Thursday, August 18, 2022

"Das Boot"

     I can't speak of how young people view new movies when they come out on streaming video.
     Maybe it's a huge honking deal. You'd have to ask them.
And I'm not one of those who mistake their youth for some kind of golden age.
     But scarcity and value are related in direct proportion.
     Before cable you could catch movies in the theater, and there was an excitement to the moment. Otherwise, you'd have to wait until they came to television, chopped up and larded with commercials, years later. 
    That said, seeing movies in a theater wasn't always very difficult. When "The Sting" came out in 1973, it played in the movie house in Berea for a year.
     One of the big movie events of my college years was "Das Boot," the German submarine movie that came out in the United States 1982, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who died this week.
Two things stand out — and you know a movie is good when anything stands out, never mind 40 years later. 
     First, because I saw both the original in German, with English subtitles, and also the dubbed English version, I was struck by how much more dramatic German is. "Jungs! Lasst uns in die U-Boot jetzt gehen!" just sounds a lot more dramatic than the English translation: "Hey guy, let's go into the submarine now."
     Second was a scene I've repeatedly referred to over the years, when trying to illustrate the old adage "Necessity is the mother of invention." The U-boat is sitting on the ocean floor, unable to surface because the pumps that would blow the water out of their ballast tanks were damaged by depth charge blasts. A sailor is under the floorboards, working on the pumps. His face appears at a hatch opening in the walkway. "We need some No. 6 wire!" he says, or words to that effect. There is no No. 6 wire, he is told. "If there's no No. 6 wire, then we're all dead," he replies. What follows is a panicked scene where the crew fans out over the ship, searching, ending with someone busting open a radio receiver and uncoiling the necessary wire from inside. 
     Sometimes you need to be inspired to bust the radio open. Or as Dr. Johnson once quipped, the knowledge that a man is to be hanged in a fortnight concentrates the mind wonderfully. 


  1. The Dems have been trying to bust open the radio since 2016 and they still can’t find the wire. There’s more than a fortnight before the November elections but if something big doesn’t happen by then the sub stays on the bottom.

  2. The Sam Johnson story has a bit of a twist to it, it seems. I've been told that Johnson said those memorable words about certain death concentrating the mind when he was accused of ghostwriting the eloquent final testament of the condemned man, who had never hitherto been known to write two coherent sentences in a row.

    Myself, I would expect the panic you mention; the concentration of mind, not so much.


  3. I remember seeing Das Boot on the big screen when it came out. Intense. I used to love ducking into the Studebaker theater in the Fine Arts Building and was excited to learn that Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me has made that theatre their new Chicago home.

    And now I'll contemplate whether or not I'm living life like it won't last forever.

  4. Seemed much better and more authentic in German, with the subtitles. Liked it so much that twenty years later, I nicknamed Schmutzik, my big, stocky tuxedo cat, "Das Schmootz". (Later shortened to just "The Shmoo").

    He was too pudgy to look anything like a submarine, but he did have a brown smudge on his black-and-white face. "Schmutzik" (which means "dirty" in both Yiddish and German) sounded so much better than "Smudge." He also had a black splotch under his nose...a Hitler moustache. That made him a Kitler.

    Kitlers are more common than you might think. The "Cats That Look Like Hitler" website contains thousands of images. My favorite had a meme that read: "I'm in your litter box, invading Pooland..."

  5. I saw the dubbed version at the long gone I-80 drive in theater in Tinley Park when I was eleven. It was was the 2nd movie on a double feature with Blade Runner, which was of course what we had paid to see, and well, you can see where this is going. Unsaid among my family but mutually felt was that Blade Runner was a bit of a letdown, so we just decided to stick around for this German flick about a submarine of which we knew almost nothing. Boy were we glad! It was easily the best outdoor movie experience in my life, and it was all due to the serendipity of it being billed with a (highly overrated) sci-fi movie that we went to see. I might never have seen it otherwise. On a barely related note, I saw In the Line of Fire, another Wolfgang Peterson movie, at a different drive in theater (the Cicero Twin in Monee, also long defunct like most other outdoor theaters) eleven years later. It was the 2nd feature on a double bill with Coneheads. Again, one of those movies was more impactful than the other.


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