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Mother Night

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I keep being amazed by Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. I read Galápagos, Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions ages ago and only recently read Slaughterhouse Five for which there also is a good film. I think it was only with Slaughterhouse Five that it became more than a vague feeling to me that all the naïveté and curiousness in those books is far more than just a bunch of observations but downright social commentary. And very well placed and executed commentary at that.

Looking around for other Vonnegut material, of which there is plenty I saw that there also is a film for Mother Night which got quite good reviews. It’s directed by Keith Gordon who also directed parts of the Wild Palms mini series which remains the best way to waste five hours I know of. And it stars a somewhat unlikely Nick Nolte as the protagonist, the writer Howard W. Campbell Jr. – the last free American, speaking to you from Berlin, Germany, the heart of the free world

That’s the way he introduces himself in his propagandistic – err, hateful – radio show that is broadcast in English to the world from Nazi Germany. He got to having that show almost innocently because he wanted to stay with his German wife when the war started and was hired to be a spy when it became clear he would stay. But after his wife had died, the war had ended and he had been clandestinely repatriated to New York his life felt empty. And worse than that, his past starts catching up with him. He meets a woman in his house who had survived Auschwitz and who recognises his name.

Later, some odd right-wing American nazi priest finds him and starts contacting him, bringing along the sister of his wife and a few other weirdos who appreciate the job he has done in Germany during the war. That’s odd but Howard accepts their help and protection from people who want to beat him up or kill him. After a short side-story where apart from the local hatred, the American nazis and the Israeli intelligence service also the Russians chase him, he eventually decides can’t take the strain anymore and surrenders himself to the Israelis who lock him up in Israel and let him write down the story before he can get a trial.

Which is where the film begins, in fact. He is locked up in a cell with a neighbour who on the topic of millions of killed jews has nothing to say but I don’t take credit for all of them. I’m sure I could spare you a few. And he gets a typewriter to write down his story. Strangely this is a Third Reich typewriter in the film – with a QWERTZ keyboard and a handy SS-key – which does make a nice cut in that place but I’d consider highly unlikely to be used by anyone years after the era, particularly outside Germany. While he’s typing it, we re-live the story with him and see how in retrospect it becomes clear to him that even though he was working as a spy he had faded in too well and that he had played his role a little too well. Leaving him with strong feelings of guilt.

Nazi Typewriter from the film.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I may want to read the book… and listen to some of Arvo Pärt’s pieces again which are used as a soundtrack to the film in many places. Subtle, brilliant and incredibly powerful music.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

September 14, 2005, 0:46

Tagged as film, keith gordon, kurt vonnegut, mother night, typewriter.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

Vonnegut was on The Daily Show last night, and seemed to be struggling with his health… but his mind is a sharp as ever!

If you hurry, you can see a clip from Comedy Central… http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_daily_show/videos/celebrity_interviews/index.jhtml

September 15, 2005, 1:53

Comment by ssp: User icon

Eeek, it’s some Windows only format. Is there any way to watch that without needing to run a two year old VISE installer by Microsoft that doesn’t tell me what it’s doing? I’d like to keep my computer junk free, but I’d still be quite interested to see Vonnegut.

September 15, 2005, 11:02

Comment by howard campbell Jr: User icon

Man Without A Country is worth the read.

Also, 11/11 is Vonnegut’s birthday—Let’s through him an online bash with tons of postings about him on that day

thank you for your considerations


September 19, 2005, 16:30

Comment by Lana: User icon

Where is this picture of the typewriter from? I would love to use the image…any help would be much appreciated…I want to give credit where credit is due.

February 20, 2006, 5:08

Comment by ssp: User icon

The picture here is taken from a scene in the film.

With Google Image Search you can find similar images (on rather dubious websites).

February 20, 2006, 12:14

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