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Berlin Alexanderplatz (The Criterion Collection)

4.4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Rainer Werner Fassbinder s wildly controversial fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin s great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had already made forty films. Fassbinder s immersive epic, restored in 2006 and available on DVD in this country for the first time, follows the hulking, violent, yet strangely childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to become an honest soul amidst the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time.


Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epic adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s German novel, written (and set) between two world wars in the 20th century, is still every bit the towering achievement it appeared to be upon the episodic, 15-hour film’s 1983 theatrical release in America. The story of a hapless lug buffeted by forces of discontent and disastrous change in Germany--following the country’s defeat at Versailles and during the rise of the Third Reich--Berlin Alexanderplatz is a roaming, hulking nightmare about people with no control over their destinies. The film opens with central character Franz Biberkopf (Gunter Lamprecht) struggling to reintegrate into the world after a four-year incarceration for murdering his girlfriend. Half-mad with guilt, sensory overload, sexual starvation and general disorientation, Franz goes in search of a plan for survival but finds the ground constantly shifting beneath his feet. Hooking up with the docile Lina (Elisabeth Trissenaar), Franz vows to straighten out his life and avoid his old tendencies toward petty thievery and pimping. But the alternatives are typically eclipsed by bad luck, unstoppable impulses, temptation and violent opposition between crime and order, Communists and fascists, dreamers and scoundrels. Over time, Franz becomes everything from shoelace salesman to Nazi sympathizer to pawn of a crime boss to victim of his fate. Along the way, he falls apart repeatedly, then picks himself up to see what might come next. Unfortunately, what comes next is generally another peek into the social and economic chaos of his time. Fassbinder, who died at age 36 before Berlin Alexanderplatz was released theatrically in America, found in Döblin’s story something akin to the running theme of despair in his own, prolific output of 40 movies. Among his several masterpieces, Berlin Alexanderplatz is in a league of its own, not to be missed. --Tom Keogh

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Günter Lamprecht, Peter Kollek, Mechthild Grossmann, Hans Zander, Yaak Karsunke
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: German
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 7
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: November 13, 2007
  • Run Time: 941 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000VARC2S
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,043 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Berlin Alexanderplatz (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bryan A. Pfleeger VINE VOICE on December 30, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Twenty-six years after its creation Berlin Alexanderplatz is finally given the restoration it so desperately deserved.Fassbinder's monumental fifteen plus hour epic has been completely restored and remastered so that the story of the hapless Franz Biberkopf can finally be experienced in all its glory.

The film (presented in 13 episodes and an epilogue) follows the daily life of Franz Biberkopf (Gunter Lamprecht) from his release from prison for the murder of his girlfriend as he tries to lead a decent life in post World War I Berlin. Along the way he becomes among other things a seller of shoestrings, a newspaper salesman, a pimp and a petty thief.

Fassbinder's world is populated with a panoply of ordinary people and lowlifes. The key is that the viewer begins to care about these people as if he knew them. One reviewer described the Biberkopf character as an uncle that the German people invited into their homes each week.

The film looks like it never looked before. Director of Photography, Xaver Schwarzenberger says that the image is now able to be seen as it was intended. Originally shot on 16mm the film has been completely restored and the color regraded. The result, while not perfect is as good as it has ever been. The film has a sort of brownish gold glow that suits it quite well.

The package by Criterion presents the film in a windowboxed version that runs for 941 minutes. This is about 4% longer than the original due to a NTSC slow down of the original Pal 25 frame per second master. The sound is mono but holds up quite well and the subtitling is clear and easy to read.
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Format: DVD
Long one of the most sought after video bootlegs in the world, Fassbinders' 931 minute tele-film adaptation of the Alfred Doblin novel "Berlin Alexanderplatz" is one of the all time great accomplishments in cinema. It was originally filmed in 16 millimeter as a German television series; shown in the USA in both a two day 7+ hour a day festival type event, and in shortened versions... Having the full version, restored (hopefully lovingly and successfully), is something very long in the waiting. For any true student of the art of cinema this is a must have. There is decidedly too much to say, or risk giving away, by giving a plot review of this nearly 16 hour masterpiece. For 27 years I have told people that "the last 3 hours of this film is possibly the greatest achievement in film art history." Why? Fassbinder directs like a master conductor artfully emulating the styles of a pantheon of the great cinema maestro's to that date - at the same time proving both their genius -- and his own. Stock the house with German fare and bier, wait for a long rainy weekend, get together with a literate friend or two - and enter into one of the most rewarding, fascinating, and awe inspiring examples of filmic story telling ever created. It is not always a happy story to be sure -- but it is indeed one of the most astounding viewing experiences a spectator can ever have.
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Format: VHS Tape
In the 1970s I traveled through East Berlin, the location of Alexanderplatz. I came across many vestiges of the city's troubled past: stark, menacing buildings from the Nazi era, as well as ruins of older structures, such as the Oranienburg Synagogue, built before the Second World War. By the 1970s, however, the original Alexanderplatz, destroyed in WWII, was converted into a huge, bleak concrete plaza by the DDR government eager to close the door on the past. Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz" resurrects the enigmatic Alexanderplatz by painting a brilliant yet distressing picture of life in Berlin during the turbulent period between the two world wars.

Fassbinder was at his best when he created this epic about the lives of misfits and malcontents in 1930s Berlin. I first viewed this series over a weekend at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa; it was a marathon at two four-hour sessions on each of two days. Since then, I have viewed the VHS version several times, thankfully at a more leisurely pace. Each time I view it, I see new and different things, and appreciate the richness of the work. The acting by all players is superb, and the music and audio effects, such as the use of chimes, are hauntingly effective, creating a grim mood which envelopes the characters nearly to the point of suffocation.

Franz Biberkopf is the central character. He is released from prison at the start of the film, only to flit from menial job to job, as the Nazis turn the status quo on its head, and relentlessly and ruthlessly wrest control of Berlin and Germany.
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Format: VHS Tape
"A Mount Everest of a film," wrote Vincent Canby about Berlin Alexanderplatz in the New York Times years ago. If he had meant it's length (15 1/2 hours) he would have said, "a Barstow freight train of a film". Instead, he compared it to the one mountain that's closer to God than it is to all other Earth's mountains, bar none.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is about one Franz Biberkopf (literally "Beaverhead"), an almost painfully average human being, not too good-looking, not too ugly, just right to be tortured, but left alive, in 1920s agonizing Germany, about his release from prison and why he'd rather go back in instead of dealing with life. Tough luck, though, fate wants him to stay free!

Guess what, everything about this film is perfect. The rich, calm, and superbly understated performances Hollywood obscenly overpaid hax can only dream about, the opulent period-photography and splendid, virtually balletic, camerawork of Xavier Schwarzenberger, the haunting never-to-be-forgotten, magical, full of melancholy music of Peer Raben.

If you, like millions of others, are a victim of simplistic loud-and-wrongs from La-la-land, but are ready to move to another planet where film isn't measured by millions of dollars, inbred "academy" awards, and first weekend attendance on two thousand screens, then this may be your ticket. But it won't be a free ticket.

You'll need to re-learn everything you know about film and you will understand why unlearning is harder than learning from scratch. If you're ambitious enough, you'll watch it to the bitter end - and bitter it is - and your life will change (as mine did). Guaranteed. You may feel less enthusiastic about life afterwards, but at least now you'll know why.
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