Interminable Novel of Film Director Obsessed, spent.(BOOKS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

Interminable Novel of Film Director Obsessed, spent.(BOOKS)


Byline: Sarah Means Lohmann, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Daydreams interrupt daydreams in Ward Just's endless novel about a once famous film director who has lost his audience. Well before the end of the novel, Mr. Just has lost his as well. "The Weather in Berlin" is the story of an American obsessed with himself and his own dying imagination.

The reader begins as an uninvited stranger in an interview between the director, Dixon Greenwood - who has come to Berlin at the invitation of a friend from his youth for a residency at a think tank in the winter of 1999 - and a professor. Dixon's film, "Summer, 1921," had been a hit in the United States and in Europe when it had been released around 30 years earlier. His audience viewed the film as a commentary on America's role in postwar Europe. Dixon only admitted to capturing the stories of three male artists, the three Sorb girls they meet, and a summer adventure by a lake that allowed them to deal with memories of the war, and attempts at love and leisure.

The true story, Mr. Just tries to remind the reader in every other sentence, is about only Dixon Greenwood: his obsession with his father, women, his failure and the German people whom he sees only through the lens of their war past. Dixon spends the book dreaming about his life as a director in the distant and near past, which slurs and bumps abruptly against his framing of the present, in a chaotic, intermingled fashion.

Most of the book is dialogue and monologue, sans quotation marks, blurring pronouns to make one character bleed into another. The present is never really present, but a grand screenplay in Dixon's mind, every real action and character just another part of his ever-developing-but-never-produced script.

Yet the attempt to create an aura of existentialism falls flat, despite Mr. Just's resurrection of F. Scott Fitzgerald to play a part in Dixon's meandering memories - making the author an old acquaintance of his father's, and the beginning of Greenwood storytelling. In short, Ward Just tries too hard.

Dixon Greenwood's obsession with women as objects, as beautiful puppets whose angles and mannerisms were to be adored and slept with, then not quite forgotten, becomes repetitive and obtuse. It is, after all, part of the business, Dixon would explain to himself, except when it was his wife involved with her own director and she was on an island in the Pacific. Then Mr. Just reminds the reader again in the voice of Dixon or one of his actresses that Dixon is from L.A., and having sex with your actresses is part of the job description for directors in L.A.

"You lost yourself in the role and before you knew it, you were cheating. You wore so many faces it was hard to remember which was the home face and which the away face, which the smile, and which the smirk," Dixon says by way of explanation.

When Jana, who disappeared from the set about 30 years ago on the last day of filming "Summer, 1921," shows up in Berlin just in time for Dixon's shooting a German soap opera, she too is still his prop. …

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