Summer 2003

Kafka’s favourite flicks

Kafka goes to the Movies

Hanns Zischler, University of Chicago Press, £21 Design: Winterhouse Studio.
William Drenttel, Robert Giampietro and Kevin Smith

Or, How Franz K. spilled his popcorn.

In a narrative as enigmatic and atmospheric as anything by the Czech novelist, Hanns Zischler builds a biography of Kafka around K’s obsession with early cinema. Like Kafka’s novels it’s a weird idea rendered real by its single-minded pursuit. Zischler jump-cuts from commentary to diaries to postcards and letters.

The analytic connections made by Zischler are ambitious. Or, as novelist Paul Auster notes in the blurb, brilliantly mad. What’s compelling is how Kafka is revealed as the twentieth-century Everyman, where image flows into everyday life. Cinema becomes less of an art form and more the eyewear through which we see life. Zischler, like Paul Virilio and Paul Elliman, technologises culture and biology ‘Horrific was the din of the Métro,’ Kafka writes ‘when I rode it, for the first time in my life, from Montmartre to the big boulevards. Otherwise it is not bad, even intensifies the pleasant, calm feeling of speed.’

As Zischler’s (cine-) biography flows between diary, postcards, film review and analysis, Franz Kafka lives through feedback. Films become dreams, become seeing, become writing. Seeing a poster advertising the film Theodor Korner Zischler notes Kafka signing his name with the exact curved calligraphy of the K in the poster.

Cinema is Kafka’s Walkman, the videotrack unfurling in his mind as he moves through the metropolis. The melancholy writer seeks sanctuary in the cinema’s kinetic impact, it’s a medical resource which he uses to try and empty his head and purge his self-consciousness. It’s why he remains rapturously ambivalent about the technology.

The top five Kafka films? 1. Donnie Darko 2. Mulholland Drive 3. The Parallax View 4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers 5. Coming To America.

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