated by his son. It seems that they could only relate - and compete - in their respective writings. A recent TLS poem about Gert's death, "Epithanaton", tells us that he left this completed manuscript on his desk and, a little before, "a choleric note dashed off to me/cutting me off. . . /for nothing I could this time see that I'd done wrong". So we have elegist and translator mediating a novel which has at its centre a drifter-cum-dreamer who sometimes writes poetry. You feel there's some sort of bildungsroman going on between the lines.
All this is incidental, however, to a very good read. Set in Hofmann's own stifling small town of Limbach, this presumably autobiographical tale is devoted, in both senses, to the writer's grandfather Karl Hofmann (1873- 1944), who works for a pittance in the Apollo cinema as "film explainer and piano player", pointing out the significance of especially good scenes with his bamboo cane and gilding all the filmic emotion with appropriate trills and chords. Grandfather puts on a special uniform to do this, recalling the "apish origins of art" at the fairground where he was once a barker. Off duty he wears his "artist's hat", dreams of another and better world, and craves "better teeth with which to chew his bacon, more hair to comb and some more reliable equipment to stick in Grandmother and Fraulein Fritsche who lived by the sewage works".
Reality he finds grey and unrewarding. Only the "artificial" world of the cinema keeps him going. "It's reality, said Grandfather, which we have every reason to fear! And to shiver at too!" His long-suffering wife sees things rather differently, though: "He's not just an artist without any …
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Publication information: Article title: Real Life on the Silent Screen : BOOKS : FICTION. Contributors: Scammell, William - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 26, 1995. Page number: 39. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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